Bees for Development
Protective clothing allows beekeepers to feel safe and the resulting lack of fear allows them to handle bees calmly and gently. Bees can be dangerous and stings can kill, so they need to be treated with respect. Bees can be unpredictable, so dressing to prevent stings and handling them gently and competently will ensure people stay safe and gain pleasure from their beekeeping activity as well as gaining profit from their produce.
The most essential item of protective clothing is a veil for the face and head. A simple protective veil can be made from a maize or flour sack and mosquito netting. These are cheap and hardwearing materials, easily available in most countries.
It is possible to make an overall with an integral veil that covers the whole body from the same materials for a few dollars. When dressing to visit the bees, it helps if people check each other's clothes to make sure there are no places left open where bees can get inside the clothing. The protective clothing on the left is made locally from maize flour bags. It is made in two parts - a top and trousers. The top is tucked into the trousers and tied with a belt made of plaited plastic.
Good gloves are helpful when working with African bees. Rubber gloves are best as they can be kept clean which prevents the spread of disease. For many people who are not able to afford even rubber gloves, it is possible to cover hands with several layers of plastic bags tied at the wrists and with bands around the thumbs to make a crude disposable glove. The same applies to the feet. Ideally gum boots or rain boots should be worn - but again many people are unable to afford these and so strong plastic bags over the shoes and tied at the ankles can keep the feet and ankles protected from stings. Remember bees prefer to crawl upwards so arrange clothing so that they can't crawl up into any gaps. For instance, tuck jackets into trousers and trousers into boots.
Clothes used for beekeeping should not be dark colours. Bees appear to dislike these and will sting at clothing in these colours. They also dislike anything woolly or similar materials in which trap their feet and they will sting at these materials too especially if they get caught in them - they should be avoided if possible. Even if the beekeeper was sufficiently well protected to not feel the sting, the smell of the sting on the clothing will still be sensed by the bees -both at this visit and for many visits afterwards. This smell indicates to the bees that the colony is in danger and others will be attracted by the alarm pheromones in the sting to come and join the attack in that place.
If the beekeeper is aware there has been stinging, the place should be smoked well so the smell of the sting is covered by the smell of the smoke. Otherwise the bees could sting many times in the same place putting beekeepers and others nearby in danger. Clothes need to be kept clean so that this smell is removed before the next visit. Along with safe clothing people need to be sure they know how to handle the bees gently and safely and about first aid if someone is hurt.
List of Articles available on this topic (8):
A Hive of Industry.....the Story of Honeybees and Beekeeping
Haiti Beekeeping Mission
Handling honey bees safely
Instructions on bee-keeping
Make your own boots
Ali, A.M. & Mogga, J.
Making simple gloves
Starting with Bees: An Introduction to African Beekeeping
Nazzi, F., Annoscia, D., Del Fabbro, S., Del Piccolo, F.
Zambian Beekeeping Handbook
Clauss, B. & Clauss, R.