Bee Tech: Personal Protection Equipment (PPE)

As a professional bee tech, part of my job is to bee prepared to do the job.  Whether the job is coaching a beekeeper working their hives, leading an applied beekeeping skills worker or do a live bee rescue, having the appropriate PPE on hand is important.

When we’re talking about beekeeping PPE, that includes hats, veils, jackets, gloves, eye protection, cuff straps, etc…

The primary reason to wear gear is to keep yourself calm, in control and not distracted.  The more you are able to be those things, the better you will do at keeping bees calm and perform higher quality work.

I hate to wear gear.  It makes me hot and uncomfortable.  If I find that I don’t need it, the situation doesn’t call for it, I will keep it handy but not put it on.  As it is, because I do wear it so often, I have a ventilated jacket.

Having said that, if I even suspect that there might be a call for wearing gear, I suck it up and wear the gear.  Personal comfort is important, but not at the risk of getting yourself or others hurt or bees distressed.

If nothing else anymore I almost always wear a hat and evil.  The bees seem to hate my hair.  They fly by, get tangled and sting my head.  Not fun.  So, at least that much.

Wearing cuff straps over shirt/ jacket sleeves and pants legs can be invaluable to keep bees from marching into clothing while working bees before sunrise or after sunset.  If you have no cuff straps, tucking cuffs into boots and gloves can work also

Eye protection.  This may seem redundant when wearing a veil.  However, especially when working a cut-out, debris can blow through the screen of the veil and get into your eyes.  Not a good scenario when your full attention is necessary.

Beyond the safety reasons, especially when being a professional beekeeper or technician, people have expectations as to what a “professional” they are paying (sometimes a lot of money) should look like.  As it is beekeeping related, they expect to see the hat\veil and at least a jacket.

Personally, I beelieve that making a professional appearance is important to encouraging people to take live bee removal services as a viable alternative to extermination.

Keep in mind though that most of my clients are property management companies and private business properties such as camping venues, etc… whose business insurance requirements necessitate they contract with a professional service.

You know the old saying about dressing for the job you want.  They want a professional beekeeper.  They expect to see one that they can recognize as such.

The PPE you have and use is just as valuable to you as any smoker, hive tool or hive equipment.  It can mean the difference between a positive beekeeping experience and an unsuccessful, frustrating beekeeping experience.


IPM Controls – Exclusion

As a professional “bee tech”  I am big on including Integrated Pest Management controls both in my beekeeping as well as in my bed removals.

One of the most effective and cost efficient strategies is exclusion.  That is, to prevent pest entry into the “protected” space we are working with.  There are several tactics we can implement to establish and maintain a preventative, exclusionary strategy

There are a variety of controls that are available to implement according to the different categories.

  1. Regulatory
    1. set rules about conduct and handling tools and equipment to prevent cross-contamination and spread of pests, diseases, environmental issues, etc…
  2. Environmental
    1. Introduce specific parasitic and predatory animals that control populations of pests that threaten bee hive’s.
      1. Bat houses.  Bats eat moths such as greater wax moths.
      2. Parasitic wasps.  Certain wasps can be introduced to kill pests such as Small Hive Beetle larvae that pupate in the ground around hives.
  3. Mechanical
    1. Screen mesh can block entrances yet allow ventilation.  Especially useful in preventing robbing during dearth and having to close hive entrances during transportation and seclusion during nearby pesticide applications.
  4. Chemical
    1. “Soft” chemical applications such as cedar oil in and around the hives can help as a repellent to hive pests and resist environmental conditions such as mold, mildew, etc…

These are just a few potential exclusionary tactics that can bee implemented to prevent and reduce pest populations in and around hives.  They can be implemented independently or in conjunction with others.

By working to exclude pest presence, we can reduce and perhaps eliminate the need for stronger and preventable control tactics down the line.

I hate the word treatment in beekeeping

People are getting all in a kerfuffle again about “treatment” or “no-treatment” beekeeping.

By “treatment” the general reference is to applying some type of chemical control inside a bee hive.  However, that word is also used synonamously with “manipulation” or introducing changes in a variety of ways to a bee hive.

First off, do I beelieve in implementing chemical controls into a bee hive?  The short answer is that yes, I do see a possible case scenario for introducing a chemical control into a bee hive.

The long answer is that I see a spectrum of a myriad of possibilities that don’t easily fit into a dichotomy.  It’s more like following an “if-then” flow chart the way I approach it.

In regard to use of toxic chemical pesticides being used as a control tactic….  It’s not likely for me.  I see those as a last ditch, worst case scenario that “might” be usable on a case by case approach.

I am just as likely to terminate a colony in such a situation as try to implement a toxic chemical control.  It depends on a variety of things that affect that particular hive and the apiary and environment that it’s in.

I have total and utter disregard for those who insist on making “treatment” or “no-treatment” a simple and absolute false dichotomy.

I prefer, as I think most do, to have colonies that do not need to have certain types of control tactics introduced such as toxic chemical pesticides.  I implement IPM in my overall beekeeping and apiary planning from the beginning.

I try to have the best understanding of natural bee biology and behavior so as to let the colonies tell me when they need help and then only give the help they need, nothing more, nothing less.

Playing political games of unnecessary absolutes is a waste of thinking people’s time, efforts and resources.

That’s just how this apiarist sees it.

IPM is every beeks friend

There are articles floating around out there quoting hobbyists and prominent bee researchers alike proclaiming a dire necessity to “treat” bee hive’s for mite infestations.  These articles condemn the “anti-pesticides” crowd as spoilers of beekeeping for everyone else and some going so far as to setting up a bully pulpit to show “anti-pesticides” beekeepers in a criminal light.

Being someone who has long-established myself as an “organic” beekeeper, I can certainly appreciate the mistrust of the unnecessary use of toxic chemicals where bees are involved.  However, as a former licensed pesticide applicator, I am very familiar with the situations and conditions in which critical circumstances call for drastic actions.

At the same time, again coming from my education, training, and experience as a licensed pesticide applicator, I am very familiar with the concept of Integrated Pest Management or IPM.  I am here to tell you that with IPM, dealing with mites or any of the myriad of maladies that face our bees does not have to be an all or none scenario.

IPM, in a nutshell, calls for a “big picture” approach to pest control.  A more holistic approach in which we aren’t using  “one or the other” extremist tactics but instead a combination of multiple tactics to prevent and act as an early intervention to avoid pest presence and populations from becoming so bad as to require the use of toxic pesticides if at all possible.

One of the problems that lead the discussion is that by using the strong, toxic pesticides as a prophylactic is that historically, it has always lead to stronger, more resistant pests that are harder to deal with.

On the other hand, I am also an advocate for using the “common sense” view that when the Bee feces hits the fan, we should be prepared to at least consider the responsible use of pesticides that might make a reasonable difference.  I’m not saying it should be mandatory to use those “last resort” treatments but they shouldn’t be discarded from the discussion just because they make us uncomfortable either.

Extremist positions never help in the long run.  We all lose when discussion becomes polarized and minds are closed.  I think it’s irresponsible for any beekeeper or apiarist worthy of the name to be so close minded.

So at every opportunity, I will present, teach and advocate IPM as a crucial aspect of any and every beekeeping plan.  It gives us the widest range of options and educated/informed decision-making available to us to have the most success and viable impact in helping honey bee colonies alive and thriving.