Protective Clothing

By Charlotte Hubbard

The first time I worked bees, it was because my very ill husband Tom had, unbee-knownst to us, ordered two more packages of stinging critters. When the buzzing insects arrived, they weren’t willing to wait in wire shoeboxes until Tom recovered. So, armed with Tom’s protective suit and my very bad attitude, I prepared to dump thousands of stinging bugs into hives.

As I slipped into Tom’s bee suit that (fateful) day, I recall looking at my bare ankles. I momentarily wondered if I should wear socks, but then thought “Naaah—what are they going to do? Fly up out of the hive, weave their way through the tall grass and sting me way down there?”

Yes.

That was one of my first important lessons of beekeeping: wear socks.

The second time I needed to work bees, I wore Tom’s too-short bee suit, and still had a bad attitude. But, I also had socks—tall, thick ones, reaching nearly to my knee. I remember thinking, “That should stop them. It’s not like they’re going to fly up out of the hive, fly down and weave their way through the tall grass and then fly up my pant leg in search of bare skin, are they?!”

The answer to that question is also yes. It was then I learned the VERY important lesson of tucking your pants into your socks.

When people share why they keep bees, a common answer is because they love learning. There is always something new to know about these insects and how to best keep them.

In the four years since I began beekeeping, I’ve found this to be so true. Just yesterday I learned yet another lesson.

Since I began beekeeping, I’ve acquired a bee suit that’s long enough for me, providing more protective layers around the tender ankle area bees love so dearly. I’ve also obtained a half-suit, handy for when you’re already wearing long pants (which you must tuck into socks), and don’t want the added warmth or weight of a full suit.

Yesterday was a breezy sixty degree day in southern Michigan. As I was already wearing jeans, I slipped on the half-suit, tucked my pants into my socks, and greeted one of my booming winter-surviving hives.

My late husband had really appreciated the jeans I was wearing. He liked their softness and how they hugged my figure.

Turns out bees really like them also, finding them easy to sting through. They nailed my thighs three times before I realized they weren’t as happy to see that I survived the winter as I was to see that they had.

Ouch. And ouch and ouch. (True confession though, I yelled a different word when they stung me.)

And *&!!** some more. Those stings really, well, sting!

Stings happen. If you’re not reckless like me, you can avoid most of them. But, even when I’m super careful, stings happen.

Having been stung in LOTS of different places, if I had a choice about where to take a sting, the thigh is the best place. Thighs are easy to scratch, and easy to ice down (unlike, say stings near the eye). My thighs itched like crazy for three days after I was stung. As I spend a lot of time in the car, I found that driving with a chocolate milkshake between my legs was soothing. I also found that I needed three or four of them each day to, um, keep the swelling and itching down. Calories don’t count when consumed for medicinal purposes.

Another reason that thigh stings are preferable? I’ve been grazing on Reese’s peanut butter and chocolate Easter eggs ever since the after-Easter sale, having deluded myself into thinking that my thighs aren’t really that big, it’s just that they’re swollen from the stings, therefore devouring a six-pack of those is absolutely fine. And wonderful.

Of course, the smartest hint for dealing with stings is to avoid getting them, which means:


  1. Wear protective gear. (And bee suits, which make us all look tubby and are a great way to hide that extra pound or two (or 12.))

  2. Wear socks.

  3. Tuck your pants into your socks.


And when those protective measures fail, have chocolate on standby.

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