When I started beekeeping, my first queens (Rosalind, and her daughters Ada and Jocelyn) were fairly gentle souls. My standard kit for handling their hives was a pair of old trainers, jeans tucked into socks, bee jacket and thin (disposable) latex gloves. I rarely got stung - if I did it was always on the hands or fingers, probably about once per fortnight. And it was almost always my fault (a classic error was reaching a finger underneath the queen excluder when lifting it off, and accidentally squeezing a bee. It took a few weeks for them to teach me that was inappropriate behaviour!)
This season, that all changed. In the spring, before Caroline moved onto pastures new (OK, Ian's garden) she was queen of hive #2. And, although her colony were not aggressive, they certainly could be moody if they thought things weren't going their way. But Caroline's daughter, Maria - who took over the hive - was a different story. Firstly, her bees had a knack for stinging me through my socks just below where the bottom of my jeans were tucked in. So I had to switch to boots, and tuck my jeans into those. Secondly, my hands became targets. Wearing latex gloves was pointless - the bees would just sting straight through them, often without the slightest provocation. Reluctantly, I had to swap to using my heavy leather gauntlets, which are cumbersome but at least provide adequate protection for me. The bees still sting them anyway, and die as a result, which is sad. But at least I could get through a hive inspection without feeling like giving up from the constant attacks.
I'm not sure what caused Maria's bees to be so troublesome. It could be genetic - after all, her mother is a little feisty. It may be because they collected a great haul of honey (51 jars!) and simply felt the need to protect it. Or, it could be because the colony was sick - possibly they had been suffering from Sacbrood for a while, and I had only noticed when the number of workers fell after the harvest. I can be moody when I'm sick, so I do understand.
That last point - the Sacbrood infection - got me thinking. The leather gauntlets are fine in terms of protection for me, but I was using the same gloves, every week, in both the hives and the nucleus. And, because they're leather, they're not really practical to wash. So, if anything carrying the sacbrood virus (say, a bit of infected brood haemolymph) got onto my glove, I could accidentally transfer it to a frame on another hive, where a worker bee might eat it (bees basically clean up any unwanted liquid in the hive by eating it). Then the worker is infected, starts to infect other bees and I've spread the infection from one colony to two. Not good.
I decided I needed to change two things about my gloves, if I was going to continue needing something more protective from now on:
- The gloves need to be washable - which realistically means rubber
- I need to use a different pair for each hive
So, I have bought four pairs of gloves with different properties and thicknesses, and have been doing some comparisons to see which I prefer. Look out for Part 2 (coming soon) - in which I will attempt a somewhat unbiased comparison of each pair, and choose my favourite beekeeper's glove ready for next season.
Oh, you came here to find out how the bees are doing...? Well, they're fine. Which is nice.