I have a bee jacket with a hood for working with my bees. Among its features are a mesh facemark, tight fitting cuffs, and a waistband that seals around my clothing. They make full suits, that cover the pants and protect the whole body from bee stings. I’ve worn the bee jacket when working with the frames of my hives, necessary when in installed the nuclear colonies and when doing a full hive inspection. At those times, there are a lot of bees flying and crawling around and I am more able to relax, move quietly, and react calmly to the presence of bees. However, I don’t feel the need to wear a bee jacket when I’m just looking at the hives, adding feed to the feeders, or doing other things. The bees are not aggressive and if I don’t bat at them, they have no reason to sting.

However, last night, for the first time since I’ve been keeping bees, I got stung. It wasn’t a very major event. It hurt at the time, and I could feel the site of the sting until I was able to remove the stinger. There is no lingering pain and the event is completely over.

I was at the hives to fill up the feeders after another day of busy bee activity. These days, when I look at the bees, I see them returning to the hive with their legs covered with bright yellow pollen. I can instantly tell which bees are leaving the hive and which are returning. Because they have access to all of that pollen, I have not needed to provide pollen cake for them. I am feeding them because they haven’t had time to build comb for storing honey. We’ll get set up for that in a little while, but for now, I take them a little sugar water each day. Mostly I enjoy observing the bees.

I had a busy day yesterday, and I didn’t get over to the bees until after supper. It was raining lightly, so the bees were mostly settled in the hive. There was a little activity around the entrances, but most of the action was inside of the hive. I wondered if they had spread out into some of the empty frames in the hive, so I decided to remove the top super and then lift the cover to peer in on the frames in the top box. I was delighted with what I saw. There were bees everywhere inside the hive. It looked like they were building out at least three or four frames that had been empty a few days ago.

I carefully reinstalled the cover and top super. I filled the feeder and put the cover on the top of the hive. I turned to take a look at the second hive and I felt a bee crawling up my pants leg. I tried to gently brush the bee down toward my sock so it could get out the bottom of my pants, and just as I put my hand down, I felt the sting. When I had placed the cover back on the hive, I had gently brushed a few bees off of the back side of the hive, so that they were on the side of the hive away from the entrance. Since they had previously been inside the hive and hadn’t departed through the entrance, they were disoriented. I failed to notice that one of those bees had ended up on the ground and was crawling around looking for a way to return to the hive. My feet were near where the bee was crawling, so it went up my shoe and crawled up my stocking. When it reached the top of my sock, inside of my pants leg, where it was dark like the inside of the hive, I felt it on my skin. That’s when I brushed it and it turned defensive. The sting was the last act for the bee. Individuals die when they sting. The use of the stings is to protect the colony.

I was sad to have a bee die from my carelessness. It won’t have any impact on the colony. There are tens of thousands of bees in the colony now and the individual will soon be replaced by one of the larvae that has been growing inside of a cell and will emerge as an adult bee.

One of the things about working the bees is that I have learned to be around them and have them buzzing around me without any fear. I can gently move an individual with my fingers without having it go into its defensive mode. It is only when a bee gets squeezed, most often by my setting a frame or cover when it is crawling on a top surface, that there is any sign that the bees are interested in me at all.

I remember when I was a child being afraid to be anywhere near a bee. When I heard the buzzing, I would swat at the air and try to get the bees to fly away. For the most part the gestures worked. I wasn’t around hives or colonies very often, so mostly I encountered individual bees. The most common circumstances of my getting stung was when I was waling barefoot in a field of dandelions. I would fail to see a bee on a flower and step on it. I haven’t been stung very often. My mother’s treatment plan, carefully inspecting and removing the stinger then applying a paste of water and baking soda, works very well. Soon the tiny amount of venom from one sting is gone and with it the pain.

I have some velcro bands that seal my pants legs. They are designed for bike riders to keep their pants out of the chain. I’ll probably use them when working my bees for the next few days, but I suspect that soon I’ll go back to my old ways. The pain of a single sting isn’t much and I’m not afraid of getting stung from time to time. I am not allergic to bee stings, so don’t have to worry about a systemic reaction.

One of the things I like about the bees is that there is so much to learn. I discover new things every day. Yesterday’s lesson was just one more way of learning. Pain can be an effective teacher. I’m pleased that I’m still able to learn.

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