The bee suit is to some extent the uniform of a beekeeper. If anyone sees me wearing beekeeper clothing there’s no doubt what I’m doing. In fact when I go to collect a swarm, when the weather is hot, I often take a chance and do the operation without a suit. People look worried and say, aren’t you going to wear a bee protection suit?
This bee suit review is the product of many years keeping bees, and trying not to get stung.
I started off beekeeping wearing a jacket, gloves and a hat which had a veil draped over it which had strings which went under the jacket and the mesh was tucked in around the neck of the jacket. Almost a homemade bee suit. It worked tolerably well, but the occasional bee got in, and it was a lot of trouble to put on and take off.
I was given a half suit which incorporated a wide brimmed hat which put me in mind of a Somerset Maugham play. It is a good standby for doing a quick procedure which doesn’t expose one to too many bees. However it’s not ideal for wearing with short pants. I decided I didn’t like getting stung so I thought I should buy a full bee suit. I looked at as many as I could and talked to other beekeepers. I came to conclusion that it made most sense to have to veil attached to the suit with zips so there were no potential chinks in the armor.
There are many different types of beesuit. The factors which I feel are most important are, ease of getting on and off, degree of protection, both from bee entry and stinging through the bee protection suit material and how washable it is. If I do a cut-out, things can get pretty sticky and dirty when removing honeycomb and honey from inside a cavity wall.
It is important to feel confident that one isn’t going to get stung, at least not too much. I think bees can smell fear to some extend. Maybe the added confidence he gets from a good suit transmits to the way the beekeeper handles the bees.
I bought a Sheriff suit. Made from white cotton it had nylon zips and velcro with elastic at the bottom of the legs and cuffs. It was fairly expensive and fitted well, although it wasn’t very easy to get in and out of because the zips were not very long. As you can see from the photos I’m quite a big guy so perhaps someone more diminutive might find it easier.
I’ve had this suit for quite a number of years, it’s beginning to show signs of wear but is still serviceable as a spare. It is light enough to be fairly cool, at least in an English summer, but not so cool when the temperature is approaching 100°F.
Depending on what is worn underneath, it is sting resistant, but not sting proof. If the fabric of the beekeeping suit is touching your skin, bees can sting through the fabric into your skin.
Since this suit needed replacing, and now I was in the United States, I looked at the Dadant bee suit which is the same basic style as the Sheriff. It is considerably cheaper than the Sheriff. The fabric is heavier which is actually a disadvantage in San Diego because it gets very hot very quickly. The cut of the suit seems not to be so generous so I found it more restrictive to wear. The zips were a little longer which makes it slightly easier to get on and off. Of course it might be that my own dimensions have increased a little over the years. In a cooler location I think the Dadant suit provides great value for money. Much has to do with for how long and how often one is going to wear the beesuit.
When I became, on some level, a professional beekeeper I needed a beesuit with slightly different attributes. As I became more accustomed to bee stings it wasn’t so important that a beesuit be sting proof. However since we now have the risk of encountering Africanized bees, a bee suit’s protection against stinging is certainly a big factor. The Ultra Breeze bee suits could have been made for my situation. Designed by a beekeeper, they consist of three layers of mesh, the total thickness is enough to prevent the bee sting from penetrating all the way through. I’m sure the designer sat down one day and said, "I’m tried of getting stung, how can I prevent it?", "Obviously the suit has to be thicker, but then it would be too hot.", "Unless I make it thick but allow air to pass freely through it!"
The mesh allows good ventilation which keeps the beekeeper much cooler than other beesuits I’ve worn. It’s notable that I can feel a cool breeze through the suit. In cool weather it is just possible that I’d have to wear something underneath the suit for warmth, which is a first for me. Living in San Diego the most important aspect of a beesuit for me is that I can work in the sun without starting to steam after a few minutes.
The weight and bulkiness of the suit is considerable but this doesn’t make it cumbersome. The zips are metal, which don’t operate as easily as nylon zips, but I’m sure are more durable. I should probably rub some silicon polish or beeswax on the zips. The zips are much longer than other suits, the leg zips go the full length of the leg which makes dressing and undressing very much easier.
The Ultra Breeze bee suit costs the most compared with the other beesuits mentioned here. One does not buy a beesuit very often so perhaps if you take into account the number of stings you avoid by buying the best it might come out as the least expensive. I think it’s worth every penny!
It has just occurred to me that I’ve forgotten to emphasis the most important feature of the Ultra Breeze beesuit, it is claimed to be sting proof. The reason I forget this is because it is sting proof. When I wear this suit, stings are not really an issue.
The bees cannot sting through the three layers of mesh, but because you aren’t even aware of the attempts to sting you it’s forgotten.
When I’ve encountered very aggressive bees I’ve seen gloves and suits peppered with many stings. The bee’s barbed sting doesn’t stick in the mesh fabric so the bee survives and there is no release of alarm pheromone which I’m sure mitigates the frenzy which can occur. To some extent I think I’ve become blasé about sting because when I’m wearing this suit, sting just aren’t an issue.