Jan. 13, 2022

Bee Beards - Part 1 (056)

Bee Beards - Part 1 (056)

Really? You want to do a bee beard? OK, let’s think this through. How much do you know about bees and bee beards, and why do you want to make a bee beard anyway? Some people will think you are as crazy as a loon to try this and that you will die....

Really? You want to do a bee beard?

OK, let’s think this through. How much do you know about bees and bee beards, and why do you want to make a bee beard anyway? Some people will think you are as crazy as a loon to try this and that you will die. But others think bee beards are a great way to demonstrate that bees are gentle, safe and actually fun to work with, if you know what you are doing. In today’s episode, Kim and Jim start a discussion on… Bee Beards.

First, if your club is doing this for a county fair or some demonstration, is everybody in your club OK with this? Is the demonstration location owner OK to do this? There may be liability questions. Be prepared.

Will this be an open demonstration in a field or within an enclosed and screened tent? You need to consider where will the bees come from – package, hive, nuc, etc. Regardless, make sure they are well fed!

Jim and Kim discuss making a small-scale bee beard for a public demonstration this week.

It’s OK, you can listen and not get stung.  


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Honey Bee Obscura is brought to you by Growing Planet Media, LLC, the home of Beekeeping Today Podcast.

Music: Heart & Soul by Gyom, Walking in Paris by Studio Le Bus, original guitar music by Jeffrey Ott

Copyright © 2022 by Growing Planet Media, LLC


Honey Bee Obscura

Episode 56 – Bee Beards, Part 1


Kim Flottum: Hey, Jim, I got a call or friend out west yesterday. I guess he's just looking for something to do because what he's thinking of doing this summer is having some bee beards at county fairs and wherever it is that he goes. He asked me what I know about doing bee beards and I guess I held them off for a bit because I want to talk to you first. Have you ever done bee beards?

Jim Tew: Well, Kim, I have done parts of bee beards. I've been around them a lot. I guess we can talk about it for a while.

Kim: Hi, I'm Kim Flottum.

Jim: I'm Jim Tew.

Kim: Today, it looks like we're going to talk about bee beards or some aspect of doing bee beards on Honey Bee Obscura. Come on along.

Sponsor: You are listening to Honey Bee Obscura, brought to you by Growing Planet Media. The folks behindBeekeeping Today podcast. Each week on Honey Bee Obscura hosts Kim Flottum and Jim Tew explore the complexities, the beauty, the fun, and the challenges of managing honey bees in today's world and engaging in an informative discussion meant for all beekeepers, long-timers, and those just starting their journey with bees. Sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things honey bees.

Jim: Kim, right off the bat, this guy who called you, does he know anything about this procedure? Where are we starting, number one? Probably as important as number one is number two, why is he doing this?

Kim: [chuckles] Well, where he is starting is that he's a fairly good beekeeper. He's been at it for a bunch of years. He's familiar with bees. He doesn't have that issue. Why he wants to do it I'm going to have to find out because I can think of a whole lot of reasons not to do it.

Jim: Yes. You know right now as we're talking, there's people on both sides of the fence. Don't ever do these things, or do them all the time. It's not an easy call. Are they good? Are they bad? I don't know, Kim.

Kim: Yes, there's a group of beekeepers out there that say that bee beards show how-- What's the word I want? the word that comes to mind is crazy, but that's not the word I want. [chuckles]

Jim: Maybe it's the right word. I don't know. I know what you're talking about.

Kim: Then there's a group of people that are really, really in favor of doing bee beards because it shows the people that are watching to know you're not going to die, bees can be friendly and they can be worked with and entertaining, and you're not going to get hurt or nobody else in the crowd is going to get hurt. There's both camps here. My guess is, what I should do, or maybe what we should do is start at ground level with this guy and say, "Okay, if you've never done one before, here's a way to do a simple one, more complicated." Then the master of bee beards, the universal master of bee beards, Norm Gary out in California, we can go all the way up to the techniques he uses, pretty sophisticated.

Jim: That would work. That's good. Either way, Kim, you got to be a good bee biologist and a good bee behaviorist to do these things properly. This is not something where you Bob begin in bee book, get a package of bees and the first thing you do is put a bee beard on. That's pretty far down the list of things you're going to be doing.

Kim: Yes. Well, I guess the first thing I tell my friend is talk to your group, is this something that your group is in favor of doing? Or are you going to cause a civil war and have two sides of the equation bickering with each other? Find out that first so that you get everybody on the same side of the tracks. Then, once you've settled that, and you've found out that your group is happy, or some number of the people in your group are happy to help, then you got to talk to the people that are going to be supporting this, the county fair or the master gardener meeting, or whoever in the next beekeeper meeting. Do they support it? It's like putting bees in your yard, what do your neighbors think?

Jim: Yes, to get permission to do that from them. No, you got to have people on board, or otherwise, it's going to turn into a lot of work. There's safety reasons that can't be ignored. Is this a good time to ask, are they going to have a cage, or it's just going to be an open event?

Kim: Well, open event isn't in the equation, I don't think.

Jim: I know this. Some of these things are open, but if they're going to be an open event, I really hope it's going to be a beekeeper event. I would hate for him to be on the parking lot of a local grocery store doing this without some confinements, some cage.

Kim: Well, the tents exist and it's early enough in the season, and he's got a lot of time to round one up, borrow one, or buy one. You can get them and they're just a screen tent, probably, what, about eight by eight, something like that.

Jim: Something like that. Something just to confine the free flight.

Kim: Yes. You can have a beekeeper sitting in there and a beekeeper walking around him, enough room to walk around him so that the bees can be applied to the person sitting on the chair. That's the place to start, get permission, get a cage.

Jim: Yes. They really are attention-getters. No doubt, they are attention-getters. For the sake of this new guy starting, or whatever he's doing, I don't really know where he is, but for the sake of this guy, what kind of bees, Kim? If we're going to do this at the elementary level, we're going to do this toward the simple side, where are you going to get the bees to do this?

Kim: Well, a way to do it that always seems to work is to start with a package or two or three. There's good reason for starting with a package is that they have been essentially queenless, and you can make sure that they've been queenless for like 48 or 72 hours so that you've got all the bees in the same state, you've got three packages, let's say and they're all queenless. They're all looking for a queen, and they're all looking for a queen, but with the same attraction. That's where I would start.

Jim: That's good. One of the techniques, if you've got to establish colonies is to pick your beehive up, move it five or six, seven feet away, put a trap hive on the old stand, pick up the old bees, and then where you've moved the colony, it's all younger bees because you left the foraging force at the original stand site, and then you shake those bees out. You stuck in the deck, you're going on with younger house bees, nurse bees, not the ones that are all defensive and have already been out flying, foraging and defending the colony, they're over on the other location.

Kim: That would be good. That gives you a leg up as it were in terms of the temperament of the bees.

Jim: I think I must say this too, Kim. This is not something that you do with a bee colony in an effort to increase honey production or pollination services. This is a taxing event for this bee colony. There's going to be bees in the cage, there's going to be bees that die on the floor, there's going to be bees lost outside the cage. I'm sounding negative, but I mean to sound truthful. This is an event that you need to really have support for and that you're convinced is going to be worth the cost that the bees are going to have to endure.

Kim: Well, once you've made that reckoning, then you're still in the planning stage here. There are several ways you can look at this, you can do it from a small scale, and that's what you see a lot of. A way to do that would be, you've got this group of queenless bees in some sort of box. Then you get a queen, just a single queen that you apply to the person who's sitting in the chair waiting to have the bee beard applied to them. A typical way to do this is under the chin, you tie that queen cage, she's in a cage, under the beekeeper's chin.

Now, some things the beekeeper is going to want to consider, one of them is cotton in your ears. The other one is, I've seen a lot of people do this and right now nobody would even notice is a surgical mask.

Jim: Right. Nobody would even notice. You're right. That would prevent having to put cotton in your nose. Some of those guys used to pack cotton in their nose, and then breathe through their clenched teeth. These environmental conditions might explain to you why I always chose to be the guy outside the screened tent telling the crowd what was going on and what the people inside the cage are doing. That was always my role.

Kim: That's a good role.

Jim: You got this cage under the guy's chin or under the woman's chin, all kinds of people do it, and then you got these bees from somewhere, they're either queenless or they're either young bees from colonies that we've moved, and then you do watch, you dump them on the shirt of this guy or?

Kim: Well, I've seen it done a lot of ways and the way that I have always liked best was you take this box of bees and you put it up, you hold it a little bit below the chin of the person who's going to wear these bees and you make some way so the bees can walk out of the box up some sort of platform and begin to surround the queen underneath his chin. A way to do that is a piece of window screen, lots of traction, and you can make it as wider, as narrow as you want, depending on the box you have the bees in, and you hold the box close enough so that they don't have to walk very far. If you can imagine this, it's like a wave washing onshore. The bees just wave up that screen around their queen.

Jim: They're just clustering just like they would if they were swarming.

Kim: Yes, and you keep letting them in. If you can, you assist the ones that are reluctant in the box perhaps with a little tug with a piece of paper or something, and you get as many of them up there as you want up there, and then you set the box aside. What you're doing outside the tent is telling people what's going on. What's going on now?

Jim: What's going on right now probably should be us taking just a minute to acknowledge the people who help us pay the bills. Let's be right back.

Sponsor: Betterbee is pleased to sponsor today's episode of Honey Bee Obscura podcast. For over 40 years, Betterbee has supplied beekeepers across the country with the tools, equipment, and knowledge needed to succeed. Because many Betterbee employees are beekeepers themselves, they understand your needs and challenges and are better prepared to answer your beekeeping questions. From their colorful catalog to their supportive beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast, Betterbee truly lives up to their tagline of beekeepers serving beekeepers. See for yourself at betterbee.com.

Kim: Once you get all those bees out of that box, they've climbed up that screen and they're just comfortable sitting on underneath this guy's chin, probably some of them on the chin. If you've got a lot of bees up on your cheeks, some on your shoulders, in the front of your shirt, what's next? You are outside the tent telling people what's going on, what are you telling people?

Jim: I'm telling people that these people are not being killed by these bees because they're younger bees and because they were well fed and because they're not breathing on directly and they're being gentle and that this is the bee's natural response. I'm telling them basically, natural bee biology in an unnatural situation.

Kim: You just mentioned something that I neglected to mention is that once you separate these bees from their queen and you've got them in this box confined, you're feeding them with a spray bottle of sugar syrup like mad.

Jim: Oh yes.

Kim: I neglected to say that. Put that into the equation there.

Jim: Well, I really hope, ironically, this sounds like a commercial and I don't mean for it to, but ABC, the new ABC issue, has a good description of this process and we're going to refer to more here in a bit, but read that before you take this on. You've got to talk to a lot of people, but you're right, Kim, young bees, feeding them heavily, keeping those bees happy, that's the next step. These people who shape them up, their secret tool that they used to use here in Ohio for shaping these bee beards was a credit card. Have you ever seen such? Did you know anything because you could flick a bee, so instead of trying to catch a bee with your finger or whatever, you'd flick it off with a credit card or you'd groom like using a hive tool to shape the bee beard around as the crowd was just in awe of what was going on up there?

Kim: Yes, it keeps them where you want them. I've seen bee beards reluctant to cluster around the queen and they're just spreading up down the chest, across the shoulders, up the cheeks to the top of your head. I don't know why, but your credit card thing is the tool that you need or something similar to push them back down where you want them.

Jim: This is a good opportunity to say that every beard isn't a beautiful beard. Every swarm that hangs on a tree is not a beautiful swarm. Some of those things are up and down the side of the tree and hard to get to and others hang on a beautiful bulbous ball there that is easy to hive. Some days you score, some days you don't score.

Kim: You mentioned the ABC and the section by Norm Gary, I think we want to do that later because that's going to be a whole different technique because what we got to do is finish this one.

Jim: Oh, okay.

Kim: We have to put those bees back in their box.

Jim: Well, I was worried for our listeners here because this is turning into you should be taking notes kind of a format because if we get into what Dr. Gary does too, then this is going to be a bit of a discussion here.

Kim: How do you get the bees off my chin, off my cheeks, off my chest, back into the box? What are the ways to do it because I know there's more than one?

Jim: Are you quizzing me or are you asking a hypothetical question?

Kim: Well, you're the guy outside the tent telling people what's going on.

Jim: Okay. If you're quizzing me, then I would say, "Okay, there's the bee beard, nicely shaped. It's a very temporary thing. Everybody, get your pictures," as the person walks around and everybody is applauding and clapping, and then the moment comes, you got to get these things off. In most cases, that person wearing the beard but leans slightly to the front and would snatch from his waist up, from her waist up, and would knock off most of the bees. Then they tumble to the floor and start flying and then that cage comes off with the queen on it and it would be put someplace inside the tent, and then the bees would find the queen and begin to recluster around her someplace inside the cage tent.

Then back to the person who had the bee beard on, credit card was-- going got crazy flicking, flicking, flicking bees off, keeping bees off the collar if the guy had his shirt on. Then sometimes a special device that we will definitely discuss in the other segment to be done, is the vacuum. The vacuum would come out and the remaining bees would be vacuumed off. These vacuums are really useful and our sponsor, Betterbee, has one that they use for this very purpose. The bees are vacuumed off and everything is cleaned up and it's over and then the placard goes up that the next show will be two or three hours from now. Everybody takes a break and enjoys the event.

Kim: There you are. I guess you call it a small-scale bee beard technique?

Jim: That's a small-scale bee club running it kind of event at the county fair, right.

Kim: All right. Well, like I said, I think we'll wait until next time and talk about the bigger events where you're using pounds and pounds and pounds of bees and you're covering somebody's whole body because the physics and the biology is basically the same, but the techniques are a lot different.

Jim: Then they're hot. Just as a kind of a tickler for the next episode, if you're wearing 30 pounds of bees, it is a hot outfit. It will be good. This is a lot of fun. This is enjoyable. I'm not promoting, maybe you are, I'm not promoting or not promoting, I'm just saying that this is bee biology used in an unusual situation.

Kim: One more thing, Jim, I want to mention is that if you're listening to this program and you either like it or you don't like it, one or the other, share it with a friend, tell a friend to tune in and see what they think about it. If you're thinking of doing a beard in the near future, here's some support for you.

Jim: Until we talk again about it, I think that's enough.

Kim: Thanks for your help.

Jim: Thanks as always to the listeners who've hung on this far.

Kim: Yes, see you next time.

Jim: I'll see you next time. All the best.

[00:19:04] [END OF AUDIO]