Sept. 22, 2022

Bee Suits and Protective Clothing (092)

Bee Suits and Protective Clothing (092)

One of the first pieces of equipment a new beekeeper buys is a bee suit. If they don’t buy a bee suit, they will at least buy a veil. Stings on the face are not only painful (and memorable to all who see it), they can be dangerous if it is directly...

One of the first pieces of equipment a new beekeeper buys is a bee suit. If they don’t buy a bee suit, they will at least buy a veil. Stings on the face are not only painful (and memorable to all who see it), they can be dangerous if it is directly to one’s eye or around the eyes. In today’s episode, Jim Tew and Jeff Ott, from Beekeeping Today Podcast, talk about the different types of protective clothing available to beekeepers today.

New beekeepers should at the very least, start with a veil. Even though there may be times in the future when you feel safe opening a colony without a veil, when you are starting out, you will want a veil. Most bee supply companies sell a variety of veils from which you can select.

Often beekeepers like to purchase a veil that is integrated with a light jacket. Not only does this provide an additional layer or protection to your upper body but also keeps the grime, dirt and stickiness from your shirt.

Not The Best VeilEvery beekeeper has at least one full bee suit - basically a coverall with an attached veil or coveralls to which you can add your own hat and veil. This is especially desirable when there is a need to inspect multiple hives, move colonies and especially when moving colonies at night.

Finally, a set of dedicated bee-gloves are desired for that occasional, especially defensive hive or when moving colonies when gentle, delicate movements just are not feasible.

Now you are set. Go enjoy your bees!

Thank you for listening. Let us know what you like!

Also, make sure to check out all the great bee suits and protective clothing available from our sponsor, Betterbee!

We hope you enjoyed today's episode. Please follow or subscribe today and leave a comment. We'd love to hear from you!


Thanks to Betterbee for sponsoring today's episode. Betterbee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customer BetterBeeservice, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, Betterbee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at


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

Music: Heart & Soul by Gyom, All We Know by Midway Music, original guitar music by Jeffrey Ott

Copyright © 2022 by Growing Planet Media, LLC


Honey Bee Obscura

Episode 92 – Bee Suits and Protective Clothing



Jim: Jeff, tell me what protective clothing you wear, and why you wear what you wear. Can we talk about that for a while?

Jeff: Protective gearing is something I'd really become interested in talking about, especially when you start watching all those YouTube videos.

Jim: I'd like to talk about that with you. I'm Jim Tew.

Jeff: I'm Jeff Ott from the Beekeeping Today podcast.

Jim: We'd like to spend some time talking to you about those special designer clothes that beekeepers wear, that non-beekeepers always wonder where did you get that? At some local department store?

Jeff: You mean those cutoff shorts and flip-flops? [laughs]

Jim: I see those, like you said, on YouTube videos. I see that occasionally, and I cannot say that I would do that all the time. My bees are more temperamental than that. Undependable.

Jeff: Well, let's get into that.

Jim: Okay.

Introduction: You are listening to Honey Bee Obscura, brought to you by Growing Planet Media, the folks behind Beekeeping Today's 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 honeybees in today's world. Get ready for an engaging discussion to delight and inform all beekeepers. If you're a long-timer, or just starting out, sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things honeybees.

Jim: Jeff, I've made an honest effort on all these podcasts not to have every one of these events be some old tired walk down memory lane.

Jeff: [chuckles]

Jim: I've got to tell you, one of the places that beekeeping has really improved down through the generations is in the protective gear options that you have available to you. When I first started, you'd get a veil, and it tied on with strings, and you've got a converted painter suit, a white set of heavy coveralls, and that was it. That was what you got, and a pair of gloves, of course, which were modified work gloves too, I might add.

Jeff: Yes, or the gray Oshkosh, or that type of work shirt and pants, and the tie-on veil. That's just typically what you would start out with.

Jim: Since I'm on this trail, really quickly, let me tell you one of the greatest advantages that happened. They moved, manufacturers moved away from metal wire in the veil to nylon screening. On that metal wire, when you-- brand new beautiful veil, just got it, and you perspire on that thing twice, just in a Saturday afternoon seemingly that wire would rust through. Beekeepers were notorious for having a big spot of duct tape. We even had duct tape all those years ago right in the middle of their field of view to make up for that hole that had rusted through there. There's just that, that's free, but more often than not, we need to wear this.

I'd like to say now that, and you didn't bring this up, but I'll bring it up. We need to wear at least a veil when we're in the bee yard. I need to admonish myself as much as anyone because you're just in the yard so much, you just wanted to run back and get a quick photo, or just have a quick look to see if those bees are combining themselves correctly, and you don't slip on a veil. That's when you're going to have a serious sting event around the nose, or worse than that, around your eyes.

Jeff: I know it sounds silly, but even when I go to the bee yard to just check on something, I'll put on at least a baseball cap, because I personally don't like to have the bees in my hair. As soon as they get into your hair, they get into that fight-flight, and usually, the fight instinct and reaction, and you risk something. You mentioned around the face and eyes, that's-- some people like to wear that as a badge of distinction, or badge of honor. For many folks, that's just not the way to go.

Jim: For many folks, that is just not the way to go. That should be a take-home comment today from this discussion. If that's your thing, and you're that confident around your bees, and you've told other people who are not that confident not to do this, then go ahead and don't wear the protective gear. I didn't mean for this to go this way, but I've had a bee that crashed in behind my glasses and was bouncing back and forth between my eye and my glasses. It's panic city. You're just all over that bee yard in a flash trying to get your glasses off, got to get your eyes closed, stumbling, and of course, you got stung. It was late in the game, and it was not stung directly in my eye.

I had a student, Jeff, many years ago. He was an international student. Upon his return home, he was, heaven forbid, stung in his eye, and it did cause serious blindness. Maybe partial, but the last time I heard he was blind in one eye because of a bee sting. There's that. Wear your veil. We've got nice veils now, we've got all of these materials that don't rust. Wear those. All right. Let's talk about something else besides "dire-ness" about not wearing protective gear.

Jeff: [laughs] There is that. We don't want to talk about all the negative aspects, but that is why you wear the protective clothing. Not only do you have maybe a welt on your finger or on your arm or something, but you don't want to have a serious bee incident or a stinging incident in your eyes, or up your nose, or inhale or swallow something accidentally. It just is-- it can become problematic.

Jim: Yes. It's been my experience that I use different types of clothes depending on what I'll be doing.

Jeff: Great point. I'm the same way.

Jim: What I'd like to do, Jeff, is to take just a minute and get our thoughts lined up on when we wear what and why, what we've seen other beekeepers wear and why. Let's get our thoughts lined up what we hear from our sponsor.

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Jim: Obviously, the simplest thing to do, Jeff, is just wear a veil. You said to keep bees out of your hair, I don't have any hair on my head. If you're bald, pretty much like I am, you're going to take a sting on the head. Thankfully, a sting on the head's not really particularly painful so much as it is just frightening, and it's occasional, but the simplest thing to do is put on a veil. That means that maybe your arms or your fingers were exposed, or whatever, but you've done this before. You've taken the occasional sting, it's not going to be a big afternoon doing anything. A veil at that particular time is enough. What do you think?

Jeff: I agree with your statement, and I have no problem with that. I do like having an-- even on the hot days, unfortunately, I prefer to have a jacket on, just because of how sticky or messy even doing a quick inspection on a colony can be, and I just don't want to carry that propolis or the honey or whatever's on my hand or on my clothing back into the house. If I have a bee jacket on, which is usually what I wear the lightest thing, then I am only carrying on what's on my hands, and I can wash those, but the jacket stays off, the veil stays off, and I'm good to go that way.

Jim: Well, atually, I don't disagree with you, but if I could agree with you by saying that was my number two. [chuckles] If I'm going to be out there just a bit longer, then I normally wear a half-suit. Jacket suits that the veil's attached to. You slip this on, and there's usually some queen cage corks, piece of wire, something in the pockets there that I'm used to having there, just whatever.

Jeff: Magic markers.

Jim: Yes. Queen marking devices, magic markers. I guess I don't carry that much, but it's handy to have that around. You slip on this bee suit, zip it up, and then you just have a little bit of confidence as you move along there. Anyway, starting at nothing, wearing a veil to wearing a half suit, just slip that on, that's quick and dirty. Now, on those nights-- I'm just a hobby beekeeper now. I have always been either an academic beekeeper, or a hobby beekeeper, but in days gone by, I moved a lot more bees, and I worked with people who were moving colonies for pollination and whatever.

On those heavy-duty work nights, hot, tiresome, crawling, lost, angry bees, that's the time for the full suit. Top to bottom. Duct tape, everything.

Jeff: I agree. When I'm splitting apart multiple colonies and I know it's going to be all day ramshackle in the bee yard event, I'll wear a full bee suit because like you said there's going to be lost, confused, angry bees. There's going to be a lot of crawling bees. That's when I like to pull out the full bee suit. I rarely do that anymore.

Jim: I want to rush, I want to wait just a fraction of a second for you to stop talking so I can say that's easy for you and me because we live in very fairly cool climates. If you're in those hot climates in Alabama and Florida, the west, southwest, and you put that full suit on and it's above 90, it is incredibly hot in that suit. You sweat yourself wet and then the bees can do a better job of stinging through that suit. I don't want to turn off or annoy or frustrate the people listening who just love keeping bees and doing the work, but the more work you do, the more work you do, the more work you do, the heavier that protective gear has got to be, and the heavier the protective gear is the more uncomfortable it becomes.

Jeff: There are those bee suits, and I've never worn one but I've seen them advertised and seen them on the YouTube videos enough. They're like a thin layer of breathable foam that is supposed to be cooler than a typical cotton cloth protective coat or bee suit. Have you ever worn one of those?

Jim: Actually, I have worn one of those. It was years ago. It's manufactured by a company that's probably not in-- I don't know. That was manufactured by a company in Louisiana. I don't want to say that and them not be in business now, but it was, it was a breathable material and it was mainly because the material was about three-eighths of an inch thick. It wasn't that the bees would not try to sting you. It wasn't that the bees didn't know you were in there. It's just their stinger would not physically reach to you in most cases. It was all right, a little bit scratchy, a little bit itchy. You wanted a t-shirt on underneath or something, but it worked.

You know, you made me have another thought. We had an experimental design. It was a hazmat cooling system and it would take ice water coming off of frozen pellets on your back and using a battery and a pump would circulate cold water throughout this vest on your back and chest. We tried putting that under our bee suit and it was weird. Your head is at 96 degrees in the sun, your legs are burning up, your arms and hands are hot and your torso and your back are almost chilled down to 48 degrees. It was a weird feeling.

We've tried all kinds of protective gear down through the years and the thing that I like now the most, the simplest thing that someone did that made life so much easier was the veil that zips open. You can unzip the veil, take a drink of water, eat a sandwich, zip it back up, and go back to the bees because if no heavy suits on, we just described those half suits, you have to open all that up, take that veil off to get it off. Bees here, bees there. Wet, sweaty, sticky that just unzipping that veil. If I had to make a comment, that's-- I don't know really who manufactured them enough to list them, but that's a nice addition to a bee suit.

Jeff: Yes. Just even getting a drink of water sometimes out in a bee yard and having a quick access would be wonderful.

Jim: I enjoy those very much. Most of them are still white. Does it matter to you about the color? You can get some in color but most of them are still snow white. I guess that is for coolness.

Jeff: Two comments on the color. One is, I like a darker color when I'm working with the bees at night or if I'm moving bees at night. I like the gray or darker color so it just doesn't reflect the light from headlights and everything as much. Also if you're mentoring or if you're teaching classes, I like having a different color and I usually wear the jacket but the jacket is a different color just so I stand out in the group and I can be found quicker that way.

Jim: You're like the tour guide who holds the umbrella over their head. You don't have to do that because you're the guy in the red bee suit over there. I like that. That works well.

Jeff: It's not red, it doesn't stand out that big. [chuckles]

Jim: I have seen red bee suits. There's various companies where you can order the colors that you want.

Jeff: One of the things we haven't talked about yet, but it's probably on the very first list of every new beekeeper's purchases is a set of bee gloves. I know there's some controversy whether you wear gloves or don't wear gloves, or I shouldn't say controversy but there's social pressure within the beekeeping community whether to wear gloves or not wear gloves and all the rights and wrongs for doing so. Let's talk about bee gloves, Jim. Is there a use for them in a bee yard?

Jim: Oh, absolutely. I always, always have one maybe two pairs of bee gloves under the seat of my truck. I'm in the bee yard and things started off pretty good but this is really getting to be obnoxious. The bees are stinging too much, maybe it's early August, it's hot and dry, no nectar flow. I get those gloves out. You mentioned bee gloves as you go to bee meetings and people go get to the car to get their protective gear. You see them come back with dishwashing gloves and welding gloves and work gloves and all kinds of things. Most of us do buy the designated bee gloves but people wear everything.

This is how I've seen it work, Jeff. The first-day beekeeping, really apprehensive. Going to be stung to death. They're working dangerous animals here, so they suit up top to bottom. There's not a spot anywhere on them where anything other than an absolute monster bee could get to them. That's okay. That's day one, step one, phase one. Then as that person grows and matures and their confidence builds, they'll begin to slowly take that equipment off. Then finally they're out there like everybody else wearing a half jacket and an attached veil and the gloves under the seat of the truck and then they stay there.

This is what I've seen happen, as they go to more and more colonies, then you go back toward more and more equipment because it's no longer a hobby. It's no longer every bee needs to be nurtured. When it becomes a business and you're paying someone or someone's paying you, you've got to get the work done and that's not a good time to be out there lightly dressed, no gloves on, light veil. The more colonies you get, the more work it becomes, the more you go back to the equipment that you wore when you were a brand new beekeeper. It's a huge cycle.

Jeff: It's funny, isn't it? You're right. The more you're moving equipment around, the more, and I go back to my own-- I tend to put on the gloves when I know I'm going to be moving a lot of boxes or breaking a lot of boxes around. If I'm just doing a quick inspection, individual frame here and there, then I'm not wearing the gloves. If I've got to do a lot of moving, I know the more I work, the more tired I get and less careful I am. I tend to put on the gloves just to prevent carrying a box of bees and getting stung and having to decide whether I want to drop the box [chuckles] or just continue moving.

That's just me. I think it's important to point out that if someone's starting out with bees, don't feel the pressure to go gloveless until you're ready to do so.

Jim: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. If you want to put gloves on and you've been keeping bees for 20 years, I don't care. Put your gloves on. Now there needs to be a caveat here, Jeff, before we close this up. If you are some kind of apiary inspector, you probably really need to either use disposable gloves or probably not wear gloves at all and then wash your hands before and after. It doesn't make a good impression to go in with those classic propolis covered tired well-worn bee gloves when you've just come from the most diseased beekeeper in the state. Now you're going to inspect my hives with those gloves.

Jeff: And that hive tool. [chuckles]

Jim: And that hive tool. That needs to be a particularly unique situation where maybe you work in a lot of bees but you should not have a lot of gloves on most of the time.

Jeff: Yes, and you'll see a lot of the videos and talk to the bee informed partnership inspectors and transfer folks, they will be wearing those bright blue medical gloves as they go through hives and they can just dispose of them as they need to.

Jim: Yes. Okay. As we wind down and we prepare to end this, let me ask you this last question. What equipment do you have right now, what's your range of protective gear that you have right now?

Jeff: Oh, the range. I just have three pieces, I guess. I have a full bee suit, I have a jacket and gloves. The bee suit and the jacket are, I mentioned a brand name, but they're not a sponsor, BJ Sheriff, and it's all combined one kit. That's what I've had since the '80s, really.

Jim: I'm remarkably the same, except I also have standalone veils. I have a veil that you can just put on quickly, I have the typical jacket type half suit, and then for those really bad days, long nights, I've got the full suit, but when I get that thing out, it's going to be a miserable time when you need with all that kind of work coming up. Wear what you need, beekeepers. Wear what you're comfortable with, wear what you've got, but wear it. Back where we started, protect your eyes and your nose, otherwise, it's going to be some painful potentially dangerous things.

Jeff: I would recommend you go ahead and get a real bee suit, though, or bee jacket with a veil and don't try to home-make it with just a shirt and bunches of duct tape and leather gloves. Just outfit yourself properly for the hobby and you'll be more successful. You'll be cooler in the temperature sense, and you'll be a happier beekeeper.

Jim: I can't add anything to that. Nicely said. Good equipment equals a good experience in most cases.

Jeff: That's my experience.

Jim: Can we thank everyone for listening? Because if they've hung on now, they've spent about what, 25 minutes here or so listening to us ramble on and on. In 25 minutes we can't cover everything, but get a nice bee suit. Take care of yourself. I enjoyed it, Jeff.

Jeff: Thanks a lot, Jim. Thanks for inviting me on.

Jim: Yes. Bye-bye.


[00:21:59] [END OF AUDIO]



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