The aim of this post is to give novice beekeepers an insight into what is available and what they should look for.
There is a huge range of clothing available for the beekeeper today. It is important to take time, and consider what you need and what you feel comfortable with.
Things to consider before purchase
You may not have worked with bees very much and still deciding whether beekeeping is a hobby you wish to pursue. There is also the not insignificant costs involved in setting up your first hive to be considered
This can lead to a temptation to cut costs by buying cheap clothing. I strongly advise against this as it is possible to buy good quality clothing, which will last, at very reasonable prices.
Novice beekeepers can be the hardest to advise when it comes to clothing. Usually they do not want to spend a great deal especially if they are undecided on continuing with the hobby. A common reaction therefore is to buy the cheapest available. Doing this though runs a big risk. Beekeeping clothing made from thin material may be inadequate to stop bees from stinging through the material. In addition, poor zips, poor stitching and bad design can all lead to you having a very bad experience with bees. I have known many that have turned their backs on beekeeping as a result of not being choosy enough when purchasing their clothing.
Sometimes you see experienced beekeepers not wearing gloves or a veil when working their bees, I strongly advise you not to copy them until you know exactly what you are doing and how to handle bees.
It is important to note whichever style of clothing you decide on, always wear a stout pair of trousers (especially with tunics and jackets) and always wear wellington boots to prevent bees crawling up your trouser leg. I also advise wearing leather gloves and forearm protection.
When you first open a hive containing perhaps 50,000 bees, confidence is paramount and you can only have that confidence if you are confident your clothing will give you maximum protection.
This is usually the cheapest style and should be considered the minimum required to approach a hive. Generally, though not always, there is no neck zip so the veil is stitched directly to the tunic. This makes cleaning the tunic very difficult.
Depending on price these tunics can be made of very lightweight material and can be awkward to put on and take off.
If you do decide on a tunic, check that the veil is made of good material, and is not prone to tearing easily. Check the elastic around the bottom of the tunic and arms is strong and keeps the tunic snug against your body.
Better quality ones, especially if they have a detachable veil, are useful to have in the apiary for visitors.
Various styles are available and although usually more expensive than tunics are in my view better buys. All have front zips so putting on and taking off is easier. They have detachable veils so machine washing of the jacket is possible. Veils should always be removed prior to machine washing.
Things to look for in the jacket are
Is the material sufficiently thick enough to prevent stings?
Is the stitching sound using quality thread? You don't want seams or stitching coming undone.
Are the zips of good quality and run easily without sticking?
Do the veil zips cross over under the chin if zipped correctly there should be no bee entry points, - believe me if there is a way in they will find it and it's very unsettling seeing a stray bee on the inside of your veil!
Check the elastic at the wrist and bottom of the jacket is strong and keeps the jacket closed again preventing bee entry.
Elastic thumb loops are usually standard on most jackets.
Is the veil made of quality material that combines both strength with clarity of vision? When wearing the veil does it naturally fall away from the face? Most veils naturally become more flexible with use but you need a veil which has sufficient space between veil and head at all times. Some beekeepers will wear a hat or baseball cap under the veil to ensure this space is there at all times.
All in one suit
As the name implies this combines jacket and trousers in one.
It is probably the first choice for the novice beekeeper as it affords the best protection.
In addition to the points made for jackets.
Make sure the trousers have ankle zips - these are a considerable when taking the suit on and off.
There should be ankle elastic loops and I find it useful if there is a two-way front zip.
There are a number of veils on the market, the most common styles are the hoop veil and the fencing style of veil. Providing they are of sound construction and mad of good material the choice is down to individual preference.
I would recommend good quality leather gloves. These should be made from a supple leather and when worn should fit snugly. You do not want gloves which clumsy longer than your fingers as it makes handling frames in your hive harder and you can be more clumsy which can annoy the bees. Your gloves will get dirty and they are not the easiest things to clean. I suggest using a pair of the disposable latex gloves over the leather. This serves two purposes. One they keep the gloves cleaner. Two the can be changed and thrown away between hive or apiary inspections so helping with disease control.
Some prefer rubber gloves or just latex gloves as sense of touch is not impaired as much. I find these do not offer the same against stings.level of protection as ;leather but on the plus side they are much easier to keep clean.
If you do decide to use these type of gloves I would advise wearing gauntlets to protect your wrist and forearm
With all clothing there are other factors which influence price like number of pockets, knee pads, thickness of material but hopefully this post will give you an idea of what to look for.
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