At the risk of offending, it’s time to get honest. As crazy as this may sound, as a beekeeper, you should consider your hygiene around your bees. The bees themselves value hygiene and are very sensitive to odors. That is why a conscientious beekeeper does the same.
If you approach your colonies with strong body odors, strong breath, or strong perfumes, you will often pay the price with angry bees. Bees do not appreciate anything that makes you smell like a wild animal, or alternatively, excessively perfumed and unnatural. Strong odors typically cause honeybees to behave more aggressively. They make you more conspicuous and seem like more of a threat. At times, here at Wildflower Meadows, we have noticed this pattern where a clean, hygienic employee can go a whole day without a single sting, while his or her partner with a messy bee suit and poor hygiene is harassed by the very same bees, all along while doing the same work and working right next to the clean employee!
This brings up an important point about bee suits. They need to be washed and kept clean. Especially if you were stung on a previous bee inspection, as your bee suit will retain the pheromone of the last sting or stings. It is specifically that particular alarm pheromone that is the worst possible odor to have when approaching a bee colony. It alerts the guard bees that you have already been stung at least once, and are therefore are likely a threat. The venom odor, which you may not be able to smell, but that bees certainly can, is not a good way to win your bees’ favor with you!
Another point to consider is that leather watch bands can also be a problem around the bees. Besides the fact that leather has the odor of an animal, a dark color can also aggravate bees, especially when it is moving rapidly back and forth in front of your bees’ eyes. Honeybees don’t care about the time and don’t see a watch; what they do see is a piece of dark animal skin flashing in front of them. What’s worse, is that if the watch band gets stung, then the pheromone will be embedded in the watch band, making it even more disturbing to the hive.
One of the golden rules of beekeeping is that when working with a hive, you want to approach the bees in a calm and respectful manner. In many ways, when you are working with a colony of bees, you become their guest, or perhaps even an extension of their very collective – their connection to the human world. You are their caretaker and become a part of the hive. Considering that the bees place such a high importance on odors and pheromones – much more than we do – it is in your best interest that you show the bees this respect and do the same. Your bees will be more likely to welcome you into their world with open wings!