I don’t wear the traditional beekeepers’ getup. My honeybees show little interest in stinging me, and those giant head to toe white suits that make a beekeeper look like a deep sea diver are expensive.
I always wear a hat and gloves, as I’ve learned that I get jumpy when I feel bees in my hair or on my hands, and being jumpy is one of the best ways to get the bees worked up and therefore more aggressively defensive. I used to wear a homemade head net of tulle to protect my face, but it was more trouble than it was worth. During the cooler seasons I also wear long sleeves and pants. But during the hot hot summer, I can’t be bothered with that either.
Currently when I go out to the hives, it is just with my sunhat and gloves, plus the tanktop and skirt I wear all the time during the hot hot summer to stay cool. While my costume felt lovely and breezy compared to one of those head-to-foot beekeeper suits, I was reminded of the other benefit, besides protection from bee stings, that bee suits offer: protection from propolis stains.
Not to say propolis won’t stain those bee suits, but if all you wear it for is beekeeping, you don’t really care if it is covered with bee stains, do you?
Propolis, in case you were wondering, is like bee glue or cement. The honeybees make it by collecting sap-like substances from plants and trees and then mixing it with beeswax and who knows what else. It is sticky like taffy in the summer and mustard brown colored. They use it all over their hives. They use it to seal up any cracks in their hive, like those between each stacked box (hive body) or between any small gaps between the wooden frames inside their hive. This is where beekeepers battle it most. Any time you open up a hive or remove a frame, you are using a tiny pry bar called a hive tool to unstick what propolis has stuck.
Besides being a pain to beekeepers, propolis is a pretty amazing substance. In addition to making their hives as airtight or closed up as they’d like it, propolis also has disinfectant qualities to it. When something gets inside of the hive that the bees don’t want but cannot carry out, they can cover it entirely in propolis to effectively isolate it from the colony. Apparently a mouse body trapped inside a hive will not decay once it’s been encased in propolis.
So the other day I was working with my hive, and my gloves and hive tool become a sticky mess with propolis. This is usual. But all of a sudden I felt something moving inside my shirt. I did a lovely job of not getting jumpy, but assuming it was a stray bee (and likely to sting me if it realized it was trapped against my skin), I set down my hive tool, took a step or two back, and pulled out my shirt with my gloved hand. It was only sweat dripping (gross, yes? oh, hot hot summer). Unfortunately, my gloved hand had left a sticky propolis smear on my tank top.
K is the laundry doer of our house. And she’s used to just how dirty all my clothes seem to get, but this will be a new challenge for her. And likely reoccuring. Propolis is regrettably not water soluble.