Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Soft Touch with the Bee Brush

My first year in beekeeping I was trying to do a fast flick with the bee brush to remove the bees but then I noticed several bees with their feet brushed off.  I was brushing from down to up as recommended but I was doing it too hard.

[Photo - Dad taking a turn at brushing bees].

Trust me, seeing bees with no toes is a sad sight.

The next year I brushed much slower and lighter.  The frames in mid summer were heavily covered in bees and they fell off in clumps.  On occasion a bee would sting the brush but for the most part they were cooperative.

That worked fine last year.  But this year was a different story.

This year the yard was behaving differently.  Robbing was a real problem and the attitude of the bees when extracting on a few occasions in late July was pretty intense.

So I kept everything covered as best I could.  But my brushing was pissing them off.  Normally with a brush stroke I might get one bee stinging the brush.  But this time I would get about 10.  They were really mad.  Then they were stinging my fingers and bumping me.  They were upset.  I got stung so much I had to put gloves on for the first time.

I smoked the air which I believed helped (normally I never have to smoke them) and I rethought what I was doing.  I was brushing them lightly but quickly.

So I slowed right down with the brush and I used super light strokes.  It worked beautifully.  I mostly used the top 2" of the brush to lightly touch the bees, stroking from the bottom up.  They would fly up or drop down into the hive.  But the huge difference was their attitude.  It was like they didn't realize I was there.

From that time on I continued with this technique, as well as covering everything up.  It took longer to go slower but the end result was that I didn't need gloves, didn't get stung and I didn't need to use smoke again.

Another thing we learned this summer is that not all brushes are alike.  My friend Janice bought a yellow/orange bristled brush but we found her bees got mad too - the bristles were thick and stiff and with each stroke its like the bees were being slapped.  When she switched to my softer brush the bees calmed right down.  So check the bristles on a brush before you buy one.
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