Nude Beekeeping

After several years of wishing, I finally started my new hobby of beekeeping last year. Wishing to give the bees the most natural environment possible, I chose to use "top bar" hives, after doing a lot of reading online and in books. Last year's bee colonies were a great learning experience, complete with successes and failures. Both of my two colonies started the 2019 season well, building good honey comb and harvesting lots of nectar and pollen. Unfortunately, one colony absconded late in the summer, for reasons yet unknown. The other colony kept working through the early Autumn, and seemed as if they would do well during the winter, but didn't make it through the coldest months.

I started out using a protective beekeeper's jacket, veil, and gloves, as most apiarists (beekeepers) do. Although the gear worked very well, it quickly became uncomfortably hot as the weather warmed up in late Spring. Trying to stay as cool as possible, I usually wore only a pair of loose-fitting cargo short, with no shirt under the jacket, and I was usually barefoot. Bees would occasionally brush, and sometimes land on my bare legs, without incident, and I quickly became very comfortable about it. The thought occurred to me that if a bee crawled beneath the legs of my shorts, it could become trapped, become defensive, and sting, but it didn't happen, so I kept wearing the shorts.

My gloves are thin leather, with long fabric cuffs and elastic bands that overlap the jacket sleeves. Though they're very good at protecting me from stings, I soon found that it was impossible to feel bees if they wound up between my fingers, or between any part of my hands and any parts of the hives. This presented a crushing risk to the bees, which in turn led to defensive stinging. When one bee stings, it emits a pheromone that alerts the other bees, causing them to also become defensive. When a honey bee stings, it will die, so it quickly became apparent that the gloves were a potential risk to several bees at a time. And, of course, the gloves are hot, just like the jacket.

I started working without gloves, and found that besides being more comfortable, I was able to handle the hive parts, tools, etc. with greater dexterity. I also found that if I placed a bare finger on a bee, I felt the bee before doing any harm, and it would usually just wiggle out of the way and continue it's business. If I placed a finger, or hand in a bee's way, the bee would often simply walk across my fingers or hand, continuing along it's  way.

Soon enough, as with many other activities, I decided to try working with the bees while nude. Online, I'd read some articles, and seen some pictures and videos of people interacting with bees while nude. Having a few wild bees around me, and even landing on me, while I've been nude has been a very common experience, given the fact that I spend a great deal of time nude outdoors. Still, I must admit that the first time I opened a hive with tens of thousands of very active honey bees inside, while wearing nothing at all, I was a bit unsure about it! But I did it, and the bees simply kept right on doing "bee stuff"...working on their comb, buzzing around me, landing on my bare body for a walk-around inspection, and simply doing the things that bees naturally do.

It's been said (quite often, in fact) that I'm "crazy", usually when someone sees or hears about some of my activities. Is nude beekeeping safe? Or am I just taking crazy chances? I cannot say for sure. And I am not recommending that anyone else try interactions with bees while nude. That's something that everyone will have to decide about on their own, if it interests them. Anyone with an allergy to bee stings should definitely NOT try nude beekeeping, as it could prove quite dangerous. Having been stung on many occasions in life, with no bad consequences, I'm relatively confident that I'm not allergic.

For myself, I find that, as with so many other things in nature, the human body was created to harmonize well without man-made inventions. The naked human body apparently seems perfectly natural to bees. This year's two new colonies started their nude-human interactions early, and seem to regard my naked body as simply another part of their natural environment. It might seem odd, or even unnerving to some, to have a few bees landing on literally ANY part of their naked body, but I've come to regard the experience as totally natural, as well. After all, I'm simply hanging out naturally nude with several tens of thousands of my closest friends, who are also naturally nude!

 

 

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17 thoughts on “Nude Beekeeping”

  1. We had a bee trap in our yard for a local api and friend of our daughter. Finally captured a hive and we were soooooo excited. Next day found out that fire ants had found the hive and it was dead. Almost cried. Two grands have bee suits. And a third is interested. So cool what you are doing but not my thing.

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    • As soon as you said “fire ants”, I knew you must also live in the south! LOL!

      I’ve read some things about bee traps, and it’s something I definitely want to try soon. It’s great that the grandkids are interested in bees! These days, anything that gets the kids away from the electronic entertainment stuff and INTO THE OUTDOORS is a blessing!

      Hey, if we were all into the same things, the world would be a boring place! And by the way, thank you for your years of service of being “into” the “firefighting thing”!

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  2. I tend to my pool at the Casa naked all of the time and there are always several bees in the area. I just think well wishes to them and encourage them to be on their way and they never bother me unless I accidentally bother one of them.

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    • We often have to rescue bees in our pool. They go to it as a water source, but sometimes mis-judge the surface and wind up IN the drink, instead of GETTING a drink. We’ve never yet had one sting us during a rescue…we just raise a hand from below and lift them from the water. Then, we either coax them onto the side, or just let them rest on our hands until they’re dry enough to fly away.

      The same isn’t true of red wasps, though! They’ll sting you just because they can!

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  3. Although I know nothing about beekeeping, I did read something a week or so ago that applies. It was something like, “If you feel a trickle of sweat going down your back, it’s sweat. If you feel a trickle of sweat going up your back, it’s a bee.”

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  4. While I do strongly believe that one can be safely nude around bees, assuming they are not prone to allergies or sensitivities to stings, I also want to stress that each person’s safety is an individual consideration. Anyone who interacts with bee colonies WILL BE STUNG from time to time. Whether that sting is directed into protective clothing or bare skin is the only difference.

    Bees have delivered stings on occasions when I’ve been working with my bees. Some of those stings were into protective clothing, and some were into my skin (usually my hands). Nude beekeeping may be great for some of us, but we must all choose the wisest option for ourselves.

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  5. I’m no expert on bees, but there seems to be a certain logic to what you are saying:

    For the bee there is a high price to pay for stinging you, so it makes sense that it will not do so unless it feels threatened and even then it is doing so for the sake of the whole colony (hence the pheromone warning). If by allowing yourself to be more aware of where the bees are coming into contact with you, you can avoid harming them, they will not be alarmed, so will not attack. That much makes sense.

    What is surprising is that they don’t see your disturbance of the hive as a threat in the first place. I can only assume that evolution has not equipped them, either individually or collectively, to make the connection between the disturbance of the hive and the human doing it?

    Thanks for posting about your experiences with your bees – it certainly set me thinking and is another example of how clothes alienate us from nature.

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    • Thanks, Brian!

      Like you, it makes me wonder sometimes why the bees don’t just attack a human, nude or clothed, when the hive is opened. It’s still a big learning curve for me, too. There are days that the bees are a bit “cranky”, such as when it’s cold. But, awareness of the mood of the hive is one thing that I’ve found to be particularly important from the very start of every interaction. When the weather is pleasant, and even hot, the bees usually seem so busy with what they’re doing that they just don’t concern themselves with what I’m doing.

      Two other types of natural experiences contributed to my thinking about being nude around bees. One is from the SCUBA diving world, the other is from the woodlands.

      Divers often wear gloves for no other purpose than to protect our hands from abrasions. Coral and other sea life can be harsh to handle. And that begs the question: Why on Earth would we try to handle it, if we’re only there to observe it? (I’m not picking on ethical harvesting practices…I love oysters, lobsters, etc. as much as anybody). Many dive operators prohibit the wearing of gloves while diving, precisely to keep divers from touching things that shouldn’t be disturbed and damaged. Being bare-handed not only keeps ones hands off delicate structures and life, it helps to cultivate one’s awareness of the whole body, fins, equipment, etc., which helps us keep all of our human-ness within our own “personal space” and protects the undersea world from us.

      Many times, while hiking in wooded areas, and while working and hiking on my own property, I’ve noticed that wildlife doesn’t seem to regard a naked human with the same fear as they would a clothed human. I’ve hunted, hiked, and otherwise enjoyed a huge portion of my life in the woods, both clothed and nude, and watched the animals’ reactions differ greatly. When I’ve been clothed, whitetail deer will usually walk away quickly, or simply bolt, with their white tails expressing their alarm as they bound away. When I’ve been nude, the reaction is usually a good once-over inspection of me, followed by intermittent glances as they continue what they were doing. They remain aware, as any prey must do to survive, but they don’t seem to automatically associate my naked body as that of a predator. Of course, being barefoot allows one to move more quietly, as bare feet can feel noisy twigs before putting weight down and snapping them. And just like the beehives and the undersea world, bare feet require slower, more deliberate moves, to avoid injury.

      As you said, clothing really does alienate us from our natural world!

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      • I must thank you! I have for some years now held to the theory that nature comes closer when I am naked. I too have had closer encounters with deer when naked, than I have managed when clothed. I even get the impression that birds come closer too. So your comments have added to that belief, thank you.
        I am not always barefoot (rarely in fact), but agree that it would help as you describe. I sometimes wonder if it is simply being our natural colour that helps; not that I often dress in bright red or black and yellow stipes!

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        • Perhaps the contours play a part, as well. Clothing tends to show man-made contours, especially if it has stripes or patterns. Bare skin is a more natural surface, with curves in three dimensions, reflecting light in softer variations. I have some pics that my trail camera took of me, while I worked on a feeder in my woods. Maybe I’ll post some on another thread about wildlife and nude human interaction.

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      • Now that you mention it, the mule deer on my property here in Montana don’t have the same flight reactions when viewing me nude in the woods or even around our house when they browse near by. Matter of fact they stare and maneuver to keep looking at me, though won’t get too close.

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        • In early archery season in Arkansas (October), I’ve been able to hunt nude occasionally. There’s a fine line between cool enough to avoid being a full-body mosquito buffet and being too cold for nude comfort while being still. I’m thinking that Montana would just be too darned cold for nude hunting in the Fall! 😉

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  6. Great article Jim, makes total sense, we have several beekeeping friends who have to attend the allergy clinic due to bad reactions to stings, but obviously don’t want to give up their bees.
    We will suggest this as a logical alternative and one that ensures complete harmony with their surroundings, which after all is what we all try to achieve!!

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    • Thanks, Nick and Jane!

      Please feel free to pass along my thoughts, share the article, etc. But also remember, I am no expert in this, and am only sharing my own limited personal experiences and thoughts regarding bees. The risk of a bad reaction may be too high for those with allergic sensitivities to attempt un-protected interactions. I certainly do not want to influence anyone into trying something that may seriously harm them.

      Like I said, I’ve been “bee-tested” many times throughout my life, with no ill reactions. If that were not the case, I might not feel as comfortable being nude around bees. I believe that an apiarist’s comfort level is the most important factor for harmonious bee-human interactions.

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