Tips for Beekeeping with Children
I, Matthew Davies, was recently talking with other parents about beekeeping with my kids. They expressed disbelief that I would expose my young children to such a danger. It took more than an hour to make them a little more comfortable with the idea. That discussion inspired this blog, so I’d like to take this opportunity to discuss with you, my readers, some ways that you can keep your children safe while beekeeping and teach them a valuable skill in the process.
Caring for a small animal, being accountable for farm duties, tidying up the garden, and replanting with bees in mind are all excellent tasks for farm kids. One of my preferred ways to get children enthusiastic about and reverent for nature has been to incorporate them in our beekeeping activities. Nothing is quite as incredible as the life cycle of the humble honeybee, in my opinion. Equally few objects in nature demand as much respect as a hive full of stinging insects. Involving your children in beekeeping may seem daunting at first glance, but rest assured, with the safety tips you will find in the paragraphs below, I believe you will find it easy enough.
Safety begins with having the right gear and equipment. Your children should have a beekeeping suit that fits them properly. Yes, you will have to buy more bee suits as they grow up, but you can pass them down to your younger kids. Alternately, once your children outgrow their suits, you can donate them to your local beekeeping society. In my experience, it is something they do not have enough of.
If you’re unable to afford a beekeeping suit, there are some alternatives. For example, you can have your children wear multiple layers of thick clothing; I would suggest no fewer than two layers. Additionally, they should be covering all areas of exposed skin. Make sure they wear close-toed shoes. Flip-flops or Crocs are not acceptable. You will still need to find a hat and veil for them. These are much easier to come by than a full suit. If push comes to shove, modify an adult-sized hat and veil to protect them.
Once your kids are of an age where they can dress for the harvest by themselves, allow them to do so. That does not mean you are not going to check if they are prepared to begin. It is in the best interest of all involved to make sure they have not missed any spots. Have them check your coverage as well.
Acknowledge Their Fears
Be considerate to children who are just plain fearful of bees. Don’t compel them to take part in hive maintenance if they’re too anxious at first over the presence of so many stinging insects. Over time, the anxiety should subside, and they’ll become more comfortable with the concept of bees. There are a lot of beekeeping jobs that don’t consist of direct contact with the bees, such as cleaning and storing supplies, finding smoker fuel, helping to process the honey, and counting the pollinators in the flower garden.
Prepare for Stings
Being stung is part of the job. No matter how long you have been beekeeping, you will get stung from time to time. This is something that your child must understand. It is essential to let them know that when, not if, it happens, they are to remain calm. Have them alert you to what has happened and walk away. Join your child away from the hive as soon as you are able to secure the hive. Make sure you have your favorite bee sting remedy on standby. Let your child know where you keep it so they can get started on the removal of the stinger and application of the medicine as soon as possible.
This should go without saying, but one of the most essential tools to have on standby when you are working on the hives is an EpiPen. Only a small percentage of the population has a deadly reaction to bee stings the first time. However, over time, bee allergies can develop. You don’t want to be caught without this life-saving device.
Assign Jobs Ahead of Time
Every member of your family should have a job assigned to them before they descend on the hives. When tending to the colonies with your children, be sure to have more than one adult on location. This will ensure that you have more than one set of eyes to watch over them. Beekeeping can get hectic, and you may lose focus on the child. Below you will find a list of beekeeping tasks your children can do while learning how to bee keep.
- turning the extractor handle and holding the containers beneath the spigot during honey processing
- holding the smoker
- uncapping the honey
- spraying agitated bees with honey water to calm them
- cleaning and storing equipment
- using the hive tool to loosen outside and underneath propolis
- cleaning out the smoker after use
- gently brushing bees from honey frames with the bee brush
- wrapping the hive in winter and placing rodent guards at the entrance
- retrieving the queen cage after initially hiving the bees
- replacing the lid of the hive carefully
- placing new, clean racks in the hive and removing full honey frames
- pouring honey water into the feeder when it’s in use
- inspecting for mites, hive beetles or other invaders
- observing other pollinators in the garden and keeping tabs on how they interact with the honeybees
Teaching children to respect and love nature is a worthy goal for any parent, farm-raised or otherwise. We have so many resources at our fingertips. All you need to do is take the time to sit down with your kids and share the information.
I, Matthew Davies, couldn’t be happier that I have shared my love of bees with my children. I hope that you can take this information and use it to teach your children to enjoy something you love as well. It is a great way to connect and pass on a skill that they can carry with them for the rest of their lives.