We worked our new hives for the first time last Saturday. All in all, it went very well. No one got stung despite us not getting the smoker to really work properly until the very end. Honey bees get such a bad rap... they're just not at all aggressive. A person's much more likely to get injured by a dog, but no one flips over Fido moving in.
I digress. Anyway, as I was saying, it all went well. We're still VERY new to this so we didn't quite know all the various things to look for. Every day when I'm in the pasture filling water buckets, I peak at the hives. I don't open them, just stand to the side and watch for a decent amount of activity. They're always buzzing and busy. I also look for an abnormal amount of dead bees on the ground. Thankfully I haven't seen any of that.
Husbandman closing up after finishing the task.
So, because people ARE going to wonder about safety, let me share the facts.
Africanized bees are aggressive and those bees are gradually crawling up the state of Florida. It is estimated that by 2015, 1 in every 6 homes will have a colony of Africanized bees on their property. Keeping nice, docile honey bees around will actually PREVENT Africanized bees from deciding your home is a good place for them. An established hive is already going after their food source. When a swarm is looking for a place to land, they will be less likely to go where bees are already inhabiting.
Honey bees only sting when they're feeling like the hive is being threatened. And they give plenty of warning. A few dive bombs to the head will let anyone know that they're getting too close.
We have opted for minimal gear. We have 1 proper veil (which I was wearing) and both of us opted for no gloves. Gloves make for clumsy fingers that can squish bees when handling frames. Many experts don't even wear veils when their working their hives. I read about a man who complained about his horribly aggressive hives as he bumbled around in a complete head-to-toe bee suit. Another expert went to inspect these "aggressive" hives wearing normal light colored clothes and a baseball cap. Turns out the bees weren't aggressive at all. The man in the suit just wasn't being careful and then never bothered to clean his suit between uses. Being clumsy and careless makes them defensive. Once they sting (or try to sting) they leave a pheromone on you telling the others that you're dangerous and should be stung. This man only needed to go into his bee yard in his pheromone drenched suit and every sentry on guard would be after him. Careful, slow movements make for calm, happy bees.
And a word about "swarms". The word "swarm" brings fear to many people, but in actuality, swarms are nothing more than a great big breeding fest. A new queen is made and she leaves the original hive with a line of drones (who are nothing more than breeding machines) and they find a new place to settle. During a swarm the bees are more docile than ever. A person can literally pick up that pulsing, buzzing ball of bees and simply drop them in a box and never get stung. I've heard several people say they have put their bare hand into the center of a swarm ball and pulled it back out without ever being stung.
The kids have all been introduced to the hives. Since they reside in the pasture, which the kids are too short to get in to without adult assistance, there is no risk of them stumbling upon them or getting more curious than is safe. Even still, they'd get a sting or 2 and would quickly be running crying to mommy and no other stings would be necessary. The goats and sheep have learned to not bother them, so why shouldn't kids? As for allergies, I doubt we will have an issue with them. There's now a suspicion of a link between extreme allergies an excessive vaccinations. Given our vaccination record, I'm doubtful there will be an allergy or one very severe.
We will possibly not get any honey this year. We want to create the best base for them which means allowing them to build their own comb (for at least the bottom box) and allowing them to keep plenty of honey for themselves. We'll let each hive fill up 2 deep 8-frame boxes before adding a honey super. If we get honey before winter, great. If not, there's always next year.