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Keeping bees in a small-ish yard- Any stings?

 
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Hello,
My wife and I were hoping to start keeping bees in our relatively small urban backyard (about 1000 square feet.) She's an accomplished apiarist, but I'm mildly allergic to stings. Previously all her hives were in locations other than where we lived. Our question is, for those that keep bees in highly trafficked areas, how often, if ever, do you get stung if you're not directly interacting with the hive? I don't plan on being hands-on with the hive, I'm more concerned that I'll disturb them by working nearby (the hive would be located nearish our compost pile, and the whole yard is filled with trees and their guilds that I spend time attending to).  
Thank you!
 
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placement and orientation of hives can make a big difference. if the entrance is low, close to and facing an area you'll spend a lot of time in, your odds of being stung will be higher than if the entrance is high, far from and facing away from areas you'll spend time in.

placing some sort of barrier between the entrance and areas of human activity can also be effective. a hedge, reed screen, pallet, stack of bales, &c. you don't want the barrier to be close enough to the entrance that it will interfere significantly with the bees' flight path, though. give them a few feet at least.
 
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2 points, Tel has covered others well.
Put the hive on a roof somewhere in the garden
Carry Epi pens with you they will help a lot if you get a bad reaction.
Mildly allergic? Thats like mildly pregnant I am sure?
 
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- Don't get between bees and the sun

- Don't get between bees and their currently harvested source of food

- The above holds 3 x if sweaty or wearing clothing you've noticed to be attractive to bees

- Check the attitudes of your neighbors to bees... It might happen that all of the above will apply to them too (our closest neighbor really likes to mow grass, does it almost every day in season as sons are footbal enthusiasts; has a compost pile at the end of their land, happened to be directly in the flight path of bees harvesting oilseed rape... Cost me a big pot of honey :)

- The roof or general somewhere-higher-up placement is a good idea (but think also of your access - need to be comfortable when working with the hive)

 
tel jetson
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John C Daley wrote:
Mildly allergic? Thats like mildly pregnant I am sure?



that's a good point. there are certainly degrees of severity, but a person's allergic reaction can vary wildly between stings. so what was mild last time might not be next time.
 
tel jetson
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a couple more:

I seem to draw more defense when I've had alcohol. don't eat bananas around bees: they smell a lot like alarm pheromone.
 
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We have 2 hives in pretty much the same sized yard. Between the dogs, kids and regular guest out in the garden we have had only one sting from some one not interacting with the hive. That was while picking peppers 6 inches from the entrance. The bee got squished in there elbow. They felt pretty bad, poor bee. We always warn guest that there are bees out in the yard in case of allergies but otherwise we do not have any increase in stings in our yard nor have any of the neighbors complained of a increase in stings. We mow with a push rotary mower thou so I dont know how the bees would react if you got right up close to them with a motorized lawn mower :)
 
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Thanks for the suggestions! My neighbors are great and supportive of our getting bees, so there’s no issue there. “Mildly allergic” means I’ve been stung a couple times and had swelling in other parts of my body (stung arm, swollen face), but no throat issues and responds well to Benadryl. If most peoples experience is that you hardly ever get stung if you’re not working with the bees, that’s reasonable, but if I’m at risk while doing normal garden activities it’s a no-go. Sounds like with some thoughtful positioning it might be a non issue.
 
John C Daley
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Well, you could give up garden activities and do inside tasks instead!
 
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I currently keep my bees next to my barn, so very high traffic. Have to walk through them to get to the animals. They don't sting me there. However, I have been stung randomly when they were in a different location. That hive stung a lot though, so perhaps it's hive specific and not location specific.
 
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To all the good points given above I would add that you have to consider your strain of bees.
One beekeeper I know likes to call stingy hives his "kamikaze bees" that attack without having been provoked.

My neighbour is more serious into beekeeping and he gets selected queens from time to time. Most of these breeds are so pacific that you could open their hive in your underwear!
We gave him a small swarm this year and he raised his eyebrow at how "lively" they were (euphemistic for stingy).

We had bad luck with our bees this year and it is even unlikely that the current hive will overwinter, but over the past years we had no problem at all with stings. The openings of the hive face towards the shed so they have to fly up and high over our and the neighbour's yard.

Two years ago I have experienced some issues with high varroa pressure (in spite of treating them) which resulted in bees with deformed wings which crawled in the grass. So this was a potential danger when running around barefoot.
 
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I find I have to be within 40 ft to see any change in activity.   I suspect I would be reasonably safe within 10ft, but not on an ongoing basis.
 
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Alder, I think John has a good point about "mildly allergic". As Tel said, reactions to stings can vary and sometimes what begins as a mild reaction to a sting can escalate with the next one. It's not a big step from a swollen face to a swollen throat, and anything more than a localised reaction needs to be taken seriously. I don't want to be alarmist, but to be totally safe it might be wise to discuss an Epipen with your primary healthcare provider. Then always have it with you when you're in the garden and make sure family members know how to use it at the first sign of any lip swelling, hoarseness, or shortness of breath.
 
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Having worked with bees in many contexts for my day job, I just want to say that it's not a matter of if, but when you get stung. Bees in a small yard can be particularly grumpy if you use any power tools near them (e.g. leaf blowers, lawn mowers, line trimmers / weed whackers)--in my experience using these tools near a hive will get you stung >50% of the time, even with a bee suit on, and we keep very docile bees here. Accidentally hitting the hive with manual garden tools will also make them grumpy. I would expect to get stung in your yard at least once a year if you have a hive around and don't alter your behaviour, more if you are working the hive. Make sure to have a hive tool handy to remove the sting ASAP--this helps a lot with reducing any potential reaction by reducing the amount of venom that gets in. Do not pinch the venom sac while trying to remove the sting.

If you have had extensive local swelling, I'd think hard about what you want to do and your tolerance for risk. Reactions can become less severe over time, remain the same, get slowly more severe, or suddenly result in anaphalaxis. I have been fortunate to have a decreasing reaction, but I have had many colleagues who experienced increasingly severe reactions, or alternate severe and moderate reactions.
 
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Something I've learned (the hard way)  about mowing around bees is to quickly make the first pass as close to the hive as needed. Then go mow somewhere else before returning near the hive for another pass. Then go away again. Gradually mow further & further away from the hive.
 
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FWIW, back when we lived in a development, I kept a hive on the 3x3' concrete pad outside the  back door into our garage.  15' from that back door was a row of trees that forced the bees to fly upward at a pretty sharp angle when they were leaving the hive (very convenient for people who walked between the hive and the trees - the bees were already above their heads.  My kids would plunk their little lawn chairs right next to the hive and watch the bees to tell me what color pollen the bees were bringing in.  I didn't even have to smoke that hive when I worked it.  The only problem with putting a hive on a concrete pad is when the weight of the hive full of honey caused the concrete pad to sink unevenly into the ground...tipping the hive forward.    But no one ever got stung there.  Eventually I added a second hive nearly 100 feet away at the very back of the property.  It had a completely different personality, and it got so hot I eventually requeened it to change the mean genes - I couldn't work that hive without completely suiting up, only opening it up between 10&3PM, and oh, yeah, smoke made it meaner.  Everyone avoided the 10' wide strip in the flyway in front of that hive after I got stung repeatedly.  Anywhere else in the yard was fine, but that hive was defensive about its home.  

What I'd say is that it is possible to have a hive in a small yard, and still work in the garden, but how well that works depends on the hive's personality.  An you will definitely want an Epi-pen just in case.  I'm NOT allergic to bee stings, but I carry a pen in my bee bucket when I'm working the bees, because enough stings at once would still be a problem... and I have after all, dropped a hive on my foot in the past.  (Fortunately I was suited up... that time).
 
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