Beekeepers have been around longer than beekeeping gloves. A lot of the “old timers” don’t use gloves. Either they don’t mind getting stung or they rarely do anything to provoke their bees to sting. I assume it is the latter.
If a beekeeper can handle working sans gloves, it’s admirable to me. For those who use gloves, working bees without gloves is a great goal to work towards.
Lots of beekeepers use gloves because they can’t afford to lose functionality in their hand for a day. I’m one of those beekeepers who needs a fully functioning hand everyday (as if nobody does). When stung in the hand, my hand likes to swells up nicely and it puts my fine motor skills out of commission. My hand will get nice and puffy, prompting the hasty evacuation of my wedding ring.
During my first year and a half of beekeeping, I would rarely wear gloves. With a low population of bees, I was able to gradually build my confidence as my bees slowly built their population up. Here are five things I learned about working gloveless
Bees are very passive and rarely sting unless provoked
Reaching quickly across frames from back to front (or vice versa) provokes bees to sting
Working without gloves taught me to respect bees, making me a much better beekeeper
If given the choice, I would rather not get stung (it hurts like the dickens)
Bees are pretty tough and will move out of the way when you apply a little pressure
I now use gloves nearly all the time now. I miss all the dexterity that going glove less gave me, but my hands thank me for it. I still maintain the slow, zen-like movement when handling my bees, but can still tell when the bees would rather me be somewhere else.
Like a farmer can smell the rain or a sailor reads the water, beekeepers have their own learned skill set. And being able to “read” your bees is of the utmost importance. If you don’t know how to “read” your bees, work them without gloves and they will teach you.
The great news about using gloves is they are fairly inexpensive. There are a lot of options now available for every price range.