The bees are out. We went camping last weekend. We had a leisurely morning. It was warm, quiet, pleasant, calm. We started to make breakfast and I swear the minute that bacon hit the frying pan, every bee in North Idaho was congregated around our camp stove.
Few things are more annoying or can wreck an otherwise pleasant meal than trying to eat when you’re dodging bees flying around your head, buzzing in your ear, and crawling around in your plate. In my case, there’s also a bit of fear that one will go psycho on me and try to set a world stinging record on my face.
Because of this irritation, I decided to go on a quest to find out how to at least minimize my close relationship with bees, and find ways to enjoy outdoor eating in the future without having to wear full body armour.
What Attracts Bees?
Unlike mosquitoes, bees are not attracted to the smell of humans. Bees are attracted to color and smells in their environment. They’re pretty simple insects, actually, and in my mind, unlike mosquitoes, they actually have a purpose. They’re pollinators. That’s usually what they’re out flying around trying to do, only to discover they’ve made a wrong turn heading for that rosebush and ended up on top of our soda can. We start flinging food and waving our arms around which either scares them or pisses them off and they react. So basically they get a bad rap for being an insect who’s guided by only his sense of smell and bad eyesight.
Bees are looking for flowers to pollinate. Flowers smell, well…flowery. So if you smell like one, you may end up with some hairy, big-eyed insect trying to suck up some of your nectar. Although bees are attracted to smells more than they are to colors, they still may mistake you for a flower if you’re wearing certain colors or prints. Contrary to popular belief, bees and wasps aren’t necessarily attracted to colors that resemble flowers so much as they are aggressive towards colors and textures that resemble their predators.
Strong food odors also attract bees, especially sweet smells, and once they get a whiff of your picnic food, they’re almost impossible to get rid of. Once wasps discover food, they will continue to hunt around that location long after the source has been removed, which means if they find your food right when you set it out, they (and ALL their friends), may be with you through your entire party.
Choosing Your Party Location
Choose Your Picnic Location Carefully
- Avoid choosing your party spot near trash cans, as they tend to attract lots of bees.
- If you do see a nest of bees nearby, or notice bees flying to and from a particular area, choose another location. Observe the area around your chosen spot to check for bees before you start to load in.
- Bees like tall grass for ground nests and quiet places such as unused play structures and sheds for hives. Watch for those.
How to “Bee Proof” Your Eating Area
Try These Tips to Prep Your Picnic Area and Help Keep The Bees Away
- Take a banana peel, cut into thin strips then insert strips into an empty 2 liter bottle. Combine 1 cup sugar with 1 cup vinegar, stir, then pour the mixture into the bottle. Fill the bottle up with water to 2 inches below the neck. Tie a piece of string around the neck and hang it from a nearby tree branch.
- Moth balls are another effective repellent for bees. Cut the feet off of a few pairs of pantyhose and fill them with moth balls. Tie the pantyhose off and hang them around your picnic area. The pungent odor will discourage bees and also keep other insects away.
- Bees are very territorial and by nature will attack anything that comes near their hives. Bees typically will avoid enemy hives, or what they think are enemy hives in fear of being attacked. Trick them by making fake hives. Blow up a few brown paper bags and tie them off. Hang them around your picnic area. I haven’t tried this, but it makes sense that the bees might be fooled that you’re surrounded by hives of another colony and stay away.
- Set out a bowl or cup with some flat soda, fruit juice, maple syrup, or sugar water a few yards away from your picnic. Bees are attracted to the sugary scent and will pursue this instead of your lunch. If possible, set out the bee bait 20 minutes or so before you begin your picnic. Bees can actually “talk” to each other, so this will give them time to all gather at the same spot and hopefully keep them busy while you enjoy your picnic. It may not get rid of all of them, but it will distract most of them.
- If you’re really bothered by bees, bring one of those netted tent canopies to seal the bees outside. It will keep the bees from being attracted to your food, and give you a safe environment to enjoy your day.
- Use a pot of marigolds as a centerpiece on your table. They’re pretty, and they naturally repel bees and other bugs. They find the scent unpleasant.
Prepping the Eating Area
- Set up the food table away from where everyone will be gathered.
- Bring some mint leaves with you and sprinkle them around your eating area. This plant will help to mask the sweet smell of your food so the bees will possibly completely ignore you and your feast.
- Avoid bright colors and floral prints for your tablecloth or picnic blanket. Be careful when selecting plates and napkins. Make sure they are all white or another non-floral color. Especially avoid using floral printed plates or accessories at your picnic.Bees notice bright hues as well as sweet smells. If something looks like a flower, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll have some bees coming to check it out.
- Buy a few of those toilet bowl cleaners that you attach to the rim of toilets. Stick them to the bottom of your picnic table, chairs and BBQ grill. Pull the wrapper open slightly. Bees don’t like the smell.
- Put out 4-5 cloves on the table. Bees hate the smell and should stay away while your eating.
- When planning food for your outdoor party, try to avoid any foods with strong smells, as these will attract bees. Stick to foods that are bland, with very little odor. Basically, if you don’t want to attract bees, don’t bring fried chicken, smoked salmon, etc. or barbecue any food that smells good while it’s cooking. Whaaaat? ALL food smells good on a BBQ!
- Don’t bring out your food until you’re ready to eat. Open food will attract bees as well as a variety of other insects.
- Keep your food items in closed containers as much as possible. Use lids for your food containers and your beverages, or cover them with a plate, foil, or plastic wrap, in order to prevent the bees from climbing into the food and stinging someone in the mouth. If you can hide some of the aromas of your meal, the bees may not pick you up as quickly on their radar.
- Be particularly careful to cover high-sugar foods and drinks (like sodas). Bees are especially attracted to them. Yellow jackets, in particular, love to crawl into sodas, especially Dr. Pepper.
- The scent of barbecue is especially attractive to bees and wasps and brings them in to see what you’ve got cookin’! Do what you can to keep that delicious odor downplayed as much as possible.
- Keep the food and trash bins tightly covered when not in use. This will help reduce the wafting aromas that might entice these pesky insects.
- Dispose of any garbage right away.
What to Wear to Your Picnic
Kidding. Bees are attracted to scents and colors of flowers because they are gathering nectar for food. So if a person looks or smells like a flower, they are more likely to attract the attention of a bee.
How Do You Look?
- Don’t wear clothing that features highly contrasting patterns or colors. Bold, darker colors like red and black resemble natural predators and are likely to cause bees to become more aggressive towards you. Don’t wear floral patterns. Pastels are a good choice. White is best.
- Loose-fitting, flowing clothing may attract and trap bees.
- Wear clothes that have a smooth texture. Corduroy and other fuzzy clothes, such as wool, resemble the fur of predators (like skunks and badgers), Wear cotton or a lightweight fabric.
- Avoid wearing shiny buckles and jewelry. Any shiny metal on you creates a homing beacon of interest in the sun for them.
How Do You Smell?
- Don’t wear scented body lotion, flower-scented body sprays, scented soap, heavily scented shampoo, scented deodorant or other scented personal care products. Bees use their sense of smell to find flowers to pollinate. If you smell like one, you could be a target!
- The scent of perfume, hair spray, hair gels, suntan lotion, aftershave lotions and many other cosmetics attract bees. Try to avoid them.
- If you’ve washed the clothes you have on in scented laundry detergent, you may smell more delicious to bees. Also, if your laundry detergent contains UV brighteners, bees may be able to pick up on that, even if you’re wearing light colors.
- Wear a hat. Hairy animals often try to invade bees nests, so you may be misjudged as the enemy if your locks are flowing. According to our research, it has been proven that bees pay less attention to humans who wear hats to cover their hair.
- Wear close-toed shoes, not sandals or flip flops.Long grass can house ground nests. Be careful.
- Even though outdoor parties are usually held when it’s warm out, wearing long sleeves and pants reduces the amount of exposed skin available for stinging.
How to Protect Yourself
Aside from the above precautions, I found very little else that you can do to protect yourself once bees are around. I love the below idea and in researching this article saw it mentioned over and over, so it’s certainly worth a shot.
Dryer Sheets with Fabric Softener.
- Fold a fresh dryer sheet and put it in the pocket of whatever clothing you are wearing. If you are carrying a purse or beach bag, throw a few fresh sheets in that as well.
- Rub one across your skin before going out to keep the bees away.
- Stick a few under your picnic basket, around tables, and underneath your tablecloth or food containers to discourage bees from getting to your food.
- Put some under your picnic blanket, hang them from trees.
Hell, if this works, I’ll construct a complete summer ensemble out of them, complete with a cute little shrug and pillbox hat!
I’ve learned that a lot of commercial insect repellants contain ingredients that can be harmful, and if used over a long period of time can affect your breathing, cause nausea, memory loss, etc. Yikes! Below are some homemade herbal suggestions you could try:
Herbal Bee Repellent: This repellent consists of tea tree oil and Benzaldehyde (a colorless liquid with a characteristic pleasant almond-like odor). The combination of these two ingredients proves repulsive to bees, so they stay away.
Herbal Bee Repellent: The combination of lemongrass, peppermint oil, and citronella. Most herbal bee repellents are safe for use on children and pets. These should ideally be applied to collars, hair, wrists, and sock tops.
Natural bee Repellents: Citrus, Mint and Eucalyptus oils.
Though insect repellents are typically used to ward off mosquitoes, they are also effective at repelling bees. If you don’t like the smell or sticky feeling of a spray-on or roll-on repellent, a clip-on repellent is an excellent alternative to consider. Although a natural repellent is my preference, I’m not opposed to trying one of these. Just clip one of these suckers to your clothing and they’ll work to mask your natural odor that attract bees to you.
I hope these ideas and info help you to be able to enjoy your next outdoor party bee-free. I’d love to hear what helped you, what didn’t work, and any tips and tricks you have to keep these nasty insects away!
I started this post hours ago and have accumulated so much information that I’ve decided to write a Part II about bees. I hate them, but they fascinate me. What’s the difference between a hornet, a wasp, and a yellow-jacket? Do they see? Do they really lose their asses when they sting? Which bees can sting repeatedly? I can get sooooo distracted…