This post is sure interesting, in the fact of "Which belt do you wear today, the blue one or the black one?" It really is apples and oranges and relates to three things: EXPERIENCE and COMFORT and CONDITIONS.
Put it all together and you should always know what to do every time.Experience
The adage "with age comes wisdom is often true - but only if you learn from your mistakes and pay close attention to details.
* Experience will tell you when it is safe or not safe to even go near the hives. It tells you how to approach the job in a logic and least damaging and intrusive way. The net result determines when to suit up and when not to.
* Smoke though is something I never mind using, even if only pulling frames and replacing them or checking on a queen.
* Be prepared is the best advice, have a place to set stuff down, have tools (all tools ready) and approach the hive from the side or back as much as possible.
* Experience should teach you that a confident you can handle a happy hive with minimal protection, but our FRIEND smoke is what makes for happy bees.Conditions DICTATE everything:
* Clear and low winds allow minor manipulation without any smoke unless you have aggressive bees.
* Nasty weather ALWAYS dictates smoke and clothing protection unless you enjoy rolling the dice.
* Having to get a job done quick should always call for protection and I believe smoke. But if you are rushing, all the smoke in the world won't save you from agitated bees.
* Bad comb build-up, natural comb, long time since uninspecting hive, etc needs all the smoke and protection you need - this is hack job stuff and causes lots of harm to a hive if things start going wrong.
* Conclusion to Conditions: weather and hive conditions dictate your need for just smoke or protection, but it only makes sense to have both.COMFORT:
* This is the one I like most, if you are not comfortable dressing down, and you are protected from head to toe - the worse you get is nasty bees banging and trying to get into your suit - the main point is THEY REALLY ARE GOOD AT GETTING IN YOUR SUIT, but not very good at getting out - so chances are ONCE IN, you are getting stung.
* If you are comfortable handling frames dressed down, bare-handed and without head protection, then your BEST FRIEND is smoke. It becomes a hand-shake between you and the bees. They sense your comfort and relaxed attitude, your sense of assurance at the hive and they react accordingly. by doing BEE STUFF while you do BEEKEEPER STUFF. This is really ideal, you just need confidence - doing so comes with spending time with the bees and KEEPING MENTAL TRACK of their reaction to their reaction.
* Wearing a suit is a double edged sword - they bring you comfort, but make you sloppy (less attentive may be a better word) look to see what you are doing that agitates them and don't do it next time - but ALWAYS USE SMOKE when learning to shred the protection.
* Once you get a comfort level where you think you did well and feel that IF YOU HADN'T had all that clumsy garb on, you sure can start removing anything that you feel like shedding. Take your time, don't push your anxiety level and keep the smoker lit and near the entrance.
* It is much easier to handle frames with the two hands you were born with, without gloves - although if you have weaker hands and need frame grippers, they are handy to have around. Don't freak when bees walk on you, they do that - a lot. They are curious little things and likely checking you out as much as you are checking out them.
* Remember lastly, workers give their lives to defend the hive - so it is you job to make them feel that their hive is NOT being attacked. You are smarter, all they have are instincts and knowing their instincts and your brainpower HIGHLY OUTWAYS their instincts alone.
So I always use my smoker - I make sure the burlap is DONE burning and cooler smoke is coming out. I give them sever good puffs (don't over smoke - 3 to 5 puffs if the wind is cooperating should be fine) then I go away 5 minutes. If I think I need to, I'll hit them again and again wait 5 minutes. By then, I'm ready for most in hive stuff.
BUT REMEMBER - as soon as you hit a snag, take a break, grab what protection you think you'll need to get the job done and get back in there. No sense ever pushing yourself if you are out of your comfort zone. But, if you see that everything is going smooth, be ZEN, take your time it isn't a race against the clock and enjoy the magically interaction you have playing out before your eyes.
Here is MY Tai Chi OF BEEKEEPING PAGE - http://www.beemaster.com/honeybee/taichi.html
give it a read if you haven't. And remember SMOKE IS THE BEEKEEPERS BEST TOOL - hands down!