Summer time seems like such a great time of year, but if you are a honey bee you favorite time of the year is really in the spring time. Why? Because there is more forage than all the honey bees in the area can possibly collect. In fact it is such a wonderful time of year for bees, that you’ll never see any robbing, and hive inspections are a breeze because they are just so busy working gathering all that nectar and pollen that everyone stays calm and easy going during hive inspections, not much stinging for the beekeeper.
After the spring comes the hot summer months where forage actually becomes scarce in some parts of the country, and times are tough for the honey bee. One of the first signs the flow is over is when you have a bit of sugar or honey sitting out and bees cover and consume it quickly – usually in a matter of an hour or two at the most. Yes, the party is over and it’s now time to monitor the changes that summer brings for the bees.
This time of year is called a “dearth”. It almost looks like the word death – and rightly so. Just to give you an idea of how serious the dearth is, I’ve personally lost more bees during a dearth than during winter because when I was just starting out as a beekeeper I kept thinking that because it was summer time everything should be OK because the weather is fine. Little did I realize at the time, that some of my bees were actually starving or being robbed by other colonies.
One thing you’ll want to do as soon as the dearth sets in is to reduce your hive entrance to just a small opening. It only takes about 3 bees to guard a 1” entrance, so this will be your first line of defense against robbing. I’ve seen strong hives get robbed by other strong hives leaving them a total wreck. This robbing can be so stressful for a colony that the queen can be killed during the robbing.
Bees can eat through their honey stores quickly after a flow because they are still very active as opposed to winter when they just cluster and stay in the hive all day. Make sure you monitor their honey stores and feed a 1:1 sugar water if they get low. To avoid robbing try to use a hive top feeder or some other type of feeder that is placed inside the hive rather than the entrance feeders that you may see at the bee supply places. Entrance feeders can set off robbing.
Hive inspections should be performed with a goal of getting done in roughly 5 minutes or less if possible. So you’ll want to make sure you have in mind exactly what you are looking for before you begin. I always have 3 things that I generally look for no matter what time of year it is, but I just make sure I get done quickly during the dearth so that robber bees do not start to attack an open hive.
(1) Food supply – honey. How much depends on the size of the colony but usually a super of honey can get most colonies through the dearth into the fall flow.
(2) Queen bee – you don’t have to see her as long as you do see eggs or very young larvae. Once you see eggs, stop looking for the queen, you’ll just be wasting time.
(3) Obvious signs of problems. Good examples are wax moth, hive beetles, no larvae or eggs, low honey stores. Depending on the problem the beekeeper should know what the remedy should be. For example if a hive is low on honey you can feed sugar water or take a few frames of honey from a strong hive that has surplus and use it to feed the weaker hive. Most problems can be fixed or a solution can be implemented in just a few extra minutes. If you think it will take longer, just close up the hive until you have a clear plan of action and then go back and take care of it.
You won’t need to add supers during the dearth because unless you are feeding sugar water, the bees will not continue to draw more comb. You’ll find that the bees kind of level off at this time, so just keep an eye on things every 20 -30 days or so. Most of the time just a quick look at the outside of the hive will show you that things are fine too.
I hope these few tips will help you ride out the dearth if you have one in your area, so depending on where you live your situation may be a little different but show your bees some love and care by making sure they have what they need.