Hot weather hits everywhere, typically when you least want it to. It can be difficult to plan for or deal with it, especially because we have everything else to worry about when moves in. The last thing most people think about is what it means for their bees.
In the midst of the air conditioner breaking down, summer fun and vacations, you might think that your bees will figure it out all by themselves. You’re not wrong.
BUT… there are some ways you can support your bees during this time. This is especially important because the summer is critical to the bees success during the fall, winter, and early spring. They are hard at work finding food (nectar) to store and turn into honey. They’re overworked, growing, and stressed by all that mother nature, humans, and other pests throw at them. The last thing any beekeeper wants to do is regret not supporting their bees through the tough times.
Here are a couple things to consider and plan for during the most extreme times of heat:
Bees need WATER and lots of it during the hot times
We often forget that bees drink water. We leave them alone, and they somehow survive on the water that they find out in the world… somewhere.
Bees drink a lot of water! Bees are estimated to drink their weight in water on an average day. So just imagine what they drink on a HOT DAY.
Let’s do some math.
On average, 1 worker honey bee weighs approximately 0.00025 pounds (approximately 0.113398 grams).
An average 3 Lb Package of honey bees ( about 10,000 bees) weighs in at 2.5 Lbs of just honey bees. The rest of the weight is the box, the food, can, etc.
10,000 bees x 0.00025 pounds = 2.5 pounds
So if your colony is working hard and is close to a full-grown, average colony (50,000 bees), the bees themselves weigh in at about 12.5 lbs.
50,000 bees x 0.00025 pounds = 12.5 pounds
If 12.5 pounds of bees are drinking just their weight in water on an average day, they are drinking 12.5 pounds of water.
1 pound of water comes out to about 0.12 gallons
So 12.5 pounds of water ends up being about 1.5 gallons of water.
12.5 pounds x 0.12 gallons = 1.5 gallons of water
For us humans, that might seem like not that much water because we can just go turn on the tap and have a cup of water. So maybe we should look at it from that approach.
1 person is supposed to have 8 cups of water every day. Cold, hot, dry, humid… it doesn’t matter. In 1 gallon of water, there are 16 cups of water. So bees consume enough water for 3 adult human beings on an average day.
Remember, it’s hot outside. So do you sweat? Yup.
Bees respire. It’s not the exact same thing as perspiration, but they are going to deal with evaporation, moisture diminishing, and harder work in the heat. Odds are, they are going to drink more water, too.
So the big question is, do your bees have access to clean water nearby?
There are a lot of ways you can keep the bees hydrated and out of your neighbors pool.
1)Water barrel with corks or stones
Fill up a bucket or barrel each day with fresh water. Put in some corks that they can land on (bees don’t swim) or some rocks so they can land and drink up water for themselves and their family back in the hive. The closer the water is to their hive, the less work they have to do to find it, even though they will travel up to 5-7 miles to find water.
It is always better to have water that you can clean and control in the yard for them.
2) Fill a water dish, just like you would do for your dog or cat
Grab that old dog dish or broken tupperware and put it outside on a table with corks or stones in it. It’s a simple way to fill it up every time you walk past it.
3) Make sure you have running water nearby
You’re set. Just make sure that the water isn’t contaminated. There are ways you can test for this with some simple water testing supplies. You should always be sure the water source that your bees are getting water from is clean of mosquito larva and other natural chemicals, too. If it’s not, your bees may not be happy.
4) Put Water in Your Feeder Jar
By far the simple thing to do is to make sure you feeder jars are filled with water instead of feed, especially if there is nectar a plenty out in the world.
So you’ve got water… CHECK.
What else could there be?
VENTILATION in your Hive
As much as bees are masters of HVAC, that doesn’t mean it’s not stressful. After all, your air conditioner broke down when it had to work harder and your equipment isn’t even living.
Think about how bees move air through their colony. They are evaporating moisture from nectar, eliminating airborne contaminants, and… here’s the big one… keeping cool! Bees typically heat and cool their hive to keep it between 93 degrees and 95 degrees Fahrenheit all year round.
In warm weather, they take that water you put out for them and put in a circle near the entrance. Then they take
I don’t know about you, but when I get really hot, I become more irritable, stressed, and tired. It’s very similar for the superorganism of the honey bee colony. Bees have to work harder to stay cool, to do their work, and to keep everything moving forward.
There are a couple of ways to see if the bees are working hard at this.
1) Your bees begin bearding
In extremely hot weather, when the hive’s internal temperatures can rise to excessive levels and the hive population is so great, bees make their way out and cluster in huge numbers outside the hive where they can try to escape from the heat and remain cool. Honeybees do this mostly to keep the inside of the hive from overheating and to regulate the brood nest temperature to prevent the heat from killing the brood (immature bees). Brood and too many busy bees in the hive increase heat output. Leaving the hive is a simple way to regulate the internal hive temperature.
In warm weather, the bees collect water and line up near the hive entrance. The bees fan the water so that it evaporates into the air. They then fan the cool air so that it circulates around the hive as a sort of central air conditioning.
And there it is, a bee-run AC unit. Your probably shouldn’t expect them on the market anytime soon, though. Especially because the bees are working super hard to just keep their home cool.
2) Your Bees Become More Aggressive
In the hot months, bees become more aggressive because they are working harder. You might be in their way or they may think you’re a threat. Why? Read on…
3) Other Animals or Pests Begin to Invade
Bees have competition for resources because other animals and colonies know that bees are great at stocking resources. They are masters at finding, collecting, storing and even BEING food. It seems all of mother nature knows this and honey bee colonies tend to be the best target for all the animals searching for some food.
Insects like wasps or animals like skunks will eat the bees. Other animals will invade to try to steal what the bees have been working so hard to gather and store. It makes sense that the bees begin to see threats to their work everywhere.
You can help your bees with ventilation so they can spend their time collecting food and defending the colony. In the Beepod, there is a screen bottom board with removable vent boards. Remove those.
In some other setups, screened bottom boards help the bees to work less in ventilation because they don’t have to force air out a small opening. If you don’t have one of these, I’d suggest getting one.
Speaking of pests, one way to help the entire ecosystem is to ensure there is food aplenty in your direct area to support all of pollinators and other small insects. This will turn your garden into a convenience store for your bees and can reduce the impact of outside pests attacking your bees.
Remember that aggressiveness thing? Think about how you feel when you’re hungry and hot. A little bit irritable? Bees get that way, too, if they can’t find enough nectar to keep everyone fed. Low blood sugar is painful.
This can increase robbing of other hives. One colony versus another colony can make for a hostile bee yard. See what’s going on by watching what’s happening at the hive entrances. You will notice bees fighting and potentially creating an “alarm-pheromone.”
Take a look at our pollinator plant guide to find an array of easy to grow plants that you can find right now! If you don’t have them, plant some. It will pay dividends for your bees and your enjoyment.
These are just a few factors to consider when supporting your bees during a heatwave. If you have any other questions or ideas, please let us know on our Facebook page or by submitting a question through “Ask a Beekeeper.”