Beekeeping in the dog days of summer

Record-breaking temperatures over much of North America have beekeepers wondering how to keep their bees from over-heating. Think of it as a question of comfort and do for your bees what you would do for yourself. The basics come down to lowering humidity, maximizing air flow, and providing plenty to drink. Okay, margaritas with little umbrellas may be inappropriate, but here are some things that may help:

  • Keep the hive up off the ground. By placing the hive on a stand, you allow air to circulate on all sides—including the bottom.
  • Use a screened bottom board without the Varroa tray. A screened bottom allows air to circulate into the hive from underneath, and it has a much larger surface area than a standard entrance.
  • If you are using an entrance reducer, take it out.
  • Add an upper entrance. An upper entrance, either drilled in the top hive body or cut into an inner cover, allows the hive to behave much like a chimney. Air will come into the hive from the bottom entrance or screened bottom and exit through the upper entrance.
  • Even better than an upper entrance is a ventilated inner cover. A ventilated inner cover is screened in the center and has end pieces that are higher than the side pieces. These end pieces hold the telescoping cover aloft so air can circulate through the sides. The screening should be small enough to keep out robbing bees.
  • If possible, use a ventilated gabled roof in addition to (or in place of) a screened inner cover.
  • Keep your hive in the shade. Left to their own devices, bees will usually select shaded areas in which to live. A little morning sun is fine, but a shady location will allow the bees to spend their afternoons foraging instead of fanning. If you can’t move your hive from the blistering sun, try erecting a tarp over it, tent-fly style, using poles and ropes. (The tarp should not touch the hive nor block the entrance.)
  • Hives in sunny locations should be painted light colors and have a white or metallic roof.
  • Place a slatted rack under the bottom brood box. Slatted racks can aid ventilation by reducing congestion below the brood nest and providing more space for air movement.
  • Do not allow your hive to become too crowded. If the bees need more space give them an extra brood box. Bee bodies give off both moisture and heat, so a very populous hive has more of both.
  • Make sure your bees have a source of drinking water. If you think your bees are short of water, fill a bucket, dip a towel into the water, and then hang the towel over the side of the bucket with one end remaining submerged. Water will wick up into the towel and the bees will have a place to hang on.
  • If your flowers have dried up and nectar is scarce, robbing bees and marauding wasps may show up sooner than usual. If you decide to feed, use an internal feeder, screen your ventilation holes, and avoid spilling syrup or honey near your hives.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Hives protected from sun, rain, and snow. Flickr photo by Deb Collins.
Hives protected from sun, rain, and snow. Flickr photo by Deb Collins.

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Comments

ScoobyDoBee
Reply

A big problem with the dearth is the feeding which starts the robbing which necessitates the entrance reducer – or total blocking of entrance. I was soooo careful not to drip a drop, didn’t add any smell-goods to the syrup – robbing began QUICKLY!! I’m in the second day of the battle. I’m not sure who is winning. But I am so glad to have one of those metal reducers that has the tiny holes all over it. At least with it closed I know there is decent ventilation.

Rusty
Reply

SDB,

I hesitated to recommend removing entrance reducers because I knew someone would have trouble with robbers. But you bring up a good point: those reducers with holes work well, as do robbing screens. I hope you are winning the battle. As you point out, just a whiff of syrup seems to bring them out of the woodwork . . . very discouraging.

Herb
Reply

Rusty,

Using a towel as a wick for water and a ladder for the bees is simply a good idea. I have been using chunks of rough limestone rock in the center of each rubber livestock watering bowl. You wouldn’t think about bees using so much water. During those super hot days, each hive was using about 1.5 gallons every 2 days. I like the idea of using tarps to keep bees cooler during temperatures above 100 degrees F. Would shade cloth like that used for greenhouses or nurseries work?

Last Friday the temperature was 111 degrees. The birds that had little ones in the bird boxes roasted. The heat was just awful! The bees of all types were struggling as well as wasps. Everything looking for moisture and food! This weather was more than dog day weather, it was weather pretty close to Hell days of summer! Thanks for your advice. I have followed your advice on everything except using the tarps. I need to work on that part and have it ready for the next heat wave.

I have not taken honey from the bees . . . trying to develop each hive with 2 brood boxes and then honey boxes above that. I have four hives which are on their 2nd year . . . have not taken from them either. My thought was that the bees may need the honey to get through the summer and the winter if this weather continues. We had a great spring and are having an awful summer. Thanks, Herb . . . Murfreesboro, TN.

Rusty
Reply

Herb,

Yes, I think shade cloth would work great.

Sarah
Reply

Normally the bees use our ditch as a water source but this heat has dried it up. So I bought a quail feeder, filled a large mason jar with water (they fit together perfectly) and put a few pebbles inside the feeder for them to support themselves on while they drank. They use it liberally and I’ve been replacing the water often. My friend uses an entrance feeder for water.

bill castro
Reply

I wonder, what kind of feeder are folks using who have trouble with robbing?? I have never had issues with robbing while feeding, but I also use 1 gallon paint cans and glass jars that create a vacuum when filled and inverted and also put inside the hive body by adding another super to cover…???

Herb
Reply

Rusty,

I have used just about ever kind of feeder made and had a problem with bees drowning in most of them. I’ve used medium plastic division feeders, deep plastic board feeders, 10-frame hive-top feeders, entrance feeders, pollen syrup feeders, hive-top feeder with cover installed directly under the inner cover, and jar feeders.

I really don’t like the smell of bees that have drowned in feeders and the small hive beetles that are attracted to the dead bees. I have several hive-top feeders I wish I had never purchased. Some are worse about bees drowning and a heaven for small hive beetles. I guess it depends on how often you check and clean out the feeders; I like to check my hives about once/week.

Keeping this schedule, I have found that the plastic feeder that is placed directly under the inner cover with a snap-top lid, with a clear cap to reduce drowning placed in a 4-inch wooden super works best for me. This feeder holds 1-1/2 gallons of syrup. I use these with ventilation rims for extra air circulation during times of drought. I have almost zero drowning and it is easy to lift up to check on the bee population below. Small hive beetles are not a problem with this feeder.

I have a friend who uses 1/2 gallon jars and paint buckets or pail feeders in brood boxes placed on top of the supers. He wouldn’t use anything else. These feeders do not add a lot of height to your hives and are great for use with new packages of bees and drought feeding of established colonies. They are easy to maintain and work without causing unwanted other problems!

Rusty
Reply

Herb,

I think all feeders are a pain, but I still like baggie feeders the best.

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