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.