Nectar dearth and summer stress

Many of us are in a summer nectar dearth or are fast approaching one. Several things happen to your bees when days are hot and forage is scarce. Here is a list of management ideas that will make the summer less stressful for you and for them.

  • Honey bees short on water may decide to try the neighbor’s swimming pool or bird bath. Since this can put a strain on the relationship, put out some water for your bees. A bird bath with rocks, a bucket with a wet rag, or a drip irrigation line can all be used to slack the bees’ thirst.
  • Your bees may seem testy or even aggressive when you go near. Even though your colony was docile as a newborn babe up till now, it may suddenly seem hostile. This is natural when supplies of food and water start running low. Don’t go routing around inside your hive looking for what’s wrong. The way they see it, you are what’s wrong. Give them some space during this time, and they will resume their sweet dispositions when the days cool.
  • Beware of robbing bees. Bees from robust colonies may decide that the easiest way to stock the pantry is to steal supplies from a weaker hive. If you see evidence of robbing—bees wrestling on the landing board or fighting in the air—reduce the entrances of weak hives. This may seem counter-intuitive during a hot spell, but it could save your colony.
  • Provide lots of ventilation. Bees cool the interior of the hive by fanning, but for fanning to work, the air needs a place to come in and a place to go out. Since you may be reducing your entrance to prevent robbing, it is extra important to use a screened bottom, a screened inner cover, a slatted rack, or a small upper entrance.
  • Robbing bees are not the only critters on the prowl this time of year. Hornet and wasp populations peak in the autumn just when the honey bees are having a tough time finding forage. These predators love a weak honey bee colony because the adults can get honey for themselves and nice juicy bees for their offspring. Be careful not to spill honey near a hive and do not use entrance feeders. Small drips can bring hoards of predators to feed on your bees—another reason to keep those entrances small.
  • Beware of the Varroa mite population. With diminishing forage and shorter days, your colony will raise less brood and evict the drones. Overall, the colony size will decrease. The Varroa mites, however, remain strong. Without drone cells available they will use worker cells, and since the colony has fewer brood cells than before, the mites will cram themselves into the remaining cells. Varroa can easily overwhelm a colony this time of year, so it’s a great time for a sugar roll and mite count.
  • Bearding is common on hot summer days. Although new beekeepers often confuse bearding with swarming, they are not at all related. Bearding bees are merely gathering outside the hive to keep themselves cool and to lessen the heat load on the inside of the hive. The best you can do for them is make sure the hive has good ventilation. Other than that, don’t worry.
  • Experienced beekeepers have been through summer dearth before, but many newbee colonies are lost during the first nectar dearth that comes along. Why? Because the colony seems so robust and busy, it is hard to imagine things could change that fast . . . but they do. So be on the lookout for signs of summer stress and take steps to help your colony through it. A little bit of prevention goes a long way.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Comments

Michelle
Reply

Your Sugar Roll link in the Verroa mite graph did not load. I’d love to see it. Let me know.

Rusty
Reply

Thanks for the heads up, Michelle. It should be working now.

Andy Brown
Reply

Thanks for the run-down on heat issues. One of my hives was taking the brunt of the afternoon sun, so I propped a long board along its side and that seemed to reduce the bearding a bit. Thankfully our heat wave seems to have subsided (here in Rhode Island).

Sheila Retherford
Reply

I’m working thru my 3rd year of beekeeping. Started out spring with 3 hives and now have 7 hives, due to splits. 2 of my hives are very small, residing in 2 medium size hive bodies and I worry that the population isn’t large enough to bring in enough stores before winter. Normally I don’t need to feed with sugar water, but I think these 2 hives need it. Should I start now? If I give them 1:1 sugar water, will this encourage the queen to continue to lay?

Rusty
Reply

Sheila,

That’s a complicated question. Yes, you can definitely feed sugar syrup now, but be sure to use an internal feeder so the predators don’t detect it. But my opinion is that 2:1 should be fed if you want them to store it for winter. Will 1:1 encourage the queen to lay if fed in the summer? I’m not sure that it will. Other factors besides the specific gravity of syrup are at play here, especially the decreasing day length. The bees know the days are getting shorter and they are preparing for winter; I think that will hold sway over the specific gravity of the syrup. Put another way, I think it may have some effect, but not an overwhelming one.

trccscott
Reply

Thanks for the pointers Rusty, great info!

So would one also be able to deduce that any nectar collection and related honey stores may be at their peak and would begin to decline from here due to a nectar dearth / extended dry spell?

If such a dry spell continues for another week or so should one ever consider starting to feed again, albeit in a method not to attract robbers?

Rusty
Reply

Most places in temperate North America have a spring nectar flow, which is the main one, and a secondary flow in the fall after the weather cools down. The major nectar dearth is mid-summer. There are many fall-flowering plants, including those in the aster family such as goldenrod, asters, dandelions, sunflowers, etc. which can produce good crops of honey.

You can always feed syrup, but you need to take off your honey supers first so you don’t get sugar syrup in your honey. Personally, I take off my honey supers at the end of July (next week!) and leave them off till next year. During August I treat for mites with ApiLife Var or HopGuard. Then I let the bees keep anything they store in the fall.

There are many ways to do it, not one “right” way, but that is the system that works for me.

mbee
Reply

Excellent list, Rusty. Thank you!

Billy
Reply

Is there an easy way to tell from seeing the bees at the entrance if they are bringing in honey? I swear sometimes they seem to be coming in “heavy” so to speak and other times they come shooting right into the entrance.

Rusty
Reply

Billy,

Don’t know if it’s “easy,” but you are right. Bees with a full honey stomach can look bloated; they take on the shape of a blimp, more or less. When the light it right, you can almost see through them because their bodies are stretched.

MerryL
Reply

Can you recommend plants to include in a bee garden to help get them through the summer dearth?

Mike
Reply

As a first-year beekeeper, I didn’t assimilate the concept of a ‘nectar dearth’. Then, a week and a half ago, I found my hive nearly starved out. All comb completely empty of honey, nectar, pollen, and brood. Dead bees everywhere, inside and outside the hive. Those remaining didn’t have enough energy to fly. The queen was still alive, and with a steady supply of sugar syrup she’s laying again, so maybe there’s hope for them.

Rusty
Reply

Mike,

I wonder if they got robbed as well? Sounds suspicious.

john
Reply

Hey Rusty,

How about a bump for this discussion. I’m in the Northwest, and it seems like our flow is beginning to abate, albeit a couple of weeks early. All of my 10 hives are in suburban settings and so there seems to be always something around. I just don’t want to miss the window of harvest. Last year, I didn’t recognize it and at the end of July, had heavy boxes of perfectly capped honey, and at the end of August had a bunch of empty supers… That’s where we are at now, but two weeks early…what do you think?

Rusty
Reply

John,

Even down here the flow is ebbing, and I’m planning on pulling all my supers this week. I usually do it at the end of June or beginning of July anyway, so it seems about normal this year, although drier.

So yes, I would pull them. The danger is that you might need some of it later if the summer and fall are so dry the bees can’t store enough for winter. So just keep some in reserve (frames or extracted) so they don’t have to live on sugar all winter.

john
Reply

PS: We’re essentially at sea level in Tacoma/Puyallup.

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