Spring rain is a welcome sight to a homesteader who is busy sowing seeds and planting crops. However, those same spring rains can turn into devastating storms that often leave beekeepers wondering how to help bees weather the storms?
Can Bees Fly in Rain?
The short answer is yes, they can fly in rain, but it’s dangerous so they usually don’t. Even if it’s just misting, the mist can accumulate on the bee’s body and interfere with its flight. The water will also weigh the bee down and impede the bee’s wing beats, which happen at a rate of about 12,000 beats per minute.
If the rain is heavy with large raindrops, the large drops can hit the bee and knock it down, just like being hit with a blast of water.
If a bee is out of the hive when a storm rolls in, it will seek shelter until the rain lessens and it’s safe to fly home. If the bee is already in the hive when a storm hits, it will usually stay in until the rain subsides.
What Bees do Before and During Storms?
There are several things that bees naturally do that help them weather storms. One thing they do is fill any creases and crevices with propolis. The propolis acts as a glue to secure the hive. Therefore, if the hive is brand new it won’t be as secure as a hive whose bees have had time to properly secure their home.
Like many animals, bees will often act differently when a storm is approaching. You’ll usually notice less activity around the entrance as forager bees are staying inside. If some foragers have already left the hive, you’ll notice them coming home but not leaving again.
More bees in the hive mean that there’s more work to do and more mouths to feed. The forager bees will most likely be reassigned to help manage the humidity and temperature in the hive. If you have an unusually wet season where it’s raining every day for weeks on end, you’ll need to check the food supply especially if the wet season happens soon after you’ve harvested honey. If their food supply is low you can feed them. This is where knowing how to make fondant for bees comes in really handy.
Unlike what happens to bees in winter, feeding bees in the spring shouldn’t need to continue for months on end. As long as there is pollen and nectar to gather and times when it’s not raining, the forager bees should be able to gather enough to feed the hive. However, if the storm is devastating with a lot of wind or flooding, the blooms that are normally available might not be useful. You’ll need to check the bee’s food supply often and when you notice they are able to continue making honey and aren’t using the fondant or supplemental syrup any longer, you can remove it from the hive.
So much of having a bee farm is really about being observant and responding to what you see. We can prepare and plan but in the end, we have to observe the bees and the environment and respond to the changing conditions.
How to Help Bees Weather a Storm
A full hive is heavy! And that’s good news when it comes to the spring storms. The biggest dangers for a hive during a storm are to have it topple over or to have the cover fly off and then rain will get into the hive. A full super will weigh about 60 pounds and a full deep will weigh about 90 pounds. Hives full of honey are going to be hard to move.
A full hive also means the bees have had time to secure the hive with propolis. It would take a huge storm with a lot of wind to knock over a hive that is full of honey and has been secured with propolis.
If you live in an area that gets hurricanes or tornadoes, you’ll want to have a plan for securing the hives to keep them from being knocked over during these storms. When hurricane Harvey hit our area, we secured the hives by using straps around the hives to keep them stacked. We also drove t-posts on either side of the hive and used straps horizontally to secure the hive to the t-posts. This worked really well and all of our hives survived.
If you live in an area that doesn’t get hurricanes or tornadoes, the hive cover can still fly off during a normal storm. This will let rain in and can cause a lot of damage inside the hive. Weighting the cover down with a few bricks is a great way to keep the lid from being dislodged. You can also use straps but you probably won’t need to strap them to t-posts.
I’ve also seen people use latches or small screws and wire to latch the deep and supers together so they remained stacked.
If the hives are near a sturdy shelter, for instance near a barn or house, you could move the hive and put the backside of the hive against the structure. Only move the hive a couple of feet, so any foraging bees will be able to identify their hive and come home.
How to help bees during storms will depend on how strong the storms are and how long they last. For most spring storms, the bees will be able to take care of themselves. However, when strong storms are expected a prudent beekeeper will help the bees out by securing the hive and providing supplemental feeding if needed.
What are some of your best tips for how to help bees during spring storms?