Most of us realize the importance of being wary of the heat for people, pets, and livestock, but we often forget that the bees could use a little extra help during the heat. There are several things you can do to help the bees, including native bees, and one of those things is to make a bee watering station.
When the hive temperature reaches more than 95°F everything shuts down. The queen stops laying eggs and the workers stop making honey. Their one goal is to keep the hive cool enough to keep the brood alive.
They will do this in a couple of ways. One thing they do is start congregating on the outside of the hive — it’s called bearding and it’s really neat to see. When you see it, you know the hive is pretty hot. Usually, they’ll be flapping their wings to fan themselves. Observing your hives is one of the best ways to learn how to raise bees because it will cause you to ask questions and then find answers. So, when you see something different or interesting like bearding, it’s a sign that you need to investigate further. Another thing they do is gather water and put it in empty cells. Then they fan the cells to cool off the hive, similar to an evaporative cooler. Obviously, not all the bees can go outside to cool off, so this how they keep the hive cool for those who have to stay inside, which includes the brood.
Bees are amazing and instinctively know how to best manage their hives. However, like all of us, they can use some help at times.
How to Keep Bees Cool in Summer
When you are thinking about starting beekeeping it’s super important to consider your climate. If you live where you have hot summers, you’ll want to be able to provide some shade for your hives. Normally, bees love the sun but when temperatures reach 100°F or more, they will struggle to survive without some shade.
Ventilation during the summer months is also important. One way of creating ventilation is to use screened bottom boards. This will allow fresh air to easily get into the hive.
But since hot air rises you’ll also want to make sure there is ventilation at the top of the hive. You can purchase inner covers that have a hole in them and it will create a little attic for the hive. Another thing you can do is offset the lid just slightly or put a small twig under the lid. This will provide an area for the heat to escape without making a large opening that the bees will have trouble defending.
One last way to increase ventilation is to remove one of the frames from each hive, so you’ll have a nine frame super (or deep) instead of 10 or seven instead of eight. This will allow air to flow around the frames which is a great idea especially if it’s hot enough to soften the wax. When the comb is heavy with honey or brood, it’s quite a mess if it falls because the wax softens too much.
Preparing a Bee Watering Station
Something that everyone should do, even those who don’t keep bees, is to provide bee watering stations on their property. If you keep bees, a good place to have your bee watering station is near the bee hives.
A hive can consume anywhere from a quart to a gallon of water on a hot day. That is quite a lot of water. Bees are pretty smart and once they learn where water is they’ll continue to go to that site over and over. That means it’s important to keep your watering stations full. If they run dry the bees will find other water but it might not be where you want them to find water such as swimming pools and bird baths.
The main thing to remember when setting up a bee watering station is that the bees need something to land on or else they’ll drown. These can be small sticks, corks or even rocks.
Because we have quite a few hives and backyard chickens we keep buckets of water along our chicken yard for the chickens and the bees to use. We put small sticks in each bucket for the bees to land on. The sticks don’t bother the chickens at all and they happily co-exist.
We also have several bird baths around our property and keep small rocks in the bird baths for the bees to use. The bird baths that the bees use the most are the ones that are in areas where we’ve planted plants that attract bees. They are used to visiting those areas so having bird baths that are set up for bees there makes sense. If you don’t keep bees but want to help them out, adding rocks to your bird baths and keeping them full of water is a great way to help.
If you keep bees, you’ll need to be a little more diligent about supplying water for your bees to keep them cool in the summer. Buckets of all shapes and sizes will help keep your bees watered. It will be easiest on you if you have buckets that can hold at least a gallon of water so you don’t have to fill them more than once a day. If you are worried about mosquitoes, you can either empty the buckets and refill them each day or fill them to overflowing each day. Mosquitoes lay their eggs on the surface of the water, so the eggs will run off with the overflow.
Do you have a bee watering station? If so, share with us how it’s set up.
Originally published in 2016 and regularly vetted for accuracy.