July means lots of honey coming in from the beeyard, but it can also mean dealing with a lot of heat and humidity. Here are some tips to help keep you and your bees more comfortable.
Provide Water for Bees
Just like every other living thing, bees need water! It’s a good ideas to make sure they have a clean source of water nearby for a number of reasons. First, they won’t have to travel as far to find water. Secondly, providing the bees with a known source of water can help keep them out of places you don’t want them – such as a neighbor’s pool.
Any shallow container can hold water, but you need to make sure that the bees have something to land on, so they don’t fall in and drown. I’ve heard of people using marbles, rocks, sticks, and whatever else will work.
We found a very easy way to provide our bees with water – we use a chicken waterer. We fill it up, hang it from a shepherds hook, and fill the water tray with gravel and rocks. The water doesn’t evaporate as fast as with an open container of water, and the bees don’t fall in and drown because of the gravel.
Someone once told me that adding a little bit of bleach to the water helps attract the bees to it, so we usually add about half a cap full whenever we refill it. This method seems to work well. We still get a few bees at our birdbath, but most seem to prefer the water we put out for them.
Protecting Bees from Summer Heat
Bees do a great job of regulating the temperature inside the hive – fanning at the entrance and “bearding” on the front of the hive are just a few ways they reduce the heat and humidity in the hive. However, there are a few things that beekeepers can do to help them deal with the heat.
We use screened bottom boards, and always have an open upper entrance in addition to the regular front entrance. This helps with air flow, allowing excess heat and moisture to exit the hive.
When the weather is going to be extra hot, we use popsicle sticks to slightly lift the outer cover. We place them horizontally on the back of the inner cover, or even diagonally across the corners. Again, this helps with ventilation.
Another thing you can do to help is to make sure the bees have plenty of room. n addition to swarm prevention, making sure the bees have plenty of space allows the heat to disperse more easily. We always make sure they have a super that is at least half empty to work on, and plenty of brood space as well.
For the Humans
My husband and I are not big fans of hot, humid weather, so we always take steps to try and stay as cool as possible when working the bees.
First, clothing. On a hot, humid day, we don’t reach for denim jeans – they are much too heavy and hot. Instead we wear baggy, light, pants. Hiking pants are a good choice — they are generally made of light, breathable material.
Under our bee jackets and veils, we wear a light shirt or tank top made out of a material that will wick moisture away. If I am just doing something quick in the beeyard, like removing a super, I may even skip the jacket and just wear a light, long sleeve shirt with a separate veil on.
It’s also important to have some kind of sweatband or headband. There is nothing more annoying than sweat running into your eyes, when you can’t wipe it a way because of the veil. A sweatband takes care of that. You could also try wearing one of those new cooling towels around your neck to help stay cool.
We also plan when we will work on certain hives. On a hot humid day, we try to get out in the beeyard as early as possible, while it’s still cool. But, we also try to work on hives when they are in the shade as opposed to full sun. It makes a huge difference.
And finally - think about what really needs to be done in the beeyard. If it is over 90 degrees and humid, we tend to prioritize — what needs to be done now, and what can wait a few days until it cools down?
This is also the time of year when we start doing a lot of honey extraction. If we plan ahead, we can have honey supers pulled from the hives and in the house when the hot weather hits. When it is too hot to work outside, I can always work on extracting honey inside!
For more details on honey extraction, please check out my previous blogs: Honey Harvest, Part 1, Honey Harvest, Part 2, and The Hows and Whys of Producing Comb Honey. And, of course, take lots of breaks to cool off, and drink a lot of water. Have fun and stay cool!
Jennifer Ford is a science teacher and co-owner of Bees of the Woods Apiary outside of Altamont, New York. Over the past seven years, Jennifer and her husband have expanded the apiary from two to 18 beehives, and share what they have learned about beekeeping with others through mentoring programs and presentations. Learn more about Bees of the Woods Apiary and beekeeping in general at www.BeesOfTheWoods.com or on the Bees of the Woods Facebook page. Read all of Jennifer’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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