July 15, 2021

Hot Summers and Bees (030)

It’s been hot in Ohio so far this summer (and a lot of other places too) but it’s also been wet.  Hot and wet can make keeping bees a lot harder than normal. Kim and Jim talk about hot summers and their bees. Kick the air conditioner down a...

Hot Bees. (100+ Degree Day)It’s been hot in Ohio so far this summer (and a lot of other places too) but it’s also been wet.  Hot and wet can make keeping bees a lot harder than normal. Kim and Jim talk about hot summers and their bees.

Kick the air conditioner down a couple of degrees, pour yourself a glass of your favorite beverage and listen in.

Jim is visiting up in Michigan this week, and it’s been hot there, too. They share the same loss of enthusiasm and eagerness for working bees when it’s hot and it seems the bees are crankier than usual. Is that normal? There are lots of bees bearding on the front of the hives…

The ‘personality’ changes in the bee yards every summer, hot or not. Up to the middle of June of so, the bees don’t even notice a beekeeper, but then that changes and the bees give all manner of trouble each visit visits. What’s going on? Dearth, robbing, what ever it is it lasts until at least early October, when they quite down again.

Shade helps. Get them in afternoon shade if you can. It’s a lot easier on the bees, and even more so for the beekeeper.

What about water? You have to make sure there’s always water available in your yard. Keep your bees out of your neighbor’s pools and pet dishes, so they stay out of trouble.

Hot summers and honey bees. Turn that air conditioner down a couple more degrees, will you please?

Watch the Honey Bee Obscura VideoMoment for this episode here: https://youtu.be/IWr7Bj0EUQs


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Honey Bee Obscura is brought to you by Growing Planet Media, LLC, the home of Beekeeping Today Podcast.

Music: Heart & Soul by Gyom, Walking in Paris by Studio Le Bus, original guitar music by Jeffrey Ott

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Honey Bee Obscura


Episode 30 – Hot Summers and Bees



Jim Tew: I'm in Western Michigan right now, and it's hot, but it's summer, so that's what I would expect. How about back in Ohio, Kim?

Kim Flottum: Jim, I got to tell you, it's been hotter longer in Ohio this summer than any summer I remember in over 30 years.

Jim: Well, that's good. I'm coming home. I'll be looking forward to that, Kim.

Kim: [laughs]

Jim: I can't wait to get back.

Kim: Yes, you leave your coat up there.

Jim: [chuckles] I'll do it. Hi, I'm Jim Tew.

Kim: I'm Kim Flottum.

Jim: We're talking to you today from Honey Bee Obscura, where our subject is hot bees and how to live with them.

Kim: Or not.

Jim: Or not is the question maybe. A lot goes on. I grew up in Alabama, and the first bees I kept was in a hot climate, so it's not surprising. Every year in July, we're going to have to deal with hot bees.

Speaker 1: You are listening to Honey Bee Obscura brought to you by Growing Planet Media, the folks behind Beekeeping Today Podcast. Each week on Honey Bee Obscura, hosts Kim Flottum and Jim Tew explore the complexities, the beauty, the fun, and the challenges of managing honey bees in today's world and engaging in informative discussion meant for all beekeepers, longtimers and those just starting their journey with bees. Sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all the things honey bees.

Jim: Kim, this has been particularly hot all up through the Pacific Northwest, the western US is dry and burning out.

Kim: Like I said, it's been hotter this summer than any I recall. I don't have notes from 20 years ago, so I can't say that exactly, but it's hot, and the heat's affecting me more also. I'll tell you what the hardest part of continuous hot weather is, is working bees. In Wisconsin, you'd have a warm day, but by suppertime, it'd cool right down, and you can go out there in a short-sleeved shirt and not have a problem. Ain't going to happen here. It's hot all into dark.

Jim: I don't want to be the sad and sappy senior citizen, but you really touched a nerve when you said the heat affects you more. It affects my eagerness, it affects my enthusiasm. If it's 95 degrees, and the bees are cranky, and there's not a flow going on, you just know what's going to be waiting for you, so you suit up, put on that heavy protective gear, and go out and withstand the heat. I'd just get totally overheated.

Kim: I've noticed one thing though about this hot weather this year affecting the honey flow. I'm not going to say it hasn't affected. I think it's improved it this year. We had good early, mid, and late spring flows, and now we're into summer, and my bee bee tree is just starting to bloom today, so the flows had been okay, which from the perspective of a beekeeper means that when I open a hive, I'm not bothering them a whole lot because they're busy doing something else, but they are hot. If you're not doing something inside, working hard, raising the young, or storing honey, you're probably on the front in a beard.

Jim: You just have to know that beard's out front. That's just good commonsense. It's too hot so that we'll go sit on the front porch where it's cooler. You know, it happened, Kim. I'd like to just mention it. There's no science, I got no calendars, I've got nothing but a long, long, long time of doing this, but my bees undergo a personality change. They come out of the winter, and they're weak, they're rundown, or they're packages, or whatever, and you build them back up, and you work with them, and you get the colonies going, and you can go back with a cup of coffee, and you can stand there in the bee yard and watch your bees fly until about the middle or the third week in June. Then like somebody flips a switch, my apiary's personality changes. I am not as welcome there.

Kim: [laughs]

Jim: I'm not tolerated as much as I was. If I stand there with my hypothetical cup of coffee, thinking about the world and about the goodness of life, I'm probably going to have bees buzzing all around me wanting me to move on. I guess, Kim, what? Robbing, heat, lack of a nectar flow? Why do the bees become more defensive of their particular hive and then by doing that, they become defensive of the apiary in general? It's just from middle of June, third week in June, all the way over till September, November, they'll come back down again.

Kim: Well, my first guess would be a dearth of some kind. If you're in a place where there isn't anything blooming for a while, it's going to lead to that kind of behavior, I'm certain, but just being cranky because it's uncomfortable probably lends to that also. If there's a dearth going on, you're right about robbing, you're going to have robbing. Robbing behavior is going to chase you out of that apiary just like it's going to chase any other bee out of there, so I'm not sure because I don't see that here in Medina. I don't have that. I seldom have a summer dearth. I've planned for it. I've got trees blooming almost from frost to frost, so I'm not sure what it is. What do you do about it?

Jim: Whoa, whoa. You don't have a summer dearth in Medina? We're just 26 miles apart.

Kim: [laughs] Yes. I don't know what to tell you. I do know one thing is that there are lots of blooming trees here in the summer that were purposely planted by people as ornamentals. Within flight range, I've got a lot of those in here. The ornamental part of it is the attractive ornamentals. We've got soybeans all summer all round us. There's a steady if not significant, but there's a steady flow. Like I said, it may be where you are, and it may be something else. The one thing I used to do about hot summer bees is, as detrimental as it can be, some times of the year, I try to keep them in the shade most of the afternoon.

Jim: I am happy with that. I do that, too. Strictly in Alabama, if I didn't keep them in the shade, I couldn't work them. It was too hot, too hot for the bees, too.

Kim: One of the things I used to do, I don't do it anymore, I just have them sitting in my yard where I get afternoon shade, but I used to have a wagon and a pallet that I sit on, and I was able to move that back towards the shade a little bit every day until by the time it got really hot, they were in the shade in the afternoon, and I could put it back on the sun when it got fall and winter.

Jim: Oh, I've never heard of such a thing.

Kim: You can move them a foot or two a day and they don't mind, so there's that option. The other option, of course, is to just leave them where they are in the shade, or leave them in the full sun and maybe put up what you have to put up with.

Jim: Well, full sun, and moving, and all these kind of things certainly comes to mind, but the one thing that comes in right away is water. My bees begin to want water just about the time that it got above freezing. I've been told, and I've read, time and again, that they want water to dilute honey with and to manufacture their brewed food, and then they want water for cooling the hive, I would think.

From right now when I left Ohio just a few days ago, I've got two common bird waterers, and they both had hundreds and hundreds of bees struggling with each other, fighting with each other to get that little bit of water I put out there for them, so there's the water issue. Where are they going? To my neighbors' pools, to my neighbors' bird-watering devices, the ditches, or whatever, but they're on the prowl for water.


Speaker 2: Betterbee is pleased to sponsor today's episode of Honey Bee Obscura podcast. For over 40 years, Betterbee has supplied beekeepers across the country with the tools, equipment, and knowledge needed to succeed. Because many Betterbee employees are beekeepers themselves, they understand your needs and challenges and are better prepared to answer your beekeeping questions. From their colorful catalog to their supportive beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast, Betterbee truly lives up to their tagline of beekeepers serving beekeepers. See for yourself at betterbee.com.


Kim: The one thing about this summer has been, like I said, it's the hottest and been one of the wettest. I've got bunches of containers spread out all around the row of hives out there. I've got five water containers with rocks in them. I have to make them shallow enough that the rocks stay above the highest the water's going to get because it rains. If it doesn't rain every third day, something's wrong this summer, so we've been getting enough water to keep those containers full. I haven't had to struggle with water this year, but it's only because of the weather, not because I'm such an alert beekeeper.

Jim: I don't want to offend a lot of the country, this is a serious drought, but we've been getting good rain. I don't mind the thunderstorms to come booming and crashing through and dumping the natural water down, and you just take a break. That means you got a few days before the grass starts growing, and you got to mow that again.

Kim: [laughs] The other half of that is if you got stuff you got to get underground to grow in your garden, you can't because it's still muddy out there. One of the things about rain also, the amount of rain we've had this year is-- Everywhere you look, there's wildflowers blooming. We, a long time ago, put clover seed in our lawn. My lawn's almost white for a while before we finally have to mow it again. There's a lot of wildflowers blooming, which adds to the flow of this other stuff that surrounds. I don't know, maybe that's helping, too.

Jim: Well, it all begins to look good. It's just that summer beekeeping, I have a bit of a drought. I'm sorry, I have a bit of a dearth. You say that you don't, but it will pick back up. Right now, you're right. There's summer flowers. I have a bee bee tree that is just starting to bloom. I don't think it's as large as yours and that's such a helpful thing to have there, too.

Kim, you know, there was a comment made that bothers me. Every time I add water to my bird-watering devices, I should say bee-watering devices, ostensibly it'll be for birds, but the bees use them almost exclusively, and I read many times-- Don't exaggerate Jim. I read several times that I need to be careful that I can unintentionally have my watering source become a disease source because all these bees are coming to these common waterholes and they're mixing saliva unintentionally as they imbibe water, and that there's a potential that I could, in some ways, spread some viral disease in my common water source.

Kim: We talked to a fellow from Canada on the Beekeeping Today Podcast who did his research in Cornell with Tom Seeley. One of his research was looking at how Varroa get from one hive to another. One of the things that he found that happened an incredible amount of times was that a Varroa mite would leave a bee on a flower and hitch a ride with another bee that came to the same flower. He proved it beyond a shadow of a doubt, much to Tom Seeley's a surprise. Your watering thing can spread disease and Varroa. I'm going to bet that all of those bees at your watering device aren't all yours from your colonies. There'll be some bees from someplace else in there.

Jim: No, I wouldn't. I just assumed they're not. The reason I agree with you on that is I picked up five swarms in the last three years that I can tell you were not mine, because I was in my apiary when they moved in, and they were not coming out of my colonies. I don't know where they came from. I know that I'm getting swarmed. I know there's other bees in my general area, and I know that they're probably checking out my water sources.

Kim: [chuckles] Then your floral sources, and your colonies, and everything else we own.

Jim: Some other time, maybe we can talk about robbing, but right now, robbing is, from this point on, one of the biggest reasons that I would be really reluctant to do much in my bee yard because they just go nuts. Never mind my neighbors and never mind all that discussion that we had about neighbors and my bees being out of control. It's just not a pretty sight when those bees turn on each other and will intentionally kill selected colonies. You know, Kim, it's not always the weakest, necessarily. Some of the strangest colonies get picked out to be attacked. From now on, as the nectar sources are more and more difficult, I think they will look more and more to their neighbor as a food source.

Kim: I'll tell you the thing that bothers me the most in hot weather. I got a veil on. Whether I have a suit on or not, if I got a veil on, after about five minutes, there's so much sweat on my glasses, I can't see what the heck I'm doing in that beehive. I've got to step back and clean them off. I think probably my biggest problem is comfort in the bee yard. During this hot weather, there isn't a lot of that.

Jim: You know, you've already brought this up already. Clearly, being an old guy is not working out well for your beekeeping operation, but that glasses thing, I luckily can perceive well enough not to use my glasses, but the deal is the salt water running through my eyes still irritates me after a short time, and so glasses or not, I've still got these bloodshot hot eyes. Tell me if I'm wrong, but the stings just seem to hurt so much more. In the winter when I'm cool and you get stung, it's just annoying. In the summer, you're hot and then my blood's near the surface, and it just seems to hurt a lot more. Nonetheless, it's just summer, Kim, but this has been a particularly hot summer for much of the country.

Kim: Hot summer and hot bees.

Jim: Hot summer and hot bees equals potentially hot stings. I had a good time talking to you. I'm going to be home here in a few days. I'll fill my watering devices, and I'll go back and see if the bees are still beardy, and you and I can talk more if you don't mind then.

Kim: Not a bit. I got some trees for you we can get planted.

Jim: I want to do that. I'll talk to you more about that, too.

Kim: Okay. I'll see you then.

Jim: I enjoyed it. Bye-bye.


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