June 23, 2022

Water For Your Bees (079)

After you get through the winter, spring buildup, swarming season and the ever present varroa, you can sit back and smell the flowers, right? You’re a beekeeper! There is no time to rest! Jim has a question for you… “Where are your bees getting...

After you get through the winter, spring buildup, swarming season and the ever present varroa, you can sit back and smell the flowers, right? You’re a beekeeper! There is no time to rest! Jim has a question for you… “Where are your bees getting the water they need?”

On today’s episode, Jim and Jeff Ott (from Beekeeping Today Podcast) talk about where your bees are likely to find the water they need. If you are miles from your nearest neighbor, then you only need to consider whether or not there is water available for your bees in the driest time of the year. If you are located in a suburban, urban area, then you may not need to worry whether or not your bees have enough water. Your concern should shift to where your bees are finding their water. 

Jim’s bees are usually at his neighbor’s bird bath.

It doesn’t take much water for a honey bee to find it. Even a single drip from a hose bib can attract a bee or two. How do they find that?!

Have you ever seen a collection of honey bees at the edge of a bag of damp potting soil? At the edge a silage or manurer runoff? Are they collecting water or are they collecting minerals? Interesting question.

Listen today as Jim and Jeff talk about water for your bees. Afterwards, head over to the Honey Bee Obscura YouTube Channel to watch a special VideoMoment on Honey Bees and Water.

We hope you enjoyed today's episode. Please follow or subscribe today and leave a comment! We'd love to hear from you!


Thanks to Betterbee for sponsoring today's episode. Betterbee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customer BetterBeeservice, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, Betterbee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at www.betterbee.com


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

Copyright © 2022 by Growing Planet Media, LLC


Honey Bee Obscura

Episode 79 – Water For Your Bees


Jim Tew: Podcast listeners, I'm wondering if we can come up with some suggestions for realistically watering our bees. It's a common problem this hot time of the year. Hi, I'm Jim Tew.

Jeff Ott: And I'm Jeff Ott from Beekeeping Today Podcast.

Jim: We're talking to see if we can decide exactly what we're going to be doing to help our bees get all the water that they need.

Jeff: That's a good topic this time of year, and especially liked that so much of the country is under such a heat wave. I know that there are a lot of bees looking for water right now.

Introduction: 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, host 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 an informative discussion meant for all beekeepers, long-timers, and those just starting their journey with bees. Sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things honey bees.

Jim: Jeff, the reason I brought this up was that we've talked about it. Not necessarily on this podcast, but I've written about it.  Interruption…- Jeff, let me ask you point-blank, is my voice okay? I just barely don't have laryngitis. Are you understanding me okay? We're 2,000 miles apart. I don't think I'm exposing you to anything.”

Jeff: [laughs] No. You sound like you are ready to launch off in some Frank Sinatra song. Your voice is deeper and full of resonance, but yes, I can hear it.

Jim: I was going to save that for the ending, so-

Jeff: [laughs] Oh, boom. There you go.

Jim: -stand by. I'm on the edge today but I'm all right. Why sit inside and be sick when I can come out and talk to you and all our friends and be sick?  Interruption ends…..

I don't know how to handle this water thing. The reason I bring it up is that it's hot. I've written about it in some articles, and I get interesting responses. Some people who are right next door to flowing water, creeks, ponds, whatever, never think a thing about it. Some people in the Southwestern US, parts of Texas, Southern Texas, they put out water for their livestock and the livestock can't get to it because there are so many bees there collecting water. It really depends on where you are, doesn't it?

Jeff: Yes. It makes me wonder about all the urban beekeepers and where are those bees getting water. Now, the rooftop bees, are they picking up from underneath air conditioning units or fire hydrants or where?

Jim: That is absolutely uncanny. You can go to the books. I would suggest to anybody who wants the nuts and bolts of water uses inside the hive refer to any in-depth beekeeping book because this is not that discussion here today, Jeff. This discussion here today is how do the bees do that and how can I help? I've had a bee find a single drip, drip, drip from a water hose, and there was a pool of water there not any bigger than the palm of my hand. I photographed that bee. I'll send you the photo and we'll put it on the webpage- (See the web page,.)

Jeff: All right.

Jim: -for this piece here. You stand there and you look at that little bee and you think, "How did you find this water? Was it by sight? Does the water smell that strongly to you?" How does the bee find that small amount of water like that?

Jeff: It's amazing, ain't it?

Jim: Well, the thing that bothers me, Jeff, is that I came back later and there were two bees there. Then my question becomes, "Did that one bee go back, and she's so good at what she does that she could actually send a recruit to that small water source?" I have no idea. When you say they're getting it from air conditioner runoff, from whatever, you're certainly right. I don't have any idea. I don't think that we know how bees find water. Several years ago, if I can tell a short story, I had a very tolerant neighbor. So far….. Man, I tell you, Jeff – neighbors.

Jeff: [laughs] Hey Jim, I need to interrupt you, but your neighbors are all very tolerant of you.

Jim: They are. They're legendary. What's happening-- and this is not funny. What's happening with my neighbors, Jeff, is that-- and I hope you see this in a gallows-humor situation, but they're dying. Neighbors I've had for 40 years, I'm having to tell them goodbye, and now I'm having to break in new people. "Hi. I'm Jim Tew and I keep bees. I'm right up under you and so are my bees, so if you put a bird waterer out like my previous neighbor did, you're going to get all these bees that come to it and not the birds."

My neighbor sang out one day across our backyards and said, "Jim, come look at these bees." I went over to have a look at her bird waterer and oh, Jeff, it was terrible. It looked like a living bicycle tube in a ring around the edge of that water. There were thousands of bees there. She said, "There ain't no way the birds can even land to drink water because of all your bees." I looked at her and she's right." She said, "I've been thinking about it and this is what I'm going to do. You just take the thing; I want to give it to you. I will get another one."

At that moment, Jeff, what do you say to your neighbor that you respect? She lives close to you, and you help her bring in firewood and that kind of thing. At that moment, how much truth do you tell? I tried to use biblical wisdom and split the baby. I took her old bird waterer because it was pretty far gone, from an appearance standpoint. I told her that a new waterer in the same position probably would still attract bees, but that maybe a new waterer would also attract birds. That's the truth.

Now, I didn't know if the old waterer, maybe the birds like it better…. I don't know. She moved the new one slightly and I helped her assemble it. We put water in it and a few days later the bees were there. But the weather's changing and life moves on, and she's okay with it.  Everything settled down.

This is the same thing, Jeff, that I have talked about too much in our podcast. I've written about it too much, and that's how do you involve innocent people in your bee operation? How do you get swarms off their property? How do you stop bees from collecting water at their landscape pond? The other neighbor, two houses down, called me up, "The bees are at my landscape pond up here and the frogs won't even jump in." I don't know what to do, Jeff. I don't know what to do because this is what happens.

If I put water out on my own yard, if I put kids' pools—in fact, I bought two blue kids' pools and put sand in those things and kept water in there, and I had a lot of bees there. Then I had bees at the neighbor's bird bath, and I had bees at the other neighbor's landscape pond that kept the frogs out. From a bee standpoint it's just, "Thank you, thank you, thank you, and thank you for putting all this water out for me." That way, if one source dries up, they have another ready source right there.

Jeff: My question to you, and it might have been [laughs] facetiously my question to the neighbors, how do you know they're your bees?

Jim: I tried to ask that discreetly.

Jeff: Do you see my brand on the bees?

Jim: Here's the best part. For two years the neighbor across the street got bees. Oh, that was heavenly. "Oh, I sure hope this is not the other neighbor's bees. These are not mine." Let me tell you, this is gallows humor, Jeff. What do you think happened? The other neighbor died, and the bees went away, and I lost that excuse, but yes, you're right.

Jeff: The only common denominator is you and your neighbors are dying. I wonder if there's a connection.

Jim: That's not funny. That's not funny.


Jeff: Okay. Well, we'll cut that out.

Jim: I hadn't thought about that. That does have a sinister ring to it, doesn't it?

Jeff: Yes.

Jim: jokingly, If you complain about my bees bad things happen to you.


Jeff: The complaining neighbors are all disappearing. Dang, so sorry. [laughs]

Jim: Well, let me tell you it's strange because I watch this all the time. We don't really know. You can go to the literature, and you can find out how much water a colony needs, and you can find out temperature-related effect, water consumption inside the bee colony, but where they're actually going and how far they're flying and what they're doing is just all over the page. Especially for you and me who live in areas where there's plenty of surface water. Right now, there is not a single bee at my two watering sources that I have kept steadfastly filled in my yard.

Every year up to this year there have been hundreds of bees there, so I don't know where they're getting their water. I don't know what they're doing. I don't know where they're going. I'd like to tell the listeners that you can read in the book, yes to put water out, never let it run dry, let it drip, drip, drip, put a pool, put sand, put rocks, put lily pads, I know, I know, I know, but the fact that there's so much advice means that there's no single consensus on the best way to provide water for bees in an area like ours.

If you go to those hot tropical areas, if you go to the hot semi areas where it's dry, then that's a different game altogether because there really is not much surface water, and then there's different problems. I mentioned keeping away wildlife, keeping away livestock because there are so many bees there. Not just my bees but wild bees, all kinds of insects that desperately need water. Jeff, I want to go in a slightly different direction here in just a bit, but let's take a break while I get my thoughts together.

Jeff: All right.


Betterbee: Betterbee knows that Varroa mites are public enemy number one for our honey bees. If you are not treatment free, your Varroa mite management plan should include a variety of medications to prevent resistance to treatment. Head over to betterbee.com/varroa to get your sugar roll and alcohol wash monitoring kits as well as your Formic Pro, oxalic acid, Apivar, and other mite management medications. Let Betterbee help you protect your bees from Varroa. Visit Betterbee today, Your Partners in Better Beekeeping.

Jim: Jeff, where I want to go from this point is that sometimes you can see bees collecting water in some places that you really wish-….fades

Jeff: Oh yes.

Jim: -that you wouldn't see them collecting water. You think, "Do I want to photograph this?" I mean, this is bees collecting water, and great numbers of bees around a cattle feedlot where the water is running over into a holding pond. Bees are there collecting water. Probably don't want to talk about this in the popular literature, but sometimes what's happening there apparently, with me being way out beyond my academic training, is I don't know if they're collecting water so much as they're collecting minerals and trace elements, salt runoff, and that material has to be liquified for the bees to collect. As disgusting as it might be, that's the form that it has to be in - in a liquid form - for the bees to collect that.

I've seen bees in two places that were just bizarre in the first place. I've seen bees collecting blue water which was nothing more than liquid fertilizer from potted plants where somebody had watered them, and blue water ran out onto the plastic sheet. Then bees showed up in great numbers and collected that fertilizer water.

Jeff: I've seen that as well.

Jim: Second place is in cattle lots where they put out salt licks, and they're usually in a plastic tub. The bees would go collect that brine that would form around the bottom of the tub. I don't know if those are actually water collectors or those are not nutrient collectors that we don't hear much about. Everybody knows pollen collectors, but I don't know if we know much about these nutrient collectors that are working compost piles and these strange places you see bees foraging every now and then.

Jeff: I've seen the exact same thing. We've had horses and I've seen these bees around the mineral blocks in the pen like you said, and also in bags of fertilized treated topsoil. Pull back the cover of a bag that's been opened and there's bees inside there collecting moisture, collecting something I can't see. I've figured it was the minerals as well, but it is strange.

I was thinking about your comment about the feedlots and the runoff from the feedlots. If anyone ever asked me about that I would always say those must be feral bees because my bees collect only--

Jim: jokingly Civilized bees would never do that.

Jeff: That's correct.


Jeff: And produce clean honey. Come on. [laughs]

Jim: Jeff, do you know of anyone-- This is me showing my ignorance of the modern inventory of supply products, but is there a product that's made that supplies nutrients and trace elements, salts to bees? Does pollen substitute have that kind of vitamin complex in it? Have you talked to anyone on the other podcasts that have discussed this?

Jeff: No. That's a good question. There is the one company-- and this is unsolicited. I think Hive Alive, they provide seaweed extract, and that provided some trace mineral additions to the feed. I don't know if products like Honey B Healthy or Honey B Healthy Plus-- I'd have to go look at a bottle, see if they provide any kind of "trace minerals."

Jim: Well, I'm sorry for spontaneously springing that on you. We're off the subject of water, but the bees are frequently collecting what appears to be water. I think they're collecting something else because there's confined abundant water somewhere else, and why would you work here? I don't know if probiotics, for instance, if there's something that we could be doing because probiotics is still fairly new to me; that's new to my bees. I don't know if sometimes the bee is collecting from these strange sources or not.

The reason I wanted to talk with you about this today was that it's in all the bee books that you need to provide a standard supply of water, but the reality of it is that bees are going to find water in most places in this country. Canada, Mexico, they're going to find water. It's not really that the beekeeper needs to put the water out there. The thing is once bees find water at your neighbor's pool, at your neighbor's landscape pond, or at the chewing gum factory, some of the strangest places I've heard that had bee problems, I don't know how you reprogram the bees other than just move those colonies completely away to break their habit.

Boy, saltwater pools are the worst, Jeff. I've seen pictures of saltwater pools in Alabama that had thousands and thousands of living and dead bees in that pool. The pool was completely unusable, and the best advice anybody could come up with was to cover the pool and the pool deck when it wasn't being used. This is a situation that we don't have a good control over. We don't really know why bees are looking in these places and need this water so badly.

Jeff: Well, that sounds like we have a researcher listening to the podcast, that might be a good topic to put some time into.

Jim: Yes, or reprimand us for starting a topic we didn't have the qualifications for what we're discussing.

Jeff: [laughs] Hey, we're beekeepers. We can talk about anything.

Jim: Yes. Well, the main thing I wanted to know was are we doing the right thing with our water? You need to put something out there even though the bees are probably going to find it somewhere else. We don't know how much to put out. We don't really know why the bees are collecting water if always they're collecting it or not, but you need to try. Don't just let them go to your neighbor's pool without any effort to short-circuit it.

Jeff: Once you start providing water, make sure it's always there because once it dries up they'll tend to not come back.

Jim: Yes. There is no standard device.

Jeff: No.

Jim: There is no go-to, this is the waterer that you've just got to have in the bee inventory. Improvise whatever you want to improvise. Whatever.

Jeff: In August here it's typically very dry, and I put out the chicken waterers and put rocks around it or something to help, but other than that they mostly ignore it. You could do anything you want as long as it's safe for the bees and safe for critters and animals and small kids around you.

Jim: I think I'm done.


Jim: Put some water out. I don't know how much, I don't know where, I don't know what in, but put some water out. At least you can look your neighbor in the eye when you have to and say, "I'm doing the best I can over here!" I'm sorry about my voice. Is this where I sing now?

Jeff: No. [laughs]

Jim: No singing here?

Jeff: No, no singing. [laughs]

Jim: Okay. Wait till we log off and then I'll sing, okay?

Jeff: Sure.

Jim: I enjoyed talking to you.

Jeff: I enjoyed being here. Thank you.

Jim: To everyone who listened and got this far along, you're a tough person. Thank you for hanging in there.

[00:19:16] [END OF AUDIO]