The Drought & Honeybees

By Education Specialist

With the high temperatures and lack of rainfall we can physically see the effects on the flora and fauna around us. Leaves are drying up and falling, crops are withering and the ground cracks. I recently returned from being out of town for a week to find our garden shriveled, our lawn brown and crunchy, and my new Bradford Pear trees bare of leaves. My attention shifted immediately to my colonies of honeybees to observe the effects of the drought upon them.

Obviously we have entered a dearth and the bees are having a hard time making a living. With a very limited nectar supply the bees’ attention will shift to whatever is available around them. One of the things we will see in their opportunistic feeding is our hummingbird feeders covered with honeybees and also wasps. Yes, the wasps are suffering too.

Recently I received a call from a concerned person who reported a local gas station owner who was spraying the honeybees visiting the trash cans near his gas islands. The bees were there to retrieve what’s on the bottom of pop cans and anything else sweet they can find. He stated the bees were stinging his customers.

I find that hard to fathom as foraging bees are generally only interested in just that, foraging, and not defending. Foraging honeybees will usually only sting while collecting if they are pinched. However their close proximity usually alarms non-beekeepers. I looked at my apple trees and most of the fruit has been opened up and the yellow jackets were having a field day with them.

Another thing we may observe is robbing behavior among our own colonies and feral bees as well. Honeybees are notorious robbers and will rob neighboring colonies to the point of starvation. In addition certain species of wasps may be seen attacking bee colonies and eating bees as well as invading hives for their stored supplies.

What can be done for non-beekeepers?

If bees and wasps become a problem around your home, you may want to take down your hummingbird feeders for a couple of days. The insects may forget about them and seek other sources. Tie up all garbage bags and remove food items from outside that may be attractive. Be careful when drinking a can of soda outside so you don’t accidentally get a bee or wasp in your mouth. Additionally you could help the bees out by mixing some sugar water up at a ratio of 1-1 by weight, and placing it in a shallow pan and setting it up some distance away from human activity to give them a hand. Remember they need something to land on so they don’t drown and are able to preen. Gravel works well for this. 1-1 can be easily mixed by taking a 1-gallon milk jug and adding 5# of sugar and topping off with hot tap water and shaking vigorously.

What can beekeepers do?

If your hives are close to your neighbors you should consider setting up an open feeding station to help keep your bees close to home. Again, this can be done with shallow pans, gravel, and 1-1 syrup or a variety of other methods. You should not set these up too close to your hives but at a distance of at least 100 feet. This will help lessen the chance of a robbing frenzy.

Entrances to your hives should be reduced so the bees can more easily defend them. In addition, bees are using a lot of water right now to cool their hives and if you don’t have a water source nearby you need to provide one. Adding a teaspoon of salt to a gallon of water that you’re providing to them may help to keep them out of your neighbor’s swimming pools as well. If your neighbors complain about bees visiting their pools you may want to offer the suggestion that if they hang a towel from the edge this will give the bees a place to land and should help to concentrate them in one area. A bottle of honey for them (the homeowner) may also help to keep the peace.

Hopefully the drought will ease and we will see an increase in forage and things will return to normal soon.

Happy Beekeeping!

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