How Do I Know if My Bees Are Too Hot?
Protecting Bees from Summer Heat
One of my favorite places to be on our property is in the bee yard. I will occasionally sneak in there with camera in hand and just watch. Bees are pretty amazing. They can be found in almost any climate and have learned to adapt well. However, because I live in an area with long, hot summers I’m often asked, “How do I know if my bees are too hot?”
How Bees Stay Cool?
Bees have a natural instinct to keep their hives at about 95 degrees at all times. During the winter, the bees huddle together in the hive, seal any cracks with propolis, and beat their wings to keep the hive temperature around 95 degrees.
During the summer, regardless of the outside temperatures, bees try to keep their hives at the same 95-degree temperature. The forager bees are out of the hive looking for pollen, nectar, and water during the day which helps keep the temperature down.
Some of the bees that stay in the hive will be put on wing beating duty. They’ll beat their wings to circulate air through the hive and reduce the temperature. When the forager bees bring water into the hive, the wing beating and water work together like an evaporative cooler to reduce the temperature.
How Do I Know if My Bees Are Too Hot?
It doesn’t necessarily mean the hive is at risk, but it might be at risk. If the hive gets too hot the brood can die, so the bees move outside instead of working to lower the hive temperature.
When bees get too hot, all production stops and the queen stops laying eggs. If you’re doing regular hive inspections and notice that the queen has stopped laying, make sure you can find the queen and she hasn’t died. If she’s there and just not laying, you can assume she’s taking a break because of the heat.
If you notice melted wax or honey dripping from the hive, it’s definitely too hot in the hive. This is rare but can happen if you have temperatures above 100 degrees day after day. It can also mean that you’re at risk of losing the hive, so you need to take action.
Protecting Bees from the Summer Heat
Although bees do a great job of naturally managing their hive temperatures, there are some things you can do to help protect bees from the summer heat.
When you’re setting up your honey bee farming operation, try to choose an area that will get some shade during the summer. You do want to be careful not to put your hives in an area where their flight will be obstructed or in a densely wooded area. However, if you can find an area that will get afternoon shade or dappled shade it will help the bees keep their hives from overheating.
We have an area on our property that gets afternoon shade from our neighbor’s trees so we chose that area for our apiary and our chicken run. It works out really well since the trees are full of leaves during the summer and provide shade. In the winter, the trees have lost their leaves and provide very little shade, letting the sun hit the hives to warm them up.
One reason to keep your hives in full sun is that varroa mites don’t like full sun. If you have varroa mites in your area, you might consider getting Russian honey bees which are resistant to varroa and tracheal mites.
You can also paint the hives white and use metal outer covers to reflect the heat.
Bees need water year round but especially during the heat of the summer. We like to set up bee watering stations throughout our property for the bees to enjoy.
During the summer, the bees need ventilation. As they bring in water, the humidity in the hive rises and it’s harder for the nectar to dry, so they have to fan more. They use an incredible amount of energy fanning air that goes nowhere. Therefore, it’s best to give them some ventilation to move the air more efficiently.
One of the best forms of ventilation is screened bottom boards. They allow for a lot of air to enter the hive while keeping out mice and large insects.
You can vent the top with screened inner covers which also let air come into the hive but not pests. If you don’t have screened inner covers, you can use shims to raise the outer cover or move it ajar just a bit to allow more airflow. This will also give the bees an additional entrance and reduce congestion at the main entrance. But it also gives the bees an additional entrance to guard.
If it’s late in the summer and there isn’t much foraging available, you’ll want to remove the shims or put the outer cover on properly to keep robbers out of the hive. You may want to use a robbing screen to improve the hive entrance. If you decide to feed your bees, use an internal feeder and be careful not to spill the feed on or near the hive so as not to attract robbers.
If you use an entrance reducer, it needs to be removed to allow for more airflow and less congestion.
Don’t allow the hive to become too crowded. Many beekeepers will use one less frame than usual during a long hot summer, so a 10-frame box will only have nine frames. This allows the frames to be a little further apart and allows for airflow. However, bees are really great at filling in empty spaces, so if you use one less frame, just know that they might build comb in the empty areas instead of just on the frames. If the hive is 80 percent full, add another box.
During the long, hot summers bees naturally do a pretty good job of keeping themselves cool. If you’ve painted your hives a light color and put them where they can get some shade, the bees might not need anything else from you. Part of being a good beekeeper is observing your hives. If you notice that your bees are getting too hot, be sure to have bee watering stations available and vent the hives. These two things will go a long way in protecting bees from the summer heat.