Water For Bees

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The Inspectors

As June arrives and the beekeeping season reaches its peak, we begin to think about our annual county beekeeping inspection, which is right around the corner.  Above is a photo that we took from last year’s inspection.

Our county beekeeping inspectors arrive in mid-summer in full force; armed with the latest beekeeping technology, multi-layered beekeeping suits, range-finding binoculars, foulbrood inspection kits, and carrying checklists that seem to be miles long.  They ask questions such as, “Where is the water source in this apiary?  How many colonies do you have here?  How close is the nearest residence?  What fire prevention steps are you taking, etc.?  These questions can go on and on, lasting the better part of a morning.

Of course, the inspectors have to live up to their title, and also inspect actual bee colonies for evidence of foul brood, varroa mites, viruses, diseases, colony temperament, and so on.  At Wildflower Meadows, we have few concerns with third-party colony inspections, since as queen breeders, we regularly do the same inspections, and are hyper-vigilant in guarding against diseases.  It is our job to regularly monitor the health and temperament of our own colonies, and we take this responsibility seriously.

Sometimes, however, the thoroughness and breadth of the inspectors’ checklists catches us off guard.  We were written up last year for not sufficiently trimming the weeds in an access road leading up to one of our apiaries.  We wrote about weed trimming last year, when we mentioned how beekeepers are sometimes hesitant to remove pollen sources from around the bees.  We are no different:  flowering weeds are precious pollen sources, and like many beekeepers, it breaks our heart to be forced to remove them!  The inspectors, however, in their quest for fire prevention (which obviously is very important in California) had no patience for our arguments.  We are now required to get more serious about our weed trimming responsibilities, oftentimes trimming in places that we never even thought about before . . .

Who knows what the inspectors will come up with this year?  Nevertheless, we are feeling confident.  Our colonies are looking great, our water sources are full, and our apiaries are weed-free.  And, at least for now, we are ready for the next round of inspections!

 

Honeybees and Hummingbirds

Here at Wildflower Meadows, it is not just honeybees that buzz overhead each day – our queen-rearing yard is also home to an astonishing number of hummingbirds.  One of our employees is a big fan of these amazing creatures.  She feeds our local hummingbirds daily, upwards of 36 cups of sugar syrup per day!

Hummingbirds migrate up and down the West Coast of the United States; and our queen apiary here in Southern California appears to be well within their migratory flight path.  Depending on the season, we see anywhere from fifty to over a hundred hummingbirds perched around our queen rearing yard daily.  They buzz by our beekeepers, sometimes within inches of their heads, while darting to and from their feeders.  Some days there can be a small number of hummingbirds passing through; and the next day there can be double, sometimes triple the number stopping by for a drink.

One might think that hummingbirds and honeybees would not be very compatible in the same area.  After all, they both drink nectar.  It would seem that they would compete with each other and that one might starve the other out.  This does not happen, however.  Although it is not uncommon to see hummingbirds and bees foraging peacefully together on the same plants, more often than not, the two species go their separate ways.  Hummingbirds mostly prefer long, red tubular flowers as their nectar source, while honeybees have little or no ability to access those flowers.  Not only can honeybees not identify the color red, but their tongues are not nearly as long as those of hummingbirds to reach the nectar.  This tends to keep the two nectar gatherers separate while foraging, each with different flower/nectar preferences.

Possibly the best benefit of having hummingbirds near the apiary is that they keep the mosquitoes and flies at bay.  Without the hummingbirds, our bee water gardens might attract mosquitoes.  With hummingbirds, however, no mosquitoes, no problem!

 

 

 

A Honeybee Swamp Cooler

Some people think that humans invented the swamp cooler.  Actually, honeybees did!

The principal of a swamp cooler is to create cool air by fanning a wet surface area, and then to distribute the cool air throughout a house or building via the same fan.

Honey bees follow this exact principal in cooling their beehives.  When honeybees collect water for cooling, they carry it to their beehives in their bodies.  They then regurgitate the water.   They usually smear the water on the underside of the beehive lid. Then worker bees fan furiously, creating cool, humid air that circulates throughout the beehive.  Apparently, honeybees figured out, just as humans did, that cool air drops, because cooling activities almost always take place at the top of the hive.  When you open a lid on a hot day, you will typically find smeared water on the undersurface of the lid, indicating that the bees have been working hard on their “swamp cooler.”

Some people who live in humid climates may not be that familiar with swamp coolers.  That is because these types of cooling systems create considerable humidity as a byproduct of their cooling methods, making them undesirable during times of high humidity.  Fortunately, honey bees, being insects, have no problem with extra humidity.  Bees are bugs after all, and love “bug weather.”

Providing Water For Bees

When beekeepers get in trouble with their neighbors, more often than not it is due to water issues.  Honeybees need water, especially during hot and dry weather.  If the bees can’t find water close to their hives, they seek it out at the neighbor’s house, sometimes on the side of a swimming pool or hot tub, and sometimes in a pet’s water bowl.  A birdbath may become filled with bees.  Worse is when a neighbor finds his child’s “kiddie pool” crawling with honeybees.  If a child gets accidentally stung – look out!  When this happens, a beekeeper typically loses his or her ability to keep bees at home – and probably rightly so.

A responsible beekeeper always provides water for the bees.  Bees are constantly foraging for water.  The bees use water for hive cooling, for thinning the nectar that they feed to larva, as well as to keep the humidity inside the hive at sufficient levels during dry weather.  Bees consume tremendous quantities of water on hot days.  A single beehive can consume over a quart of water in a day.  At Wildflower Meadows, we have seen our apiary of queen bee building colonies and drone rearing colonies consume over 70 gallons of water per week, for several consecutive weeks in a row.

The best way to provide water for bees is to create a honeybee water garden.  This does not have to be anything especially fancy, although it certainly can be a work of art if you enjoy being creative.  The basic honeybee water garden begins with either an animal watering trough or a small garden pond.   Once you have filled the pond with water, you need to provide the honeybees with something to land on so that they do not drown.   Some beekeepers use a sheet of artificial lawn turf.   At Wildflower Meadows, however, we prefer the more natural approach.  We use water plants, such as water hyacinth.  Water plants not only provide footing for the bees, but they naturally filter the water and keep the pond water clean.