How to Provide Water for Bees and Other Pollinators
Bees, like most living things, need access to water. Providing a clean water source is very beneficial for many pollinators. In fact, a water source can be a beautiful part of bee friendly gardening. Here are some creative ways to provide water for bees in your backyard.
Most beekeepers understand the importance of a good, clean water source for their hives. It is used for several purposes in the hive.
A good water source is desirable. Even though, sometimes it seems that the bees prefer to drink from a nearby mud puddle.
You don’t have to be a beekeeper to want to help bees. We can all contribute in small ways to help our pollinators. Do you have a corner of your garden for a water source?
A consistent water source is especially important in warm months. We want the bees to have access to moisture and have a safe place to drink.
Hopefully the bees will choose your water source instead of others that may be polluted with chemicals. Urban runoff water is often contaminated with lawn care products.
Why do Bees Need Water?
Honey bees visit millions of blooming flowers and collect plant nectar. Bees make honey from the watery nectar and store it for use in Winter.
But nectar is not the only liquid they collect. A bee colony needs water too.
Inside the hive, water is used for several purposes in daily colony life. It is used to dilute honey (which is very thick) to make eating it easier.
But water also plays a role in controlling the heat and humidity inside the hive. These living conditions are important to protect developing baby bees or “brood”.
Bees Use Water for Air Conditioning
The honey bee colony also uses water for air conditioning purposes. Controlling internal hive temperature is vital for brood development.
Overheating can cause the death of baby bees. Worker bees must keep the brood nest temperature between 91°F – 97°F.
When temperature in the hive rise too high, the bees go into action. Droplets of water are placed on the surface of the honey comb.
Then, worker bees fan their wings to circulate air through the colony. Air passing over the water droplets has a cooling effect.
This “social ventilation” with the use of water enables honey bees to keep the temperatures of the colony in check.
Not too hot, just the right temperature for developing baby bees.
How Bees Collect Water
On any given day, a percentage of the worker bees in a colony will be in charge of collecting water.
The worker bees fly to visit the water source. With the same pumping action used to harvest nectar, the bee sucks up water.
Stored in the honey stomach, water is carried back to the hive. Once inside the hive, these water-filled worker bees travel around the hive giving water where it is needed.
Creating Water Sources For Bees
There are several reasons that a beekeeper may desire to provide a bee waterer. But, it is not always necessary, bees are pretty good at finding a drink.
However, we do not want the bees to expend tremendous amounts of energy to collect water from far away.
Water quality is an issue too. Open water sources may be contaminated with pesticides, herbicides or other substances that are bad for bee health.
In this case, a water source closer to the hive may encourage bees to avoid drinking bad water.
Lucky bees will find a natural stream nearby but this is not always the case.
One of the best reasons to provide water for your bees – your neighbor has a swimming pool ! (Be a good neighbor, citizen and beekeeper and try to keep your bees out of their pool.)
Bees will go to a nearby swimming pool. And, if your neighbors have a salt water pool – the bees seem to like it even better !
Pre-planning on the part of the beekeeper and understanding on the part of the pool owner can be a great asset.
Have a water source in place (closer to the hive than the pool) before your bees arrive.
If the pool in question belongs to you, and the bees seem determined to go there. You might try to limit them to one edge of the pool.
Honey bees are not defensive when away from the hive. If they drink there – you can enjoy the rest of the pool.
Water Sources for Bees Must be Dependable
If you are providing a cute water source for area bees and butterflies, that’s an easy project.
It is probably not the only source of water they are using. A small feature will be great. You are providing a nice cool “oasis” for them to enjoy while foraging.
However, if you are a beekeeper with several hives containing 40,000 bees … Well, you have some important planning to do. Having a small dish of water outside is not enough.
Beekeepers have developed several ingenious ways to provide water for bees. Some beekeepers use the common quart jar feeder that is placed on the front of the hive.
This is inexpensive and easy. However, you must never let them run out. Also, bee water sources do not have to be directly next to the hive. Let’s remember that bees can fly.
Small water sources are easy to create but they require more maintenance. It takes some discipline to remember to check any small water source – every day or twice a day.
The same problems applies to small fountains, buckets, etc. When hot weather arrives and your honey beehives really need more water, will you be able to remember to refill?
A Beautiful Bee Water Station
You may decide to add a water garden to your backyard. I love water gardens and have had them for many years – even before I had honey bees.
This is something almost any homeowner or homesteader can do. This type of water feature can be smaller.
A water garden does not have to be a half acre pond. A small water garden of 100-200 gallons in size holds a lot of water.
Yes you still have to manage the water level but it is a weekly chore rather than daily. This mean less monitoring and maintenance for the homeowner or beekeeper.
A small pool with some plants and a few goldfish can be an educational and entertaining addition to any backyard.
You could even jump in if you don’t mind swimming with the frogs and fishes.
Water Garden Plants Will Also Provide Food For Bees
Being a lover of all plants (except maybe Kudzu), I have several water lilies in my gardens. Each bloom is so beautiful and the honey bees do visit the blossoms !
Water gardens provide beauty in your landscape and allow your family to reconnect with nature. Each month there is something new happening out there.
Honey bees are seen gathering water all year long on warm days. You can also plant flowers that bees like around the pond area.
Be sure to include a shallow place for the bees to drink without fear of drowning.
Providing a good clean source of water can be fun and beautiful.