Beekeeping in Hot Weather

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Beekeeping is a remarkable experience but there is one time of year when it is especially difficult for me. Yes, I am talking about Summer in the South. Beekeeping in hot weather is no fun. And, it can be down right dangerous. In this guide, I share some practical tips and ideas to help beekeepers navigate the summer months safely.

Graphic of two beekeepers with beehives during high temperatures, beekeeping in hot weather.

As beekeepers, we manage colonies in modern hives. This means that routine hive management tasks need to occur to keep healthy bees. It is not practical to suspend those tasks over several months of hot weather. We must work smarter not harder.

Challenges of Beekeeping in Hot Weather

Managing hives during hot weather is especially troubling in the southern regions of the country. It is not only daytime temperatures but the combination of heat and humidity that causes concern. Extreme temperatures affect both the honey bees and their humans.

Our goal is to do our part to help our beehives stay cool, manage them when needed and protect ourselves from harm too.

Common Problems Faced by Beekeepers in Hot Weather

  • increased aggressive or defense bee behavior
  • hive overheating due to poor ventilation
  • foraging Challenges – drought
  • increased Pest Problems

Why has your colony of sweet honey bees become more aggressive or defensive? There could be several reasons for this change but one could be the heat. Doesn’t the heat make most of us crankier? Bees may respond in the same way.

Honey bees have a remarkable system for maintaining proper heat and humidity levels inside the hive. Otherwise, comb would sag or melt and thousands of bee brood (developing young) would die.

If the colony is stressed due to poor hive ventilation – they will be more likely to respond in an aggressive manner.

The high heat of Summer is often a time of nectar dearth. Either due to dry weather conditions or just fewer plants in bloom, your bees may not be finding much to eat.

This results in stressed colonies and also more of the foraging bees are at home in the middle of the day – to greet you.

Like all things that come to ripeness during Summer, so do many pest problems. Bee colony populations are high and so are the levels of varroa mites and other honey bee pests.

As these, pressures increase – it does not improve the attitude of your hives. They may respond defensively to your hive manipulations that earlier in the season were done with ease.

Infographic chart of top summer beekeeping safety tips.

Safety Tips for Summer Beekeepers

I love my bees but we all need to consider our own safety as well. If something happens you to, who is going to take care of your bees?

Of course, beekeeping safety should be a practice all year long – but beekeeping in hot weather requires some special solutions.

Time Inspections for the Cooler Parts of the Day

If you have a day job, you may not have as much flexibility in timing your routine hive inspections. However, strive to do perform critical Summer beekeeping tasks very early in the morning. It will be a bit cooler and hopefully many of the bees will be out looking for pollen and nectar.

Evening inspections are okay too but you will have to deal with more of the work force being in the hive. Be sure to use your bee smoker with cool white smoke. Cool smoke calms honey bees.

Different bees in semi-shade protected from hot sun.

Wear Appropriate Protective Gear

Protect yourself from overzealous colonies by wearing proper protective beekeeper clothing. I know how hot it gets in a full bee suit – I live in South Carolina! However, I don’t want to experience 20 stings from an angry colony either.

When choosing a beekeeping suit, consider having one that is ventilated if you plan to keep bees in hot weather. No, you will not be cool – but if a bit of breeze is blowing, it may save you from heat stroke.

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Protect Yourself from Overheating

The danger of becoming seriously ill or even dying from overheating is real. There has been a couple of time when I almost pushed myself too far. That is one reason I no longer keep a lot of hives – beekeeping in hot weather is not easy.

Cool bag with a damp towel in a zip lock bag with ice cubes to cool off during beekeeping chores.

Here are some things you can do:

  • drink plenty of water before you go to the bee yard
  • take water with you to the bee yard
  • take frequent breaks in the shade (inspect a hive – sit and cool a bit)
  • put a wet cloth in a plastic bag with some ice cubes (this gives you a cool wet cloth to wipe your face)
  • invest in a cool vest that has ice packs (expensive but worth it – I used one for years)
  • buy an inexpensive neck fan – rechargeable and fits inside your veil
Beekeeper Charlotte wearing neck fan under bee suit on hot day.

Preparing for Heat Waves

While the weather forecast is often wrong as much as it is right – it may give you a warning that extreme heat is on the way. This is a great opportunity to make some special provisions for you and your bees.

Make sure your hives have good ventilation – (prop up with outer top with a popsicle stick or two to increase air flow).

If you know that a colony is in need of attention, try to complete it before the very hot weather arrives. Or you may need to delay the inspection until the weather moderates.

Make sure your bees have a good water source. A reliable water source that does not dry up and is safe to drink from.

Honey bees need more water in hot weather. You want to keep your bees away from the swimming pool in the neighbor’s yard.

Long Term Strategies for Beekeeping in Hot Weather

For those of us who enjoy beekeeping in regions that experience hot weather each year, there are some strategies we can employ.

  • place beehives where they get some afternoon shade
  • if no shade is available – invest in a shade cloth – sun sail to use during the hottest months
  • use screened bottom boards – take those grid boards out
  • search for types of honey bees that are better suited to heat

Managing colonies has its seasonal differences. Beekeeping in Spring varies from the tasks you do when keeping bees in Winter. But, during the hot temperatures of Summer you must be more proactive to protect yourself too.

FAQs

How can I tell if my bees are overheating?

You may observe behaviors such as bees bearding on the front of the hive, or excessive fanning at the hive entrance as a sign of overheating. However, bearding can occur on any warm muggy day so it alone is not a cause for concern. If combs inside the hive start to soften or melt, this indicates that the internal temperature is too high.

What should I do if my bees don’t have a natural water source nearby?

If a natural water source is unavailable, you can provide a shallow dish filled with water and floating materials like corks or pebbles to prevent bees from drowning. Ensure the water source is placed close to the hive and is regularly replenished, especially during hot weather when bees require more water.

Can hot weather increase the spread of diseases in my hive?

Yes, hot and humid weather can create favorable conditions for several bacterial and fungal diseases. Beekeepers should monitor for signs of diseases such as chalkbrood and foulbrood, and maintain good hive hygiene to prevent outbreaks.

What types of protective gear are best for beekeeping in hot weather?

Ventilated beekeeping suits are ideal for hot weather, as they allow better airflow and help reduce the risk of overheating. Lightweight, breathable clothing worn under the suit can also help (or you can wear a sports bra and panties ladies). Additionally, using a neck fan or a cool vest with ice packs can provide extra cooling during inspections.

How can I manage my hives if a heatwave coincides with a major hive activity, like harvesting honey?

If a heatwave coincides with honey harvesting or other major hive activities, plan to perform these tasks early in the morning or late in the evening when temperatures are cooler. Ensure you have plenty of water on hand, take frequent breaks in the shade.

Final Thoughts

Beekeeping in hot weather is no fun in my opinion. It presents some unique challenges that require careful planning and management to keep you and your bees safe. Protecting yourself is of paramount importance. Invest in tools such as cool vests or neck fans to help you survive the heat and live to enjoy your bees another day.

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