Winter and spring can be a rollercoaster of extreme weather for nearly every U.S. region. Wind, rain, floods, ice, snow, high heat, and drought are all happening, and they are all threats to honey bee colonies. Master Beekeepers Earl and Carol Hoffman have protected their honey bee hives during the annual swings of Michigan weather for more than 25 years. Following are a few of their thoughts on bracing for the impact of extreme weather.
Wind and wind chill are both environmental dangers to honey bees and their colony. It is advisable to always place colonies behind a windbreak. Look for ways to provide a buffer, such as:
The side of a hill if there is enough land to block wind
The south wall of buildings cuts the cold north wind and provides access to solar gain on those rare sunny winter days
The east side of deep woods can cut the wind to almost zero at ground level
Once colonies are strategically placed, the next priority is to keep the hive cover from blowing off the hive. If the wind blows over a hive and the cover is lost, the colony will soon perish. However, if a hive is knocked to the ground but the cover is still on, most times it will live. Some tactics of beekeepers to keep covers secure include:
Use abundant large rocks in the apiary to place weight on the hive
Place two small cement blocks to mark the hive status
Use ropes or straps to secure the hive covers
Excessive rain is not a concern for honey bee colonies, unless it will cause the apiary to flood. The axiom Earl and Carol go by is, “Wet bees die – keep the girls dry!”
Rain can loosen the soil and cause hives to tilt or to fall over. If hives are placed at a slight tilt forward, it will keep rain from collecting at the bottom of the board.
Place hives on high ground if possible. Placing hives along riverbanks or flood-prone land is ill-advised. Gullies and valleys harbor both cold damp air and rapid flooding.
Hive stands and pallets can protect the hive if flooding does occur
The positive of deep snow is that it can provide a nice windbreak from blizzard conditions. It is recommended to provide an upper entrance for your honey bees since ice and snow can block the hive entrance at the bottom board. There are many different ways to create an upper entrance. Some common tactics are to notch the inner cover or drill auger holes in the top box.
Bees need water to live. A lack of rain is a huge challenge for the honey bees because house bees will reject nectar from the foragers if the hive needs water. Place quart jars of lightly salted fresh water at the entrance feeders. No sugar – just a quart of water. Also note that during drought conditions, colony robbing increases significantly. Reducing hive entrances with the quarts of water will both protect and feed the bees. If you are concerned about a lack of nectar during a drought, check out our blog post on bee nutrition.
Drought conditions often start with extremely high temperatures. Limit heat absorption with shade and color.
Place hives near trees to provide natural shade
If hives are near a building, create a shade by leveraging the building structures and tarps
Use snow-white hive boxes during extreme heat events to reduce solar gain on the hive supers
Once your protections are in place, monitor your hives during inclement weather and take action as needed. Don’t forget – winter and spring cleansing flights are critical for the health of the hive. If you see activity outside of the hive it is a good sign of hive health.