Topical Tips – “Bees and the current heat wave” – by Malcolm Wilkie

Today temperatures are going to reach 30° in some parts of Kent and Sussex.

Most of us keep bees in national hives and we have a flat or gabled metal roof on top of the hive. If you have your beehive situated in full sun, then this will be scorching to the touch. This is not good for the bees and will stress them out.

Most colonies will cope as long as there is a super above the brood box. However you will reduce their potential to forage because instead of collecting nectar they are going to have to go and fetch water in order to cool down the hive. In effect you are reducing their potential to collect you honey.

Smaller colonies that you are growing into a full sized hive are really going to suffer. This may well be the case if you are a beginner and have started with a nucleus. This is because your roof is directly above the brood nest. Just consider how hot that roof is getting in full sunshine and, of course, that high temperature is being transmitted to the brood frames below! In nature the bees would be in a hollow in a tree and there would be no metal to heat up anywhere near their nest.  If we do nothing to shade the roof we are creating the equivalent of the black hole of Calcutta for our bees. In effect you are virtually cooking them alive.

In fact I believe you will be stressing the bees so much that there is bound to be an adverse effect and that is that, in consequence of not being able to cool the brood to the correct temperature, fungal infections will set in -particularly chalk brood and sac brood. In past years this has been my experience where I have not shaded the roof.

This will not be a problem for owners of WBC hives because the outer skin created by the lifts shades the box. Owners of Poly hives may need to shade the roofs but you will not get the extreme temperatures created by pieces of metal heating up.

So what do you do? Use thick celotex either inside the roof or simply placed on top of the roof. If placed inside, make sure you cut out holes for the ventilation. Pictures of Lesley’s hives are included.

We are now in the midst of a nectar flow and the bees are making honey for you. Make sure that if you have a prosperous colony that they have enough space. You may be in the position of trying to get them to cap the honey. This can be tricky but you can help. Make sure there is a little space between each super frame. You might also consider removing the end frames of each super so that there can be a good airflow around the nectar that they are trying to convert into honey. During the next week or so temperatures are above 20° and the bees will want to convert that nectar into stores for the future. Help them as much as you can while the heat window allows. July is all about honey and then for most of us it is all over.

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The better beekeepers among will have got large colonies and they are the ones that are going to make honey. A colony has to have an excess of foragers before they can make honey in any quantity. Well done if you are in the fortunate position of bees collecting you honey.

Malcolm Wilkie 29th June 2019

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