WHAT'S GOOD WEATHER FOR BEES?
Beekeeping, I mean ‘in the moment’ beekeeping when I’ve opened the hive and I’m holding a frame of bees to check that all is well with the Queen’s laying eggs and the colony busy is almost meditative as you have to keep calm, to be very present, and think only about what you’re doing and observing. No rushing, no to-do-lists… It’s a huge contrast to my day-to-day beekeeper state of mind which remains alert to both the gifts and dangers that nature can bring my bees’ way. My biggest wish ‘Please may the weather be good to them!’
It’s not temperature I worry so much about, bees can manage both scorchingly hot and mind-numbingly cold days as they have the most sophisticated air conditioning system. They fan their wings to evaporate water droplets they bring into the hive and then circulate this cooler air. And when it’s cold they dislocate their wings and shrug their large wing muscles up and down to generate heat so that whatever the weather the hive is maintained at a constant 35 degrees Celsius (which by the way is the maximum temperature a honey should be heated up to if it’s to maintain the natural characteristics and enzyme activity that the bees gave it).
It’s the rain I worry most about… Too wet and the bees will stay in the hive, relying on the honey and pollen they have stored across their wax combs to keep them and their young growing and fed. This is fine as long as they have stores but a long wet spell can be touch and go. It’s really the torrential downpours and winds that bring the petals to the ground that I hate to see as it feels like wasted food. Poor bees, just like a baby in a high chair that’s dying to be fed but their food is thrown all over the kitchen floor and ruined!
Too dry though and the plants don’t thrive and are unable to produce much nectar. It’s easy to forge that nectar is really sweet water, so if it’s dry we don’t really get what beekeepers call a ‘nectar flow’ when plants are pumping it out to attract pollinators. No nectar means no honey, and if the bees can’t make enough honey to keep them fed through winter then their survival is in jeopardy and the chance of us taking some to enjoy has gone.
Please may this be a perfect summer!
As I write this a penny has just dropped – I’m watching the weather just like an arable farmer does who wishes for perfect growing conditions. The weather connects and influences so much of our natural environment and I’d only been thinking about it from my bees’ perspective. John Donne put it so beautifully when he wrote ‘no man is an island’, and 400 years on it still holds true for man and bees!