Summer temperatures are in full effect here in Texas, and with temps easily soaring into triple digits for days on end, it’s important for beekeepers to remember that our bees need water not only for their own hydration, but also to help cool down the hive. If you live in the city, you may not have a plethora of natural water sources such as creeks or ponds, so it’s important you provide one for your bees. You don’t want them deciding that your neighbor’s swimming pool is a great place to have a drink. (Well, that is, if you want to stay friendly with your neighbors.)
Providing a water source for your bees is pretty easy, and can be as simple as a chicken feeder. In this month’s column, I lay out a few considerations and a few fun ideas for unique bee waterin’ holes I’ve seen.
Keep Mosquitos at Bay
During the summer months, a blanket of mosquitos ascends on us here in Austin, along with a cloud of oppressive humidity. Ensure you aren’t perpetuating the problem with your chosen water source because if not thought out, you may be engaging in a mosquito breeding program right in your own back yard. (And with the latest concerns about Zika, this is one more way to make enemies with your neighbors.) To really understand how to control for mosquito laying and larvae, it’s important to learn a bit about the life cycle and needs of developing mosquitos at each stage. Adult mosquitos can lay in as little as one ounce of standing water, but they prefer water that is less than 24 inches deep. Also, stagnation in the water is required for breeding, and they prefer organic debris and vegetation that provides food and shelter for the larvae. To help prevent mosquitos from laying and larvae from thriving, you can choose deep water features (being sure to keep it topped off) and/or make sure the water is never stagnant. This requires some instrument or method to ensure constant slight movement in the water. You can purchase relatively inexpensive battery or solar-powered water “wigglers” or bubblers to prevent stagnant water. Also, avoid organic materials in the feature to avoid providing a food and shelter for larvae. Of course, if your water vessel is big enough, simply adding a few fish to feed on the larvae can solve this problem as well. Finally, you can buy doughnut shaped objects sold under names such as Mosquito Dunks and Mosquito Bits that claim to kill mosquito larvae. My research has found that these larvicides are actually safe to use, because the bacteria only affects larvae once ingested and won’t harm your adult bees.
Prevent Drowning Bees
I’ve been told young children can drown in 2 inches of water, and applying this same principal to bees means that bees can drown in just a few millimeters of water. When a bee starts to drown, others will lend a helping hand (leg?) and this can set off a chain of drowning bees. Fortunately, it’s easy to prevent this kind of bee massacre. Stones in your water source work well, but keep in mind if it rains and the stones aren’t large enough to reach the surface of the vessel, bees can drown while their landing pads are under water. Corks are my preferred method, because they float. But again, after a big rain your floats can wash right out of the vessel. One of my beekeepers cut a cylindrical slab of wood to float on a bucket of water, and drilled holes in the float to ensure that rain can’t wash the float out as the bucket overflows.
Here in Texas, a decent sized container of water can evaporate pretty quickly. If you don’t want to have to fill your container daily, choose a larger vessel. Also, don’t be too concerned with changing the water out weekly, as my experience is that bees actually prefer water sources that are a bit dirtier. I think ‘dirty’ water may contain more minerals that is attractive to the bees.
So what makes a good water source? You’re only limited by your imagination, but I’ve seen bird baths, water troughs, paint buckets, chicken feeders, and even kids swimming pools. If aesthetics are important, a quick search of ‘water feature’ on pinterest will be a never-ending source of elaborate and gorgeous ideas you can adapt for your bees. Because really, nothing is too fancy for our bees, right?!
This blog first appeared in the Kelley Beekeeping monthly newsletter. Founder and owner, Tara Chapman, is a regular contributor.