How does wet weather affect beekeeping?
How does everyone manage the current wet weather?
Humidity and rainy weather does not only mean a struggle for us humans but is also a challenge for the bees.
After a rather dry spring, most trees have not developed flower buds as abundantly as they did last year and with the wet arriving the plants have put more energy into new growth rather than putting on new flowers.
This in itself can be a challenge for beekeepers and bees. With a limited amount of flowers available, it also means there is less food for the bees and consequently less honey production.
Rain also mean that nectar and pollen is likely to be washed off the flowers, so even if there are some flowers available, they may not be as valuable as usual to the bees.
Bees usually live around 6 weeks and their natural death is from wearing out their bodies by working constantly cleaning the hives or collecting resources for the colony or by falling prey to predators.
If there are extended periods of rain, bees will only fly to do the necessary things, like cleansing flights and collecting water for the hive. Imagine working outside with jerry can sized water drops thrown at you.
So if they are not working as hard as they usually do, their body doesn’t wear out as quickly, which means they live a lot longer.
The queen however doesn’t slow down her egg production too much, because that’s what she is genetically geared for.
The result is an overcrowded hive, more young bees hatching, with less older bees making room for them, which can lead to swarming behaviour and it also means, more food is needed to support all the bees which can’t be replenished due to the unavailability of nectar.
As a beekeeper one must weigh up whether one harvests honey that has been produced and stored in the currently rather full honey boxes or whether to leave it for the bees in case there is more rain coming.
Another challenge for us beekeepers is the fact that honey is hydroscopic, which means it absorbs moisture from its environment. Usually bees will cure the honey by fanning dry air through the hive. Honey should have a moisture content of maximal 18% to guaranty is longevity on the shelf and in the pantry. Having a higher moisture content means there is a risk of fermenting. Especially if honey is stored over a longer period.
With current humidity levels around the 70%, it is pretty challenging for the bees to dry honey naturally. Large beekeeping operations have a climate controlled ‘curing’ room. By fanning air through the honey boxes, they remove moisture just like bee would naturally.