THE DROUGHT AND YOUR BEES
AUBURN, Ala. -- September is recognized as National Honey Month, but bees need water throughout the year to cool the hive and to secret brood food. Bees are excellent foragers and will usually find water somewhere.
In all of my years of experience with bees, I have never heard of an unconfined colony dying from thirst. They do, however, sometimes find water sources that are not convenient for you or your neighbors. Bees' collecting chlorinated water in swimming pools is a common problem for both swimmers and beekeepers.
Bees also sometimes find sources of water that are not clean. Murky water normally has both a distinctive taste and small that helps foragers find the source, while clean water seems harder for them to pinpoint. Honey chemistry has a simple procedure for destroying pathogens, so any undesirable water attributes are not passed to the honey.
What can you, the beekeeper, do to help provide water for your colonies? The best answer -- not much -- is frustrating. Bee books are filled with suggestions on how to provide water sources. Drip barrels, open pans, and seeping faucets are common suggestions.
The critical aspect of watering bees is that the source be completely dependable. You cannot let it run dry. If the source goes away, water foragers move on to new locations. When you return to provide water, the bees will continue to visit the replacement location.
You also do not have assurance that the bees' water needs will be met by your new source. After reading these comments, if you rush to put out water, the bees will probably ignore it. To survive, they have had to find water somewhere else. If the drought worsens, your new water source may become critical to them. I suppose that providing water or bees is a lot like planting an acorn. You are making long-term plans to meet this colony's needs indefinitely.
I don't have the perfect answer, but it would be irresponsible just to let water trickle on the hope that water foragers will somehow find and use it. Only a tiny percentage of this water would be used in the hive. Common pedestal bird waterers have worked well in the past -- plus you also water birds.
Occasionally, I have seen abundant bee visits to my dog's water tray attached to an automatic filler. I guess I am suggesting that the water be contained rather than allowed to just run off. Plus, I am clearly telling you that the hives need water resources, but they may not readily accept your new source. Of course, if you are near dependable bodies of water, don't bother with providing water sources.
The author is Extension Entomologist with Ohio State University Extension and Beekeeping Advisor to the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. This article originally appeared in The Alabama Beeline.