Nectar flow is slowing. The dry spell we have had is not helping. In the Midlands, with some exceptions, sometime around the first part of June the bees will have a hard time finding enough nectar to meet day to day expenditures. New beekeepers will probably have to feed syrup. Established hives may have enough honey. Regardless, their behavior will change, robbing can become an issue, and your management will change as well.
The purist in me wants to feed the bees nothing but their own honey if it is available. And I do leave them a good bit at all times. However, if you are just starting you very well may not have any options other than to feed sugar syrup to newly established hives during the dearth. Comb building will become increasingly difficult to stimulate, sometimes the bees will chew up your wax foundation rather than build, and you’ll wonder why. I’m just not sure what it is in nectar that makes the bees so happy and eager to build. But once the nectar lessens you may find yourself mixing sugar syrup. A 1:1 (by weight) solution is the preferred mix during the summer dearth. The bees won’t complain if you make it a little thinner (sugar content of nectar varies quite a bit in nature) but I keep it around 1:1.
Be prepared to keep a close eye on your hives, especially if you have more than one hive, for the possibility of robbing. Entrance reducers may be needed on weaker hives to reduce the area the guard bees patrol so as to allow a defense against would be invaders. If you go into hives for inspections be mindful to not leave a honey super uncovered or unattended which could trigger a robbing frenzy. Continue to make hive inspections taking note of the hive’s development as well as pests and honey/nectar stores.
Also during this time become accustomed to lifting your hive slightly from the rear to get a feel for its weight. Do this often and start comparing what you see inside to how heavy the hive feels. Eventually you will be able to feel a light hive and know when to feed. This skill will pay dividends during the winter when you won’t be opening the hives to determine adequate stores.
During dearth, forager bees have less work to do. Some of the older beekeeping books speak to the bees gathering all the local nectar early in the day and then, with nothing to do, staying in, or on, the hive. The combination of older, forager bees in the hive and scarcity of available food makes for a combination that displays itself as increased defensiveness around your beehives. You will definitely start to notice that the bees seem more edgy and quicker to protect their hive. I wear my veil even when just feeding during dearth.
You’ll also start to see more and more bees hanging out on the front of the hive. They display a curious dance-like behavior called washboarding. Sometimes so many bees will be on the front of your hive and landing board it may cause concern. Most of the time these behaviors are associated with increased heat in the hive or not enough space. You should know if they have enough space by your inspections. As for the heat, the bees create quite a bit of heat in the process of fanning within the hive to dry out the nectar and create honey. All that muscle activity coupled with increased outside temperatures causes the inside temperature to increase. The bees know what to do though. They gather at the entrance, line up, and start a circulatory air current to remove the heat and humidity. Clever bees! And as for those bees hanging out on the front, they are outside because it’s too hot inside and more bees inside would just make matters worse. If they look like they are hot you can help them with ventilation by placing a Popsicle stick or two between the outer cover and the inner cover. The crack will not be large enough for robbers to get in but will allow some heat to escape.
Another issue, not strictly related to the dearth, will be an increase in pests. Other insects want to eat too and times are hard all over! Be on the lookout for an increase in hive beetles and later, yellow jackets. There are various means of dealing with hive beetles (SHB Handbook Here) so I won’t go into those. As for the yellow jackets that will arrive later in the summer, a strong colony will eject the occasional robber. Hive watching entertainment gets slow as the summer progresses but you’ll get some entertainment watching three or four bees drag a “wanna-be robber” yellow jacket out of the hive and toss him over the edge of the landing board! If you’d just like to trap them there are many DYI yellow jacket traps on the Internet. Make sure you use the vinegar in the recipe – I believe this may deter interest by honey bees.