It’s 97 degrees in South Carolina and today’s date is May 13th. I’ll bet that most of you reading this have already flipped that switch on your central air unit from Heat to AC. Well, the bees do the same thing – almost. They switch from keeping the brood warm to keeping it cool. And the way they do it is fascinating! And you can participate too!
Summer Bee Hive Temperature Regulation and Hive Ventilation
Honey bees have a knack for maintaining the internal temperature of the hive at around 93 to 95 degrees Farenheit. They do this primarily because this is the ideal temperature for their brood. How they do it is remarkable. Watch them on the landing board fanning. Some hang upside down on the lip of the brood box, others stand on the landing board. Sometimes you may even notice that bees on one side of the landing board are facing towards the box and on the other side of the landing board they are facing away – just to create a flow of air through the hive. Inside they are also busy fanning creating currents of air to keep the temperature correct and also to evaporate the nectar into honey. Standing outside your hive you can hear them inside buzzing like a motor or fan running.
In the heat of the summer it gets to be a big job for them to maintain the correct temperature inside. The lack of watery nectar further reduces the effects of evaporative cooling so the bees gather water and return to the hive placing droplets of water inside thus reducing the temperatures via its evaporation. This also helps maintain the correct humidity for the brood.
Yet another method they employ is to gather outside to reduce the internal heat. We call this bearding. While cold blooded, the heat generated by the muscle activity of tens of thousands of bees heats up the interior of the hive. It makes good sense to reduce the number of bees inside.
When the temperatures in the Midlands get into the nineties outside you will see the bees doing all of the above in an effort to keep the internal temperature 93-95F
What can you do to help them maintain the correct temperature of the hive? Depending on the configuration of your equipment you may be able to help. One of the simpliest methods is to simply place a popsicle stick under the corners of the outer cover allowing the heat to escape. I have a few migratory covers this year and will be slipping popsicle sticks between them and the upper most box. The thin popsicle stick, or two, is not large enough to allow robbers to invade but will allow the rising hot air to exit the hive.
Screened bottom boards should be open during the hot summer. The bees inside will circulate the air inside the hive such that cooler air is pulled in and around the interior and exhausted to the outside.
If your inner cover has an upper entrance keep it open to allow heat to escape. If the colony is weak a little screening across the upper entrance may be needed.
With dearth many beekeepers will reinsert their entrance reducers to prevent robbing. If you have a screened bottom board this reducing of the entrance will probably be fine. If you are using a solid bottom board I recommend you leave the entrance reducer out, replacing it with #8 hardware cloth bent into a U shape and pushed into the opening (remember to leave them an entrance to come and go). The screen will allow airflow which would have otherwise been blocked.
Go traditional and paint your outer cover reflective white. Why not, it’s after Easter.
Place a slightly longer piece of cardboard over the hive making an awning over the front porch (assuming it’s facing south).
Clean up any debris under the hive to allow air to circulate.
Make a 1 1/2″ shim to go between the inner cover and outer cover and drill 1 inch ventilation holes on the sides (cover holes with hardware cloth to keep out robbers).
Got more ideas? Add them below.