It seems like summer should be full of food for bees since the gardens are producing and flowers are blooming, but the lack of nectar is a problem for bees in Western North Carolina in July and August. Learn about the dearth and how to help feed your bees through this tough time.
The sourwood flow is over, and the heat of summer is in full swing. While there are certain flowers in bloom, the nectar-producing flowers are starting to wane. It is time for the summer dearth.
Dearth is a time when there isn't enough nectar available for bees to forage. This lean season can be made worse by high temperatures, a lack of rainfall, or even too much rain. A summer dearth has the potential to be more deadly than winter, as an active, large colony can burn through its honey stores rapidly, especially if you've already harvested honey. This can lead to robbing, mite spread, and weak or dead hives heading into winter.
What are the signs of summer dearth?
During dearth, honey bee workers will get irritable and make a lot more noise. They become aggressive to protect their stores from robbing. Robbing is when bees go to hives that are not their own and steal nectar, which usually ends up with dead bees and a starving hive. Consider using robbing screens to help keep each hive to themselves.
Robbing also causes the spread of varroa mites. You should be checking your hives for varroa mites every month or so to make sure their mite loads are reasonable.
Heat will also cause the bees to beard on the outside of the hive. If they perceive their honey stores getting too low, they might kick the drones out of the colony. You might also spot them foraging from plants they aren't usually interested in visiting. They may also check out odd places like trash cans or recycling bins!
Harvest your supers
If possible, try to harvest your supers before dearth begins. This makes you more likely to have more amiable bees to work with since the dearth seasons make them grumpy.
After extracting your summer honey, make sure to leave at least 60 lbs worth of honey to get your bees through late winter.
Making Sugar Syrup for Bees
If things are looking tough for your bees, go ahead and help them out by feeding them with sugar syrup.
Sugar syrup is simple to make. It is made from either a 1:1 or a 2:1 ratio of sugar to water depending on the needs of the colony.
In spring and summer, you can make nectar-like syrup for building brood and drawing out comb by mixing a 1:1 ratio of sugar to water. For example, a 4lb bag of sugar + 8 cups of water will make one gallon of syrup.
For fall and winter feeding, making a 2:1 syrup will give you a more honey-like texture. A 4lb bag of sugar + 4 cups of water will make a half-gallon of thick syrup.
To make either syrup, all you have to do is completely dissolve the sugar in the water. For best results, warm the water in a pot on the stove, stir in the sugar and mix until the liquid is clear. It is not necessary to boil the water or syrup at all.
Use your preferred style of feeder in the hive to make it accessible to the bees. Since robbing is common during dearth, an in-hive feeder is encouraged. You can learn more about feeding bees in our other article, "Spring Feeding." If you need help deciding what method is best for your hives, call the store or pay us a visit and we'll help. We have multiple varieties of feeders available in stock right now!