Save Your Bee Farm During a Heat Wave

Managing Your Bee Farm During a Heat Wave

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As bee farmers, we’ll all be facing some unique challenges this week with the extreme heat. These unusually high temperatures are concerning beekeepers all across Europe, but in the UK this is completely new territory we’re treading with temperatures set to break records. 

Managing your bee farm during a heat wave is challenging and the advice has been flooding in thick and fast from all corners of the beekeeping community. Hobbyists with a fewer number of hives may be able to react effectively and establish the necessary safeguards quickly. Bee farmers however may find themselves caught with their bee suits down if effective forward planning hasn’t already been carried out.

It’s probable that my blog is a little late and untimely in its advice (the heatwave is already upon us), but the truth is this isn’t the last we’ve seen of this impressively hot weather. Regardless of your beliefs on global warming science, the trends continue to show temperatures on the rise and these unusual summers will continue to become a more regular occurrence. So if nothing else, perhaps the advice here may serve for the future.

Key Challenges for our Bees in High Temperatures

When it comes to temperatures bees have only one job, to maintain the brood at a steady 34 to 36 degrees centigrade, that’s it really. Any extreme deviation from that can mean that the growing brood is unviable and of course, the ongoing production of brood is key to colony survival. It ensures forager numbers are maintained which results in a steady income of nectar and pollen through the warmer months yet enough bees to ensure longevity through the winter until Spring.

Maintaining that temperature when it’s exceptionally hot is again fairly simple for a bee, maintain good airflow and ensure a good intake of water for distribution around the hive. The water is for drinking to some degree but the main aim is to distribute water droplets throughout the colony, on the walls of the hive, the frames, and the wax. As airflow is maintained, usually through highly effective fanning, the water evaporates thereby helping to remove the heat. It’s basically how the colony sweats. Without this cooling process, the brood would be unable to survive.

Key challenges for beekeepers in high temperatures

Working in high temperatures carries its own risks, no matter what the job is. For beekeepers, the problem is relatively obvious, we need to wear layers to stay safe every time we open a hive. As bee farmers, it can be difficult to avoid inspections in hot weather on the basis that we have a lot of checks that need to be carried out across numerous apiaries. For hobbyists, it might just mean skipping a couple of days to wait for a cooler time.

With the additional heat forecast, it’s even more important that we stay hydrated and take breaks often to avoid heat exhaustion, maybe spend a little time in the air-conditioned vehicle if it helps. It will also pay to be even more aware of the signs of heat stroke, which include headache, nausea, and dizziness, particularly if we’re an employer looking out for your team. They need to come first.

Key challenges for bee farmers in high temperatures

For bee farms, the challenges here obviously stem from our ability to manage, multiple hives, in multiple apiaries in severe heat in our bee suits. We’re largely working outdoors and we need to learn to adapt quickly in order to maintain a productive and efficient business. It’s that ability to be adaptable and adjust our normal working practices quickly that sets us apart from the competition and there are simple things we can do to get on top of severe weather changes, we’ll cover some of these below.

As farmers, we may be concerned with the impact on our harvest.  It’s also worth noting that our bee’s focus will shift significantly to gathering water as we’ve already covered above, if water is the focus, then the nectar takes a back seat. This makes complete sense, when it’s insanely warm and dry, plants rarely give off much nectar due to the lack of moisture in the soil so bees seeking water is a good use of resources and so in turn is having a negligible impact on the honey bottom line.

Managing your bee farm during a heat wave

For bee farmers, extreme temperatures are difficult to address in the moment, they require forward planning and a level of preparedness that we rarely consider much in the UK. But the summer of 2022 will be seared in the brain of the beekeeper and the bee farmer will undoubtedly be planning going forward to address the future potential. The next heatwave is only ever around the corner. The following thoughts put forward a number of solutions that will help.

Adjust inspection schedules to avoid peak temperatures

It’s firmly rooted in popular beekeeping opinion that inspections are best done in the early afternoon whilst most flying bees are out foraging, most beekeeping books will state this and creates the mindset that this is a necessary approach. The reasoning behind this is that most flying bees are out and about which should make the inspection process easier. In reality, this just doesn’t hold up in practice and I rarely feel any benefit. Plus it’s the hottest time of the day.

Most beekeepers I speak to rarely inspect early or late as they work to these long-held beliefs but in dangerously high temperatures it stops becoming a recommendation and starts to be a necessity. Let go of your afternoon inspections and switch up to early and late in the day. Early will take advantage of a much cooler inspection, 21 degrees at 5am as part of this current heatwave. That’s a fairly typical peak afternoon in a UK summer!

Dress for the weather

A fairly obvious one but it’s worth mentioning for completeness, loose clothing, shorts and a t-shirt. It’s unlikely that you’ll avoid getting in that bee suit at some point so lighter clothes and the fewer the better. I’ve heard others suggest wearing nothing but most bee suits are not entirely sting-proof, particularly if you’ve purchased a cheap option, some things are just not worth the risk 🙂

Planning for shade

When you are planning for your new apiary, one of the most important factors to consider is shade. Bee hives need protection from the hot sun, and a shady spot will help keep them cool and comfortable. There are a few different ways to provide shade for your hives. You can plant trees or shrubs around the perimeter of the apiary, or you can build a simple awning or cover for the hives. Whichever method you choose, be sure to provide adequate ventilation so that the bees can stay cool and healthy. With a little planning, you can create a comfortable and safe environment for your bees.

Be careful not to make extreme changes that might prevent the bees from finding their way back home, they work carefully to visual clues and throwing up a man-made cover suddenly is likely to cause temporary issues as bees try to reorientate to new surroundings.

Planning for water

Next on the list is water. Water is an important consideration for any apiary and if nearby easy access can be provided then all the better for the bees. Many hobbyists put out bowls of pebbles and water and many bee farms will ensure IBCs are placed at key apiaries where water may be considered in short supply. The good thing here is that it needn’t be clean, in fact, the dirtier the better in most cases as bees will often favour sodium and mineral-rich water deposits.

But this isn’t advice, it’s just general common sense. The advice is this. In most cases, you needn’t do anything. The UK has plenty of water, even in the most severe of weather, so if you find yourself with the option of supplying water to numerous apiaries in the insane heat or just letting the bees get on with it, I’d much prefer the latter. Bees are surprisingly good at getting hold of water and as I already covered, bees are not going to favour water over nectar or vice versa because there isn’t any nectar. Foraging will not be impacted so spare yourself a difficult time.

That said, I have a few spare old IBCs dotted around my apiaries and I’ll let them naturally gather water and trickle it out on the warmer days into the grass or moss. I do this largely because the IBCs wouldn’t be doing anything anyway and it’s great to watch these water tanker bees do their thing, fascinating.

Using poly hives instead of wood

For several years, beekeepers have been replacing traditional wooden hives with polystyrene ones, as they provide better insulation and help to regulate the internal temperature of the hive. In hot weather, the bees can fan their wings to cool the hive down, and in cold weather, they can huddle together to keep warm. As a result, polystyrene hives are less likely to be damaged by extreme weather conditions. In addition, they are also lighter and easier to move, making them ideal for large-scale commercial operations. With the global climate changing, it is likely that more and more beekeepers will make the switch to polystyrene hives in order to ensure that their bees can survive.

Painting your hives

These days it has become a lot less fashionable to paint your hives white, I assume this is the case largely due to concerns around security, reflective white isn’t particularly inconspicuous so the danger is that would-be thieves may hone in on them much more easily, this makes sense. I’ve been painting my hives white for two years now, this decision was largely fated by the fact that i have so much white paint to offload so rather than let it continue to sit I put it to good use.

As it happens, this has been a fairly helpful decision these past two years given the sun and high temperatures and through this heatwave and I’m feeling rather thankful for how beneficial this has been. The white is particularly good at reflecting the sun away resulting in a much cooler internal temperature, which combined with the decision to move to poly has led to helping the bees manage the internal temperatures much more effectively.

White is a good option and security can be mitigated by placement, out of the line of sight from the public and behind locked gates can go a long way.


According to a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the average global temperature is likely to increase by 1.5 degrees Celsius by the year 2030. This may not seem like much, but even a small change in temperature can have a big impact on the natural world and how we operate as beekeepers and bee farmers.

This article is looking to address the problem of how bee farmers can best deal with the ever-increasing frequency of heat waves in our country and there are lots we can continue to do to safeguard our bee’s health and of course of own.

But after all is said and done, the bees have been here a lot longer than us dealing with extremes in temperature both hot and cold, without any doubt, they already know the drill, sometimes we just need to trust them and let them get through it. If there’s a mistake to be made it’s by us heavily manipulating our bees and their hives reactively instead of planning ahead effectively.


As with any living creature, water is necessary for a bee to survive and they can often be found helping themselves to droplets of water on the leaves of plants.

Tanker bees are foraging bees that are focusing their efforts on finding and bringing back as much water to the hive as they can carry.

Heat is certainly an indicator but the foraging bees are often instructed to bring in water by the bees waiting in the hive.  These hive bees do this by ignoring the bees that are carrying nectar and instead will fuss over and take the water from the tanker bees.  This is an indicator to nectar foragers to stop what they’re doing and start bringing in water.

Oddly no.  Bees would favour dirtier water over clean in most situations!

Quite literally anywhere where they can safely acquire the water.  Bird baths, paddling pools, ponds, rivers, and puddles are all fair game, much to the annoyance of the beekeeper’s neighbour!

Rather ingeniously they get the hive to sweat.  Bees carrying water in their stomachs will leave droplets of water throughout the hive.  The water will be deposited on all surfaces, hive walls, frames, and wax.  Bees will then fan their wings throughout the hive and at the hive entrance to evaporate and expel the warm humid air and effectively cool the hive.