Summer Time is Hard on the Beekeeper… and the Bees

Two and one half hours in the 90+ degree heat today in a bee suit is enough for me. That’s especially true while lifting heavy boxes of bees and weed-eating around their hives. As I age, the heat is harder and harder to deal with.

It’s hard on the bees too. In some areas of the country, beekeepers look forward to summer as the peak time for honey production. Not so here in West Tennessee and most of the rest of the South. Here, if you haven’t pulled off your honey supers by July 4th, the bees are eating the honey they’ve put up and you’re likely out of luck. The bees are still flying, but there’s few pollen and nectar sources around – many of those bees are out flying to get water to bring back to the hive to cool things down. Bees stand on the landing board outside the hive, fanning their wings to blow air in the hive entrance. A large part of the population clusters on the front of the hive (it’s called “bearding”) to help cool things down on the inside of the hive. It’s hard work keeping the inside of that hive at the right temperature when it gets this hot.

Weather is one of the factors that affects bees and honey production a lot, so I track weather patterns and other factors that relate to the bees. While the graph below is of airborne pollen counts and often the kinds of pollen in the air are not the same pollen the bees are interested in, this graph will give you an idea of the plant build up and decline in the spring here. From early February to mid-April we’re on the upswing; from then till early July we’re on the decline. By this time of year, we’re back down to the amount of pollen in the air that we started the year with.


The good news is, after hanging level through mid-August, we’ll suddenly spike back up to March levels for about a month – and that coincides with the fall honey flow.

Till then, the bees and I will just sweat it out.


The Weather… and Honey Production

From Bee Culture, a report on the incredible amount of rain we’ve had across the country this year:


The May precipitation total for the contiguous U.S. was 4.36 inches, 1.45 inches above average. This was the wettest May on record and the all-time wettest month in 121-years of record keeping.

Looking at the map, it’s clear that the areas that were far above average are mostly to the West of our area, though May was wet for us as well. More than the volume, the issue for us was timing.

A lot of folks don’t realize just how much honey production is like any farming or crop production – if the rains don’t come at the right times, or come instead at the wrong times, how much that affects production. A few days of rain can make the difference between a big harvest and no harvest.

West Tennessee’s honey flow hits its peak from about mid-April to mid-May, and we got off to a great start this year with near-perfect weather. Right about the time the Tulip Poplars and Black Locusts were blooming, however, the rains began to come. Not the deluges that some of the folks West of us had, but just an excessive number of days of rain, including rain that beat down the Tulip Poplar blooms and ended that source of nectar early.

We saw our hives build up really well in the spring, had a lot of swarm activity around us (which we were able to capitalize on)… and then everything just kinda ground to a halt. We saw the supers start to fill up with nectar through the end of April, but then just when the bees needed to be finishing off frames and capping them, it slowed down. There’s a dribble of nectar still coming in, but for the most part in Tennessee, the honey flow is over by mid-June. I keep hoping the little bit of clover and the upcoming Sumac bloom will give them just enough to cap off a few more frames… but at best we’re only looking at pulling off a super or two of honey from the Spring flow… which is a disappointment after the great start this spring.

Such is agriculture of any kind. Still, it could be worse.

Flashback: Five Years Ago Today

On May 1, Jackson TN experienced almost 15″ of rain and extensive flooding. The Forked Deer river flooded and backed up the surrounding creeks, including Harris Creek, which flows near our property. Harris Creek diverted across our land, and washed our bee hives away. A total loss.

May Day! Flood destroys apiary

Utter destruction, no bees.

Utter destruction, no bees.

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