Firstly, it’s important for me to make two things clear; I live in a relatively mild climate and when it gets hot I suffer, regardless of what I do. Our recent ‘heat-wave’ has temperatures up to 29 Celsius (84 deg F) in my area, which is probably nothing to many beekeepers around the world. Nevertheless, it can get very sweaty working with bees, so here are some thoughts from this walrus on the subject. Summer Survival: Beekeeping Tips for the Scorching. Photo by Noe TCHAGASPANIAN on Unsplash.
Clearing bees for the spring crop
We have just finished extracting our spring honey. Many of my colonies have had brood in supers because I left the queen excluders out. I believe that this helps with swarm prevention, but it can be awkward in some colonies. Many of my bees ‘back-fill’ super cells with honey after the brood emerges. Unfortunately, some have brood quite high up, so that when we come to add clearer boards we have to move frames between boxes (brood lower down, honey higher up).
Timing and Clearer Boards
In my experience, if I put clearer boards onto hives (with the honey filled supers above, and the rest below) the bees take longer than 24 hours to move fully down towards the brood nest. After 36 hours, the supers are basically empty. There cannot be any brood in the supers because (a) it’s not what people want in their honey and (b) the bees are reluctant to leave brood, so they don’t clear properly.
Queen excluding starts now
When we return after 36 hours to take the supers away, I also want to get the queen into the bottom box and put a queen excluder on. This is done by shaking bees down rather than trying to find her majesty. Any supers containing brood will soon be cleaned up and used just for honey as the summer progresses and the danger of swarming recedes. We add back wet supers, or remaining unused ones from last year, to ensure that the bees have enough space.
Before discussing suits, one fairly obvious way to minimise the risk of heat exhaustion is to try to get the heavy work out of the way early on, before it gets crazy-hot. It depends on your scale; I’m a small-scale operator who can easily get away with not working the bees after 2pm, which helps. The other thing, for those removing heavy supers of honey, is to use some kind of trolley with wheels on to minimise the actual carrying. The one we use has 4 wheels and can only really carry 3 supers at once, with one of us pulling and the other preventing boxes from bouncing off.
How nice are your bees?
Some of my bees are as chilled out as the turtle in Finding Nemo (Crush).
The bees that I visited in New Zealand, the little yellow things that seem to have achieved some kind of zen enlightenment, with no time for earthly matters like stinging walruses, are not typical of UK bees. I inspected a colony in shorts and a tee shirt out there, but I have curly hair on my arms and legs (and other places) so occasionally a bee would get tangled in hair and start to panic. So for me, even with very chilled out bees, the shorts/tee shirt combo is a non-starter.
Sometimes in summer, I use my Sherriff ‘Honey Rustler’ jacket plus veil. I really like it as it has velcro cuffs and it’s quite light. Occasionally, a grumpy colony will sting my legs through my jeans, or my ankles through socks, but usually, my bees are not like that on hot sunny days. For adding clearer boards, I wear a full suit, as my bees are generally not entirely happy to have me messing with the fruits of their hard work.
For the majority of my beekeeping, especially if I have plenty of hives to get through, and they are bursting with countless bees, I wear my favourite bee suit, the Swienty Breeze. We often wear shorts and a tee shirt underneath the suit, as jeans get quickly soaked with sweat.
On a hot day, if you get any breeze at all, it’s a blessed relief as it passes through the vented suit. Trouble is, if there’s no breeze you are just going to sweat buckets and get uncomfortable as with any other suit. Some people dislike the stiff veil which gets in the way when you are driving, but if you fiddle about and have it nearly fully unzipped you can normally get reasonably comfortable in the van.
Gloves & Boots
From a disease control perspective, I usually wear nitrile gloves, which I change between apiaries. I also change my hive tool between apiaries too. We have numerous hive tools and I clean and sterilise them weekly. There is no way around getting disgustingly soggy skin when wearing nitriles in the heat. I have to use a moisturiser (Simple replenishing rich moisturiser, if you must know) in the evening to counter the drying-out. If bees are really getting ugly, I might wear leather gloves if I’m just moving boxes, but they are rubbish for actually doing inspections.
I don’t wear wellington boots because that would be crazy in the summer, right? We wear V12 rigger boots; hardly cool in the sun, but at least they are leather and not rubber. If I’m in a rush I don’t change my footwear and keep on my trainers, deck shoes or whatever I happen to have on. If I’m worried about bees crawling up my legs, I tuck my jeans into my socks, exposing my achilles heels.
Honey Processing Room
My extracting facility is a modified shipping container. It gets hot in there, but that’s good for extracting. We have to keep the doors and windows closed, as the hives are only 20 metres away. The important thing is to wear as little as possible (within reason), stay hydrated and take breaks. Once the extractor is spinning, we leave the humid, sticky steam room that is our container and seek refuge and a drink in a cooler building (any building would be cooler).
If anyone wants to share their ‘secrets to staying alive’ during the hot weather whilst beekeeping, feel free to add your pearls of wisdom in the comments.