Some beekeeping management tasks are done regardless of the season, such as monitoring the health and productivity of the queen, record keeping, and controlling pest infestations.
Managing beehives in summer includes:
- Adding honey supers during honeyflow,
- Helping cool and ventilate the hive,
- Assisting bees during summer nectar dearth and protecting them from robbing, and
- Honey harvesting.
This article describes these summer beekeeping tasks in detail.
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Adding Honey Supers During Honeyflow
I expect you will have added at least one honey super by late spring based on the hive’s growth and the onset of nectar flow. If not, it is time to put your queen excluder (if you opt to use one) above the brood boxes and start adding supers.
Only add new supers when needed. Once the uppermost box has about 50 – 60% capped honey cells, add another box. This method of adding a new box on top is called “top supering” (no surprise!).
Alternatively, you can add the new box above the brood nest and under previously added supers (“bottom supering”). This method makes the new box more easily accessible to the foragers. However, bottom supering requires that you remove boxes to see if more space is needed.
Regularly placing an empty super just above the brood increases the possibility of the queen moving in to lay eggs. Consider using a queen excluder for bottom supering.
Note: Most backyard beekeepers think of medium-depth boxes as “honey supers.” Commercial operators may use deep boxes as supers. You can also use shallow boxes.
Summer Nectar Dearth
After the honeyflow, extreme heat and lack of rainfall often lead to summer nectar dearth, a period when plants slow or stop producing nectar. Assisting bees through nectar dearth is a key part of managing beehives in summer.
Without nectar available, bees may resort to consuming their stores of honey. In addition, water sources may dry up, putting additional pressure on a colony.
The queen may stop laying eggs to keep the population in check and preserve honey in the hive.
You can provide a watering station for bees. However, honey bees cannot swim, so keep the water shallow or provide floats where bees can land. Try to minimize the possibility of drowning.
Consider feeding the bees in an extended dearth. Feeding bees during this period can be tricky because the slightest spill of sugar syrup may trigger robbing.
Bees, wasps, and yellow jackets may try to rob food stores from your hives, particularly during a nectar dearth. Robbing can seriously damage a weak hive.
During robbing season, limit your hive to one reduced entrance. This small opening is easier for your colony to defend.
Use robbing screens to keep invaders from figuring out how to enter the hive.
Learn more! See our detailed article for more information about summer nectar dearth and how to deal with it.
Cooling And Ventilating The Hive
Bees may have to work hard to cool their hive during the heat of summer. Setting your hives up with afternoon shade or dappled sunlight helps.
Consider taking additional steps to improve airflow in the hive.
Screened bottom boards, screened inner covers, and ventilation shims can help the bees cool the hive.
Some of our upper boxes have small entrances drilled in them to exhaust rising hot air. Use an entrance gate to close these openings in the event of robbing or when temperatures cool down.
In mid to late summer, you can begin harvesting honey from well-established colonies.
Only take an amount of honey that would be considered excess for the bees. In other words, leave the bees enough honey to get through the coming winter. Include honey in the outer frames of the brood boxes in your assessment.
The amount of honey to leave for the bees varies based on the severity of your winters. The following is a general guideline:
- Cold, northern climates: about 75 – 85 lbs (34.0 – 38.6 kg) or 10 deep frames
- Moderate climates: about 55 – 65 lbs (24.9 – 29.5 kg) or 6 deep frames
- Warmer, southern climates: about 35 – 45 lbs (15.9 – 20.4 kg) or 4 deep frames
Consider leaving some extra honey to help the bees through nectar dearth.
Only remove frames that are 75% capped and that you plan to extract (i.e., remove from the frame) within three days.
Consider harvesting honey shortly before the nectar flow ends. After the nectar flow, honey and nectar spilled while removing frames may trigger robbing.
If you decide to leave supers on the hive longer, account for any upcoming mite treatments planned. Many miticides are not recommended for use with honey supers.
The beekeeping tasks outlined above are season-specific for managing beehives in summer.
Most of your summer beehive maintenance will assist the bees in storing honey (for the bees and you) and dealing with some of the season’s extreme weather.
Remember to continue monitoring the queen’s health, checking for varroa and other pest infestations, and keeping your records up-to-date.
This article is part of a series on managing beehives, a guide to basic beekeeping tasks throughout the year.
Summer Management In The Southeast U.S. by David MacFawn in Bee Culture Magazine
Timing The Honey Harve[s]t by Ross Conrad in Bee Culture Magazine