South Africa is currently experiencing one of the worst droughts in 20 years and it has certainly taken its toll on all ecosystems. One hears stories of animals that have to be culled in order to prevent a crisis of starvation and overgrazing. Even our little lemon tree at home is looking pretty bleak. A lot of our plants have not bloomed yet, and the ones that have’s blossoms are much smaller than usual and don’t last as long.
This is affecting all pollinators, and while many people are putting out bird feeders and have bird baths in their gardens, we often forget about the silent heroes, the BEES. It seems that even amongst beekeepers there are some conflicting opinions on what the best practice might be. I have compiled a very short list of five things you could do that might save a whole colony of bees.
Put out some water for them, we here is South Africa can definitely testify of the rising global temperatures. Seeing as we are supposed to be in spring but is already experiencing temperatures in the 30°C region, I am assuming we will have another record breaking scorching summer. Bees generally have to work very hard during the summer months to regulate the temperature in the hives. When fresh, clean water is not easily available they might wonder off to the neighbour’s swimming pool, which might be catastrophic for them. Providing a close, clean and fresh water supply will help them cool off the core of the hive without having to fly too far for it. They also use the water to dilute the honey for the newBEES. It is important to know that once you’ve started to put out water for them you’ll have to keep it up, they are creatures of habit and will quickly start to depend on your source of water.
Planting drought savvy plants, it’s not too late to start. Bees will need to have nectar sources for much longer seeing as the amount of nectar on the flowers are so much less than usual because of the drought. A lot of succulent species will have flowers until late summer, and are great soldiers in a drought. Certain herb types such as lavender, sage, thyme, and rosemary will all be able to withstand the drought, more than others in any case, plus you get the added bonus of the wonderful aromas filling your garden and fresh herbs on demand. Most wildflowers are naturally drought resistant and makes for a beautiful and colourful garden at the same time.
Shade, this might be more relevant to beekeepers than laymen looking out for wild bees. By providing shade for the hive you will help to keep it cooler and they won’t have to work so hard, foragers can focus more of their energy and time on collecting nectar and less on collecting water to cool the hive. On the other hand I would also suggest that you put the water source in shade, thereby decreasing the amount of water that is evaporated by the scorching sun.
Harvest less honey, if you are a beekeeper it would be wise to harvest less honey than usual. It might seem that there is enough, or maybe even more than enough, but seeing as we do not know when the drought will end and how much nectar they will be able to collect before winter comes, it might be a good idea to let them store more of the honey. If you have more than one hive you could also keep a brood box frame, to transfer honey between the hives if you see that one might not be producing enough.
This last point is somewhat of a controversial one, artificially feeding the bees. Many experts have conflicting opinions on this matter. Personally I have come to realise that in the long run it has more disadvantages than what it’s worth. Having said that, I also feel that in extreme circumstances, where it is a case of the bees literally starving or you feeding them, I would be in favour of it. It is however, a very delicate thing and there are a number of factors to take into account. Firstly, it is imperative that you only use white refined sugar for your mixture, you can make a mixture of water and sugar, a ratio of 1:1 or 1 sugar: 2 water. Remember to put this mixture in a shallow plate or bowl and to put some pebbles or rocks that will stick out above the mixture, to allow the bees to gather the mixture without getting some of it onto their bodies or wings, which will subsequently lead to drowning. I have also read about people putting out a pollen supplement for the bees.
Just remember that whether you are putting out water or some form of a feeding station you might attract some unwanted predators in the process. Always keep an eye out for any signs that your bees are being robbed or killed, chances are something is luring the predators.