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Back to the Basics

We always hear about the summer dearth but what does it mean? You have checked your hive and bees are constantly coming and going. Is there a dearth in your region? How do you know?

Flowering plants produce nectar to attract pollinators like the honey bee. Nectar provides the sugar and energy source (carbohydrates) the adult bee needs and is developed and stored as honey for later consumption. As bees travel from flower to flower, nectar is stored in their crop (honey stomach) until they return to the hive. The summer dearth is when the nectar is scarce or non-existent.

What effects the production of nectar?

Blooming period. It would be nice if all flowering plants (trees included) provided blooms all year long that produced nectar and pollen, but nature does not work like that. Most plants have a 2 to 3 month blooming period in which bees are able to forage for nectar and pollen. Some blooming periods overlap but you may be in a region where you experience weeks without. Check your region.
http://honeybeenet.gsfc.nasa.gov/Honeybees/Forage.htm

Drought. The lack of rain will inhibit plants from producing nectar as the nectaries begin to dry. Pollen will be present but without water, plants do not have the resources to yield this sweet liquid.

Rain. Water is the resource plants need to produce nectar but too much can dilute the mixture or wash it away. Beekeepers around our NC location deal with the problem of rain during the sourwood bloom. Once the bell flowers open a heavy rain will wash them away. Weeks of rain before or while plants are putting out nectar producing flowers can dilute the nectar solution. Bees will still harvest nectar but it takes longer to evaporate and leaves less to consume.

How do you know if you are experiencing a summer dearth?
The queen’s production is regulated by the amount of nectar and pollen brought into the hive. During the nectar flow the queen can be laying thousands of eggs in a day. Once the dearth comes she will slow down or cease laying. The lack of nectar and pollen will be evident in the decline of your hive’s population.

What problems can occur during the dearth:
Beekeepers reap the benefits of the excess stored honey by harvesting and extracting the honey. This robs the bees of the resources they may need to survive (especially for winter months). If they do not have the food stores to sustain their current population they may end up starving. Yes, bees can starve during summer months. Beekeepers need to be cautious of a dearth and ensure their colonies have the food stores they need. Add a hive top feeder to your hive and feed heavily.

Honey bees will fly the shortest distance to acquire the resources they need. If your bee yard contains colonies that are weak, be cautious of robbing. A weak colony with its honey stores robbed out will not survive. If you do experience a summer dearth, help those weak colonies guard their hives by reducing the entrance. If robbing becomes a problematic issue, our Moving and Robbing Screen will help deter those robbing bees.