First posted on 06-28-2012
Summer means tough times for honey bees, said Jon Zawislak, extension program associate-apiculture for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.
“The honey flow is pretty much over for much of the state,” he said.
Honey flow is what beekeepers call the short period from April to June. Spring flowers provide plenty of pollen and nectar for the bees to eat and feed their growing families, and to turn into beautiful golden honey.
“Honey bees collect almost all of the surplus honey they will make for the year during just a couple of months,” he said.
As temperatures rise and rains are less frequent, fewer flowers will be blooming, so the bees are working hard to locate new sources of food.
“A colony of bees has a lot of mouths to feed, and may forage up to three miles away from their hive,” Zawislak said. “They prefer to stay closer to home if they can, but they cover a huge territory when they need to find food.”
Beekeepers in agricultural areas may have a longer honey season.
“Irrigated crops like cotton and some varieties of soybeans can provide bees with forage well through the hot summer,” said Zawislak. “But they are also at risk from contacting agricultural chemicals applied to those crops.”
In forested areas, summer can be a lean time for bees. When it’s really dry, bees consume more honey than they are bringing home.
Urban beekeepers have some advantage during the summer.
“In a city, homeowners and businesses are constantly watering their landscaping and home gardens, which keeps things green and flowering, and provides bees with numerous small patches of food,” he said.
Urban bees also run the risk of encountering poisons too.
“Homeowners can buy insecticides at the grocery store, and so they assume it must be safe,” said Zawislak. “And many people have a tendency to use more than the recommended dosage.”
“Bees are a necessity in pollinating many of our home vegetable gardens. Every year we get complaints about squash, pumpkins and watermelons not setting any fruit. Without bees for cross-pollination, we won’t get good fruit set,” said Janet Carson, extension horticulture specialist for the Division of Agriculture. “We need to be mindful of what we are spraying to take care of our bees.
Most insecticides are very harmful to bees, an important and beneficial insect. Some formulations of the same ingredient are much more dangerous to bees than others.
“Sprinkling insecticidal dusts all over your garden is a bad idea,” Zawislak said. “Those dust particles get into the flowers, where they stick to the bees just like pollen grains, and the bees carry them home, contaminating their hives.”
“Never apply an insecticide to a plant that’s in bloom,” he said. “The flowers are the one part of the plant that gardeners really want insects to visit.”
If a chemical must be used, spray it carefully onto the stems and foliage, avoiding the blooms. And make applications late in the evening or early in the morning, when there are no busy bees buzzing around.
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