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Yes Virginia, Beekeeping is Real Agriculture

Sydney Barton

Picture by Emyduck via Flickr, at our apiary.

Picture by Emyduck via Flickr, at our apiary.


We don't just turn on a faucet to fill our honey jars. There is a lot more to it than that. Not just the back breaking, sweaty physical work of maintaining beehives or the struggle to keep them healthy. Just like any farmer, beekeepers must always be aware of the weather. The unpredictable, uncontrollable weather.

The activity of a hive is guided by the weather. Bees go foraging for nectar and pollen on the warm sunny days of spring and summer. Beekeepers know that more of those foragers will stay in the hive on days that threaten rain. That's why we stay out of the hives then. More bees at home with nothing to do but defend the hive equals more potential for stings.

The weather can also throw off our best laid plans. Farmers can lose a crop to drought and so can beekeepers. The same conditions limit or eliminate available nectar and pollen sources so reduced nectar means less honey.

Cooler weather also has it's effect. No one from Chicago reading this has failed to notice the lateness of the tomato crop. A rainy and cooler June followed by the coolest July ever has also caused a dearth of honey. Here is the reason why.

Honeybees are extremely good at regulating the interior temperature of the hive. A constant 93 degrees is the optimum temperature for egg laying by the Queen and brood rearing by the workers. In the average Summer when the nights are very warm many bees will move outside to open up space for ventilating the hive and keep it from getting too hot. If you visit an apiary on a hot evening you will see “beards” of bees hanging out on the outside of the hive. During the even hotter days every bee that is of foraging age goes out to collect nectar. They aren't needed inside because the external and internal temperatures are very similar.

The opposite has happened this year. Cool mornings and evenings meant that more bees were needed inside to keep the temperature up during those times. Fewer foragers = less nectar = less honey. And our visions of buckets and buckets of extra honey faded.

I'll admit because we've never seen weather like this, it took us awhile to figure out exactly what the problem was. Now that we've figured it out, just like any other farmer, we have to hope the weather changes in our favor.