How does weather impact your beekeeping? We could back up a step and ask “How does weather impact your life?” to better understand the effect of weather on honey bees and beekeeping. In general, when the weather is “bad”, we have to consider its impact on our day to day activities, but when it is “good”, we carry on with what we want to do with an occasional nod to how good the weather is especially if we have had a stretch of bad. For beekeepers and honey bees, this general rule holds and can broadly answer the opening question while there are a number of nuanced rabbit trails one can chase as with most beekeeping questions. We will briefly explore a few of the areas of impact here.
The primary impact of weather is honey bee flying time. A combination of temperature/wind/precipitation/sun and wind exposure dictates if and when honey bees will take flight. When honey bees are flying, they are foraging, which means looking for nectar, pollen, water, and propolis inputs to provide resources to support colony health. The number of flying hours available to forage is a driving factor in honey production and pollination effectiveness. For example, did you know that on the Canadian prairies, a colony of bees can consistently produce 300-400 pounds (136 - 181 kg) of honey in just a few weeks? One of the reasons why is that the daylight period is much longer than in southern latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere, plus huge amounts of nectar available, which is the other necessary ingredient of course. And as I write this, the biggest pollination event on the globe is in the final stages in the Central Valley of California. The available flying hours for the bees in the orchards have a direct effect on successful almond flower pollination and are used as a predictor of nut production.
For beekeepers, the weather primarily influences when they can more easily inspect a colony. Good flying time for the bees generally means it is ok for the beekeeper to perform any number of management tasks that involve physically altering the hive. That is a challenge for hobbyist beekeepers who are constrained by other obligations in their life is to find a good overlap between free time to work the bees and good weather. You may have had that experience where you planned to work your bees this coming weekend and the weather turned out to be cool, gray, and drizzly the whole time. And sometimes the importance of timing a management action does not line up with good weather. This is particularly true in the commercial beekeeping realm when bees have to be worked on a schedule to meet deadlines for pollination contracts or honey production. The price to pay for working bees in less than good conditions is grumpy bees and extra stings for the beekeeper!
The final aspect of weather to discuss is the impact on the flora and agricultural crops surrounding your honey bees. Clearly, the bloom of nectar-producing plants is affected by weather and season including longer-term effects that are not well understood. Quite often you will hear conjectures ahead of the upcoming season’s nectar flow about what makes one honey season better or worse than another and using wet/dry and cooler/warmer or whatever the prevailing conditions are as a harbinger of good or bad news, which depends on the personality of the one making the conjecture and not so much on data. However, short-term weather events during a nectar flow can have a significant impact. I recall a sourwood season a few years ago when there were thunderstorms almost every day that severely cut down honey production that year, either the nectar production or the nectar gathering or both were reduced. It is difficult to know which one. Hail, wind, and heavy rain can all affect the blooms and the available nectar - for those of you with tulip poplar in your area, you know the bloom is a large upward pointing tulip-shaped cup, so nectar can be washed out and the blooms are susceptible to blowing off. Similarly, black locust bloom is sensitive to rough weather conditions. Other nectar sources are sensitive to nighttime temperatures for maximum nectar production or produce nectar only at certain times of day in a given temperature range. You see what I mean about rabbit trails! Just know and expect that as a beekeeper you will necessarily become keenly aware of the weather conditions in your area and adjust your beekeeping decisions accordingly. HiveTracks believes this and is building a new Beekeeping Companion app that will provide Bee Weather to assist in your decision-making process.