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Dearth Vader

“Dearth” and “Drought” can be synonymous…

By: Chari Elam

August – For some beekeepers, death can be as intimidating as Darth Vader from Star Wars! 


Definition: A scarcity or lack of something – In a honey bee’s life, it means the lack of nectar and/or pollen available for foraging. Depending on your area, you may or may not be feeling the effect of true dearth yet. Although most of us have seen the majority of nectar and pollen producing forage disappear, I am seeing some hives in certain locations continue to find some nectar sources as well as pollen as we go into August. We can’t talk about dearth without including water in the conversation. “Dearth” and “Drought” can be synonymous. 


To feed or not to feed – That is the question? It really boils down to one thing… Resources for the workers to feed larvae and themselves. Our focus right now is to ensure brood production continues. Keeping in mind we are embarking on raising “winter bees”! I know…it’s hard to believe, but the minute honey production has ended, our mindset needs to focus on preparing for winter. As dearth increases it causes a spiraling effect.  

The lack of resources in nature, the fewer resources are coming into the hive. This in turn forces the colony to cut back on feeding both larvae and the queen. When they pull back on her feeding, she slows laying. Less food available, they logically stop adding babies to feed! This is a natural progression of course, but we have adopted the role as beekeepers, therefore we’ve accepted the responsibility to keep a healthy, robust colony going into fall and winter. 

This year in particular has been a rough year as far as drought conditions go nationwide. As evidenced by the drought chart, it’s not likely to improve any time soon. Note to self: Keep a water source available for your bees until this improves.

Quick Worker Bee-ology refresher: From egg to emergence – 21 days Emergence to Forager – 22 days 21 + 22 = 43 days to develop a foraging workforce. 

That’s basically 6 weeks! If I need these girls to be ready for fall nectar flow to ensure winter stores, I don’t need to have a lull in the production line. Remember, this nectar flow is for them to keep – it’s important! The healthiest thriving colonies come from those that haven’t fallen behind in brood production. You’re probably saying to yourself – "She didn’t answer the question, 'Do I feed or not?'" You're right! I didn’t! The bottom line is this - You must do regular hive checks and inspections to know what YOUR bees need. The rule of thumb is to feed until your stored honey is at least 30-40 lbs. Pollen supplements can be used if you see virtually no pollen coming in, or they have less than 1 frame of pollen stored. 

This will ensure brood production continues and the hive's population to be strong as dearth pounds at the door. 

The difference between Hive Check & Inspection: Hive Check: 

Bi-weekly entrance inspection which includes taking the lid off and pulling 1 or 2 frames verifying the condition of the colony and resources being brought in. This includes checking your brood condition, wet or dry brood. If it's dry this could indicate a need for pollen supplements. 

Hive Inspection: 

4 times a year (February, May, August, November) – This entails a full on Hive Dive. Remove and inspect every frame in each box to log its components and condition and make any adjustments or corrections as necessary. Note: We often do more than this depending on the colony and what’s going on. In other words, there are many exceptions to this rule. Inspect according to need.

Speaking of Hive Inspections… 

It has become glaringly obvious to James and me, that beekeepers with double deep boxes AREN’T INSPECTING THE BOTTOM BOX!

It’s like once the second deep is installed, the bottom box becomes “never-never land”! 

A neglected bottom brood box will certainly cause problems. And to point out the obvious, not working it will allow the bees to propolize it so much so you’ll never get the frames apart without the use of heavy machinery! 

A bottom box left un-inspected can be a breeding ground for disease, pests and most obviously…the unknown!

Have you ever had the unknown when you go to the doctor? It’s so hard to fix the unknown! The number 1 rule (in my opinion) in beekeeping is being proactive. If you don’t know something needs to be addressed, how can you address it? 

I’m quite certain the condition of Bottom Box Neglect stems from the fear of removing the top box and setting it to the side. Here’s a tip that may help: after you pop the propolis between the boxes, lift the top box off and sit it on its end beside the hive. Viola! No bees are squished by setting the box down on its bottom and the bees stay on the frames, patiently waiting for you to put it back after you’ve inspected the bottom box! 

Bottom line - monitor food stores, provide your bees with water if needed and keep a good hive check schedule. Your bees will thank you!

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