Water For Bees & Successful Queen Breeding

Water and queen rearing are the buzzwords this week.  Sometimes we forget that water “is essential for proper [bee] larval growth and development” (Petit, 1963; Haydak, 1970″ [from The Biology of the Honeybee, Mark L. Wilson]).   As I want good queens, I try to make sure the bees have all the water they need.

I use 4 ways of delivering water to hives.  Two are external. Two are internal.  At this time only one of my internal methods is in use.  They aren’t fancy, but they seem to work.

One “outside the hive” method is to use an old Ropack Lid.

Bees drinking from a Ropak lid

Bees drinking water from a used Ropak Lid

If you’re around honey long enough, or around anything that comes in 5 gallon resealable plastic buckets, you’ll see Ropak lids .  There are great tools to get these lids off of the buckets, but you can also cut them off.  It ruins the lid for resealing, but the flat rim and recessed center make a great waterer for bees. Additionally, the bees seem to like the white “color” of the lids.  The bees gather around the

Honey bee drinks water from a Ropak lid

Honeybee, tongue extended, drinks water from a Ropak Lid

lid and sip the water.  On hot days it’s a line up; right now only a few come out.  There’s water everywhere right now.

My other style of external waterer is made of an old trash can lid flipped upside down, lined with plastic and filled with rocks, sand and water.  The rocks and water give the bees something to stand on while drinking.

Water for bees in a trashcan lid with plastic and rocks

Water for bees in a trash can lid.

Bees stand on rocks as they collect water from a trash can lid.

Bees standing on rocks in lid, collecting water

The one type of internal waterer I have working right now is a soaked sponge sitting on a piece of plastic.  The plastic keeps the water from dripping into the hive.  I especially like these in nucs.  The bees can’t drown, but they sure to take up the water.   I buy large “industrial” sponges and cut them up.

Honeybees check out a newly placed sponge of water on their top  bars
Water filled sponge on hive’s top bars

However, one has to be careful of additives to the sponge.  Those “helpful” chemicals that “kill bacteria or kitchen orders” who knows what else they kill.

Each of these three methods offers water delivery to bees.  The latter, I think, is especially good for nucs or hives that are building queen cells, because the creation of queens takes so much water.

The water, and honey, and the good work of the bees stood me in good stead this week.  There’s been great success with my worrisome hive, which lost its queen in March.  This is not a good time for a hive to go queenless.  No forage, no drones, even if she left some eggs behind from which the bees could create a queen.  I had put in some eggs way back then, with little hope that a resulting queen would mate (no drones).

Sure enough, when the day arrived that there should be eggs with a bred queen, I saw none.  Into the hive went another frame of eggs.  If you keep giving a queenless hive eggs they will usually build queen cells and not become laying workers.

The day rolled around for the check to see if a queen, born of that second comb of eggs, had emerged and mated and yes!  Not only were there eggs, but larva as well.  The first frame had produced a queen who had mated.  Her laying pattern is excellent, and I’m please.

The second frame of eggs just offered more workers.  That’s fine, the more the merrier – or busier in the case of bees.

I am still amazed that the queen found drones to mate with nearly a month ago.  It speaks well of the wild honeybees in this area.  Good strong stock those fellows must be to be flying early on these cold, blustery days.  One of the fascinating things about beekeeping is that nature always offers up surprises.

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