Last Updated on December 14, 2021
In this article, we take a look at how to provide water for honey bees. Bees require water for many aspects of the functioning of the hive – we will take a look at how you can help them out.
I remember my first sting – I was about three and was at a swimming pool. 42 years later and I can still see that bee in the water buzzing its wings. I tried to pick it up and bang – pain, suffering, wails of crying, and that funny banana smell. For us as beekeepers, we need our bees to have a safe source of water that they can collect. We need to ensure they do not drown in the water, and that they do not end up stinging livestock or people.
Why Do Bees Need Water?
Bees use water for a number of functions in the hive. Let me list a few.
Learn more about: How Long Do Bees Live Without A Hive
When the hive gets a bit warm, bees cover the brood area and other parts of the hive in a thin film of water and then fan their wings on this water. Evaporative cooling is achieved, and then other bees fan the humid air and heat out of the hive. In other words, water absorbs heat during evaporation, and removing the water vapour from the hive removes heat from the hive. I once had a large beehive in a remote area as part of a research project. We had a water station and this hive consumed up to two gallons a day of water when temperatures were high.
Bees actually need water to dilute honey and turn it into food. When bees collect water during a nectar dearth it is often a sign that they are eating their honey reserves. If nectar crystalizes in comb certain races of bees hate this and will remove this using water as well.
Bees are animals just like us. Much like we need to consume water to remain hydrated, so do bees.
It is a general rule that an active hive needs water. In winter, when the hive shuts down, they can often find condensation in the hive which will be their water supply.
Human/bee Water Conflict Issues
Bees will collect water preferably within about 100 yards of their hive. Closer if possible. If bees are near a swimming pool or animal feeding troughs conflicts can arise between beekeepers and owners of swimming pools and cattle troughs. I have seen bees go to a water trough at a horse stud. The more expensive the horse it seems the more sensitive they are to bee stings. Over a period of time, a horse accumulates stings and can develop an allergic reaction. It is a generally awkward discussion that wins no friends when somebody who just had their $100 000 prize racehorse die of a beesting comes to talk to you about your beehive nearby.
Likewise, when bees collect water from swimming pools they invariably drown and then end up in somebodies costume and a stinging event ensues.
To limit the risk of these conflicts, we need to have a way of providing bees with water that is just better, nicer and easier to access. Luckily, if we know what our little friends want we can know how to provide water for honey bees.
What Water Do Bees Like In Nature?
In nature, bees will collect water from the edge of a pool where they can stand on mud or sand. Or they will land on water lillies and algae. They absolutely love algae. Algae during the day produce oxygen which sterilizes the water and also changed the ratio of calcium salts on the surface. This algae water is their favourite. Filamentous algae and pondweed are very attractive to bees.
Bees also like seep water – water which seeps down a rock, and is full of natural salts seems to attract them. Bees do not appear to like pools of water and are not attracted to natural pools. In fact, they often crash into pools, because they see the reflection of the Sun, get confused and then navigate into the reflection.
Bees for some unknown reason are attracted to seawater. I have on many occasions been fishing and had a swarm fly out to sea, only to wash up on the shore as a bunch of half-drowned bees a few minutes later. I have no idea what that is all about.
Using an understanding of the above we can figure out how to provide water for honeybees.
How Do We Construct A Bee Water Station?
I normally just use an old IBC tote. You can buy from Amazon, or find a local supplier who has second-hand ones – ensure they are food safe. Cut the top off.
Now you have an easy task – cut your pipes and fit elbows so you can make a square which fits into the tote with about a two-inch gap between the walls all around. Thread the pipes through the pool smarties which will act as floats. Glue the elbows. Once the glue is set, cable tie some shade cloth to the frame.
Place this raft of shade cloth in the IBC. Fill with water. You now have a bee water supply. The frame will float up and down and the bees can land on the shade cloth. A layer of algae will grow on the shade cloth making it even more attractive to the bees. You can put a few small fish, such as goldfish in the IBC to control mosquitoes. You don’t want to figure out how to provide water for honey bees which minimise human bee conflict and then create a mosquito problem instead.
We hope this article has helped you understand how to make a bee water station and how to provide water for honey bees. If you enjoyed it, share it widely.