Spring thunderstorms are a part of life in New England. While we know to prepare our homes, pets, and livestock for inclement weather when it hits, we may not think to secure our beehives for bad weather as well. It is important for beekeepers to adequately prepare for storms to minimize colony losses and damage to hives. This is especially necessary in early spring when colonies tend to be less strong due to the combination of winter recovery and reduced nectar flow. Following the steps below will ensure that bees will be equipped to handle a significant storm. Large-scale operations with many hives may want to follow additional recommendations for severe storms and hurricanes provided by the USDA.

  1. Place hives in an ideal location to handle the storm – If a severe weather event is forecast, consider moving your beehives to a secure, offsite location that will not be directly impacted by the storm. Hives should be placed on high, level ground and moved away from areas where water could accumulate. Though trees may provide a windbreak to offer some protection, hives should not be placed directly under trees that could drop branches on them. Any debris near hives should be removed as they could become projectiles if winds are sufficiently strong. If you have access to a shelter location, such as a fortified shed or barn, hives may be moved there. Close the entrances of the hives to prevent bees from escaping in the building. Never keep bees in a storage area attached to where humans or animals live, such as a garage. Move the bees back to their normal location as soon as safe to do so.
  2. Provide colonies adequate resources – Colonies should be equipped to handle intense rain and a short period without access to nectar. Repair any damages to hive exteriors and apply fresh weatherproof paint if needed. Ensure the colonies are supplied with honey or other sources of food and water, such as a sugar solution. Top feeders may not be a good choice for hives remaining outside as they can be blown off, increasing likelihood of water infiltration.
  3. Secure hives in place – For hives that remain outside, it is essential to minimize the risk of them toppling over. While it may seem best to raise hives off the ground using stands to prevent water infiltration, this effort may be counterproductive if it increases the risk of the hive falling over. Use packing crates weighted with cinder blocks if flooding is likely and the hives cannot be relocated. Bricks or stones placed on lids of hives are not an ideal choice as they are surprisingly easy to be blown off with intense winds, increasing risk of damage to hives. Instead, use ratchet straps or quality rope, securely anchored to the ground, to hold hives in place. Cinder blocks may be left on lids if they are strapped securely (through the hole) to the top.
  4. Secure supplies – Place all beekeeping supplies in waterproof containers. Gloves, veils, smokers, hive tools, etc. should be placed in a sealed, waterproof container that can be easily accessed after the storm. Similarly, unused frames, wax and honey extraction tools and any other pieces of equipment that may carry an odor (which may attract pests) should be placed in a sealed, waterproof container that may be further reinforced with duct tape or another sealant.
  5. DO NOT:
    • – Cover hives with plastic (suffocation, drowning, or overheating may occur)
    • – Remove propolis from hives before the storm (propolis reduces water infiltration)
    • – Place hives next to or inside residential buildings (even if they will be evacuated prior to a severe storm)
    • – Place hives under trees that could drop limbs or fall on them
    • – Raise hives off the ground with unstable stands (this increases the likelihood of them falling over)
    • – Clean up or repair damage until safe to do so and all damage has been documented (for insurance purposes)

References and Further Reading:

Until next time,

Nick Goltz, DPM