Wildfires are an unwanted byproduct of hot, dry weather. Combine these conditions with high winds, and you have a recipe for uncontrollable fires.
This guide looks at beekeeping best practices during the fire season and what to do if fires are in your area.
What should I do if forest fires are in my area?
If fires are in your area, always listen to the advice of your local fire authorities. Never take risks to save hives, as they are replaceable.
If it is safe to visit your hives, then follow these steps:
- Transfer your hives to a safer location if the bee yard is in danger of going up in flames.
- Before and after the fire passes, feed the colony sugar water. Fire damage, ash, and poor air quality could make foraging a challenge. Keep feeding the bees until the flowers return.
- If your bee yards local foraging zone has been decimated by fire, consider temporarily moving the hives to a better location.
- Try to minimize hive inspections during and after nearby forest fires.
Is smoke from a wildfire bad for bee health?
There are mixed opinions on how smoke pollutants affect bees. Studies at the University of Southampton and Penn State University have found that air pollution from fire reduces a bee’s ability to forage.
In contrast, studies like this one conclude that forest fires help bees. Bee colonies exist in more significant numbers where moderate to severe wildfires impact the landscape.
The OSU Forest Animal Ecology Lab has surveyed areas 4-5 years after a severe fire. They discovered a habitat rich in varied bee species and an abundance of bees.
As experienced beekeepers, we have witnessed firsthand the profound impact smoke pollution can have on honey bees, particularly their ability to forage. Heavy smoke distorts the pattern of polarized light in the sky, which bees use as a compass.
However, the long-term effects of forest fires are often positive for the local habitat. The renewal of vegetation post-fire often leads to an explosion of new growth, providing pollinators with a bounty of foraging opportunity. This provides a significant boost for honey production.
Fires also clear dense bush, making it easier for bees to access a broader range of flora.
- Advice for beekeepers to stay cool during hot weather
- Practical tips for keeping hives cool in summer
Tips for using a bee smoker during dry summer weather
Using a bee smoker during dry summer weather requires extra caution due to the increased risk of wildfires. Here are some tips for using one safely in fire-prone areas:
Important: Never use a smoker when there are fire bans or the local authorities have deemed it unsafe.
- Check the smoker: A well-maintained smoker without holes or other problems will reduce the chance of embers escaping.
- Stay alert: Be mindful of the risk of embers escaping from the smoker. Avoid using the tool near flammable materials or dry vegetation.
- Keep informed: Stay updated with the latest local fire conditions and avoid using a smoker if strong winds are expected.
- Extinguish properly: After inspecting the hive, extinguish the smoker by plugging the outlet nozzle with wet material. Place it in a fire-proof container for added safety.
- Clear foliage: Rake away pine needles and dry brush within five feet of hives.
- Take care traveling: Always extinguish the smoker first if traveling between hives.
- Wet the area: Use a sprayer or hose to dampen the ground near the hive. Keep a water source or extinguisher close by for emergencies.
Can I inspect hives without a smoker?
When fire restrictions are in place, it is often during nectar dearth, so inspections aren’t advisable.
If you must visit bees, consider using a spray bottle with sugar water and lemongrass oil or invest in liquid smoke.
These alternatives may not work as well as smoke, so wear full protective wear or wait until the fire ban ends.
How can beekeepers help hives in fire-prone areas?
Ensuring apiary survival during a wildfire can be challenging, but some strategic landscaping practices can help. Here are some practical tips:
Create defensible space
Establish an area around the hives where flammable vegetation is cleared to slow the spread of fire. In the case of a beehive, try to clear 30 feet in all directions.
Use fire-resistant plants
Plants like lemonade berry, manzanita, Catalina cherry, yucca, and buckwheat may help to slow an advancing fire.
Make a firebreak
Firebreaks are gaps in vegetation and combustible material that slow wildfire. These breaks could be a water feature, but clearing a wide dirt path will also help.
Maintain nearby land
Regularly prune trees and shrubs and rake up dead plant material to reduce fuel for a fire. Keep tree branches trimmed so they don’t hang over the hive.
Have an emergency plan for your bees, including an evacuation strategy. Sometimes, the best way to protect your bees is to move them to a safer location.
These tips can reduce risk, but nothing will eliminate it. It’s essential to stay updated about fire danger in your area and follow evacuation orders issued by your local authorities.