Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Smokin' hot

What can I say. It's full-on summertime in north Florida, with 98 degree days, 60% humidity, and a heat index of 105. Walk outside and you feel like somebody slapped you in the face with a warm, wet washcloth. It's July. Things will cool down in just four more months.

People deal with the heat by staying inside in where it air conditioned or jumping into a cool spring or sinkhole. The cats lie as flat as they can on the porch, preferably in the shade under the porch swing. The chickens take dust baths and retire to their roosts earlier than usual. Even the bees have their ways of coping.

Late in the day - just before dusk - they gather on the front porches of their hives and furiously flap their little wings, trying to fan some air into the hives so they can keep the inside temp near 90 degrees (the honeybee comfort zone). Hard to do when it's five to ten degrees hotter than that outside and their hives are sitting out in the full sun.

Others line up on the outside of the hive and rythymically rock themselves back and forth in what looks like an odd kind of bee line dance. Entomolygists call it "scrubbing" or "washboarding" and nobody seems to know for sure why they do it, but you see more of it in the heat of the summer. If you can't stand the heat, get out of the hive and scrub.

I love to watch the forager bees out slurping up water wherever they can find it. These hard-working girls spend almost every day of their lives flying up to three miles out, scouting for sources of nectar and pollen and bringing it back to their sisters who must work inside the hive attending the queen or taking care of baby bees. I've worked out in the garden in the summer heat, and I don't know how they do it day after day. Staying hydrated must take up a lot of their time when it's this hot. One of their favorite spots to get a drink is on the soaker hoses in the garden. Stray drops can also be found dripping from the outside faucets, around the compost pile, or from any place where the dew collects overnight. Even though I put out a large planter saucer of fresh water for them every day, and there's a good sized lake just across the fence, their very most favorite hangout is - unfortunately - the community swimming pool. Something about the chemicals in the water appeal to them, the experts say. Or maybe they just want to be sociable. I sometimes spot them stopping for a pool-side drink when I'm hanging out there, and pretend that I don't see them or that they're not "my" bees. "Those bees?" I say, when a neighbor asks if they're from my hives. "I think those are wild bees."

And who knows? Maybe they are.

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