During a cyclone strong winds can topple bee hives over and flash flooding that is also likely to occur, can wash bees away. Cyclones also have an impact on the available food resources for bees (flowering trees).
Being prepared and knowing what to do following a storm can help reduce the impact of cyclones for beekeepers and their bees.
The Fiji experience suggests the main difference between losing only 10 – 20% of bee colonies and losing 70% or more is if the hives were strapped down tightly, including the hive bottom, boxes, and lid with the frames inside.
The hives will topple over, but it can be lifted upright shortly after the cyclone when it is safe to do so and placed back on its stand.
Without a rope secured around the hive, the frames are likely to be thrown out of the boxes and the bees lost.
A stable hive stand and not having hives too far off the ground will also help. There are more elaborate and better ways to protect hives, but a rope (or two) wound firm around the hive is a cheap solution that has worked well during the past cyclones.
1. Safety first.
This is obvious, but remember that your life is more important than your bees. Never put yourself or others at risk for your hives.
2. Start early.
As with home preparation, it is better to prepare your apiary and beekeeping response sooner rather than rushing or panicking later.
3. Store some sugar.
After the storm, your bees’ food supply may have been destroyed. You will want to be able to supply them with something to eat right away. Feed your bees with dry sugar and keep records of what flowers first after weather events.
4. Repair beekeeping equipment.
Seal any cracks or holes in old bee boxes to reduce exposure to wind and rain.
5. Move bees where appropriate.
If bees are located in a high wind area or areas which may flood, move bees into a shed or other protected and safer areas for 48hrs while the storm passes. Close entrance to the hives in the evening. Do not put bees in the house or in sheds near houses!
6. Mark hive location.
If you want to return the hives to where they were before the cyclone, especially if you have a lot of hives to manage, take note of the position/location of each hive and write it down for future reference.
7. Reduce the bee entrance as small as you can.
If it is not possible to move the bees, fully closing the entrance helps prevent wind and water from getting into the hive. On the other hand, depending on the season, closing off the entrance may create unsafe high temperature conditions inside or prevent an escape by the bees in the event one is needed. This is why it is an advantage to reduce the size of the entrance as much as possible without closing it up entirely. In the event of rising water or the hive is blown into water, this entrance can be your bees last chance of an escape route. Additionally, after the cyclone, if you are not able to get to your hives immediately, this same entrance allows the bees to exit the hives.
8. Move bees away from trees, power lines, and other hazards.
You do not want your hives crushed by falling trees or electrocuted by a live wire during a storm.
9. Place hives on high ground.
One major threat to hives during a cyclone is flooding. Keep bees off the ground, but note that placing bees higher means they are potentially more exposed to more wind.
10. Close up screen bottom boards.
A broken window in a home during a cyclone can result in dangerous wind tunnels, and similarly, high winds during a cyclone are dangerous for bees and can create a high-pressure environment inside a hive. Many beekeepers make wind barriers with cardboard in order to help prevent a potential wind tunnel.
11. Tilt the hives.
Tilting hives forward is important, where possible. This will help water exit the hive if it got in.
12. Secure hives together and/or to a heavy object and strap it down.
You will need ratchet straps or rope and ground anchors (e.g. fence post/star pickets) to secure your hive(s). Securing the hives with ratchet straps or rope will help to keep it in one place and one piece. Consider securing the hives both horizontally and vertically, and securing them all together if you have multiple hives.
13. Put away all apiary equipment.
Your apiary equipment should be stored away safely. You do not want your tools to become dangerous flying projectiles or to fly away and never be seen again!
Caring For Bees After The Storm
14. Be prompt to clean up dead hives.
Hundreds of dead bees will stink after a few days. Do not hesitate to remove them. If bees have American Foulbrood Disease (AFB) this is a major issue that may impact on your entire apiary.
15. Do not bother your bees too much.
Put them back together, but leave bees to settle for a week or so. Bees will likely be cranky, hungry, and defensive after a storm.