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honeybee water garden

Creating a Honeybee Water Garden


A clean supply of water is absolutely essential for the operation of a honeybee colony. Bees use water for cooling the hive by evaporation, and for thinning honey to be fed to larva. Bees collecting water is almost as common a sight as bees on flowers. A strong hive on a hot day can use over a quart of water a day, this occupies 800 workers each making up to 50 trips to the water hole a day.Beekeeping classes

Bees are experts at locating water. Unfortunately they can quickly become a nuisance to neighbors who may not enjoy the company of bees as much as you do. As beekeepers, it's our responsibility to provide water for our bees. A colony is more efficient if workers don't have to travel far for water. The basic requirements for a bee water source is that the bees have a good footing so that they don't fall in and drown, and that the water stays fresh. We have found that a small artificial pond is a beautiful and self sustaining solution.

Certain plants are particularly suitable and favored as a platform for water foraging bees. These plants float on the surface with their roots hanging down in water, so they adjust to any water level in the container. They provide a good secure foothold for the bees while they take up their load of water.


Bee drinking water on SalviniaSalvinia - This plant is a floating fern about 1"-4"long. It is particularly attractive to bees as a watering platform. A close look at the leaf surface reveals that it is covered with thousands of hairlike "loops", similar to velcro. A better foothold for bees is hard to imagine.



honeybee drinking water on AzollaAzolla - A beautiful small (1/2 inch) floating fern which reproduces rapidly to form a cover over the water surface, providing good access for the bees while at the same time reducing evaporation. When the weather turns cool, this plant will turn from green to red. An interesting fact is that a microscopic blue-green algae lives on the roots, which "fixes" nitrogen, much like nitrogen fixing bacteria on legume plants. Rice farmers in Asia use this plant as a natural fertilizer on their fields.

honey bee drinking water on frogbit

Frogbit - This floating plant has buoyant lily pad like leaves. It spreads by sending out runners and will form solid mats when crowded. Bees collect water from between the leaves.



Submerged plants - Mare's tail, Elodea, or other underwater plants are essential for a pond, because they add oxygen to the water. They are important for fish and snails which help keep the pond in balance.

Instructions for starting your pond

honeybee water garden tubA pond is a balanced, self sustaining ecosystem not just a hole with water in it. The beauty of a pond is that given the proper elements it finds it's own balance.The water is always fresh and clean. The essential elements besides water are plants, snails and fish, each one recycling the other's waste products. Ponds seem to magically attract all sorts of other creatures such as frogs, birds and dragonflies, all of which make a pond almost as interesting to observe as your beehives.


Just about any container will do for a pond, barrels, buckets, tubs, a hole with a plastic liner, or preformed plastic ponds. The ideal dimensions are probably not more than 2 feet deep so that some sun can reach to the bottom. Containers which are wider than they are deep work well.

Placement of your pond should be in the full sun or partial shade. A good rule of thumb is that bees prefer warm water when the weather is cold and cool water when it is hot. Don't place it under the main flight path of the apiary, you don't want the bees to defecate in it. It's also better not to place it under trees which will drop leaves into it.

Maintenance - No pumps, filters, chemicals, fertilizer, or even fish food are required for a balanced pond. Like lakes, ponds tend to accumulate nutrients, a process called "eutrophication". Plants will grow very well with all these nutrients and tend to overcrowd. Maintenance is mostly a matter removing excess growth and thus excess nutrients. Anytime sunlight, water and nutrients come together, algae will grow. By keeping most of the surface covered with other types of plants, algae will be starved for sunlight and be kept to a minimum.

The following items can be purchased at pet stores or pond supply stores. They will help balance the pond.

Goldfish are very hardy and work well in bee ponds. They eliminate any mosquitoes and their waste products feed the plants. Small feeder fish (Comets) are available from pet stores for about 10¢ each. Mosquito fish (Gumbosa) also grow well in ponds and are sometimes available free from vector control agencies.

Aquatic snails - Japanese trap door snails and ramshorn snails tirelessly traverse the pond, eating algae and recycling waste products into fertilizer for the plants. These two species of snails are especially good because they won't damage the live plants.

Submerged plants - Aquarium plants such as Elodea and Anarachis are also available at pet stores They are important for fish and snails which help keep the pond in balance.

Caution: Never introduce plants into natural waterways, ecosystems are easily upset. Water Hyacinth, for example chokes rivers and is considered the world's worst weed.

Sources of water plants

Lilipons water gardens

William Tricker, Inc.

Glenn Apiaries

Tom and Suki Glenn owners

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