Stinkin’ Dirt Never Tasted So Good

I noticed my drinking dirty water last May. They seem to love the minerals from the dark composted soil in my raised garden beds. They’ve been at it again for the past few days.

Honey bee drinking dirty water. (March 30th, 2012.)

Bee drinking dirty water. (March 30th, 2012.)

April 2019 Postscript: Many urban beekeeping areas have policies in place to ensure that beekeepers provide a nearby water source for their bees. Part of the reason for this is to reduce the likelihood of bees crowding around neighbourhood pools to get a drink. Judging from my experience and online conversations I’ve had with reputable beekeepers and researchers, it seems that honey bees love stinky water, including highly chlorinated water in swimming pools. I’ve used marbles in a water dish to provide water for my bees (with okay results). I’ve used a bucket full of water and peat moss (which sounds great but didn’t do much). I’ve use clay, or terracotta, plant pot saucers filled with water and rocks and bits of branches (which, for me, works better than the other two). But a leaky garden hose, especially if the water has chlorine, seems to work best. The hose can leak over rocks or concrete or organic soil, just about anything. Whatever produces the most stink and warmth seems to attract the most bees. Although I haven’t tried it yet, boardman or entrance feeders filled with water might be the easiest way to water the bees.

Dr. Rachael Bonoan, whose curiosity I admire, studied the mineral preferences of honey bees when drinking water, an area of study that stemmed from her observation of honey bees drinking dirty water. She concluded that honey bees likely drink dirty water as a way to supplement the minerals in the floral diet. She said, “Dirty water is like a vitamin supplement for bees.”

7 thoughts on “Stinkin’ Dirt Never Tasted So Good

  1. Go figure – we observe the same. Even fights among bees over the juicy stuff in that torn open compost bag from last year

  2. I just went out back again. The bees are practically swarming over the soil. We have a snow storm on the way. It’ll be their last chance to get outside for a few days.

  3. Yeah my bees are also all over our compost pile. Must be something they like in there. And they most certainly prefer dirty water to clean water. They are on the prowl for water these last few weeks. And they don’t seem to like the nice fresh clean water I put out for them. (its well water, not city, so that ain’t it)

    And Phillip, I was wondering what kind of camera and lens do you use? Your pictures are always so sharp and well focused. You must have a camera that is very good with macro work. Do ya mind sharing the make and lens?? thanks, djl

    • I have two cameras and I rarely use anything but automatic settings, including automatic focus. My big secret: Get in close, take as many photos as I can and hope one or two are in focus. Then I crop in like a son of a gun.

      The big camera: Canon PowerShot SX20 IS. I’m not a big fan of this camera because it has a fixed lens that can be manually focused only by turning a little dial on the back of the camera, which isn’t nearly as convenient or accurate as focusing in the traditional way by actually turning the lens. I bought the camera mainly because I was looking for a half-decent stills camera that could shoot 720p video as well. Better cameras that can shoot 1080p video with non-fixed lenses, like the lower end Canon Rebel cameras, are available today on sale for about the same price I paid for this one. Anyway, I don’t do anything fancy with it. Auto settings, auto focus, and hope for the best.

      The little camera that could: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-S700. It’s just a basic pocket-sized snapshot camera with horrible white balance, but it’s perfect for taking macro shots of the bees, better than the Canon SX20. (The Canon is physically too big to get in really close to the bees, and it’s doesn’t seem to focus on close objects as well.) I put the camera on auto focus, turn on the macro setting and then stick the camera right up next to the bees. Then I click like crazy. Most of the shots are usually out of focus, but the ones that are in focus usually look great.

      I’d love to get a GoPro HD camera for recording time-lapse. Most of my extra cash goes into beekeeping gear instead.

  4. I’m actually on here trying to find out if there is anything I should address professionally. I live near Yosemite and just tilled a garden with lots and lots of manure compost. The bees set in immediately! There are at least a hundred on the top of the soil just poking around. I’ve watched them for hours and they’re not going into anything, just hanging around scouting the soil for something!?! They’re mostly honey bees with a handful of capenters, bumbles, and the occasional bee fly. Is this usual, will they chill out, should I have an expert come out???? I want them there, but a 100 or more is a bit scary in a 9×6 foot garden. And just a note, there are no plants sprouted yet and they get a bit frantic when I go into plant.

    • I don’t know if that’s normal, Elisabeth. When the soil is moist, I often see large number of bees in it. But it doesn’t usually last long. A couple days here and there at the most.

      • Thanks for replying… I think I may need a expert as they have started to get a bit grumpy when I hang around for too long!

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