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Feeding Your Bees

Doing your best to ensure that you have a healthy and viable bee colony starts with nutrition. Without enough food (carbohydrates, fats, minerals, and vitamins) a colony of bees will lose vigour. Obviously, honey and pollen that the bees gather for themselves is the best product that they can access, but what happens when that’s not enough? Some beekeeping seasons do not go as planned, colonies swarm, queens fail, droughts occur. It is up to you to react and deal with these events to put a heavy hive in to winter.

 

Over harvesting is an event that does take place in conventional management strategies. In some apiaries beekeepers take over 90% of the yield and depend on high-fructose corn syrup to supplement going in to winter. This fading trend in the industry has soured hobby beekeepers on the benefits of feeding your honey bees when they are in need.

Here are a few rules of feeding your honey bees:

  • Never feed your honey bees when they are in honey production. This will contaminate your harvested product.
  • Liquid feed when night-time temperatures are above 5 degrees Celsius. Colder than this can cause the bees to struggle disposing of the excess moisture and negatively affect their ability to heat the beehive.
  • Avoid open feeding. This will not aid a weaker hive in building stores. Strong hives will take the greatest advantage.
  • Dry feeding is always a safe bet, but will not be stored in the cells of the hive, and therefore be accessible to the cluster all winter long. Placing above or nearest the cluster is essential.

Candy and Dry Feed

 

Dry feed is an effective method of getting food stores to bees during the depths of winter and on the shoulder season, when weather can be variable and your colony is weakened from decrease or brood rearing. Think of candy or dry feed as hard tack. It is calorie rich, but nutrient deficient.

 

There are a lot of products on the market that are focused on adding nutrient content to home made feed products. Just google “dry feed supplement honeybees” and dozens of products touting miracle outcomes. It’s up to you to research, try, and observe how your bees handle it. In the end, artificial feed is just that, artificial.

 

Here are some recipes you can use.

Honey Candy

  • A double boiler
  • Spatula
  • 1/2c honey from your own beehives
  • 6-8c powdered sugar

Directions

Place the 1/2c honey in to the double boiler on the stove. Add sugar 1/2c at a time until the sugar dissolves. *Use a sturdy spatula to stir the mixture. As time passes, you will find it will take longer and longer for the sugar to dissolve. Press the sugar into the mixture until allowing the head from the double boiler does not dissolve the sugar. Take the ball of candy from the double boiler and roll out between wax paper sheets. For Langstroth hives you can cut candy into pucks of 2″ x 6″ sheets to place between the inner cover and the top bars closest to the cluster. For a TBH, I recommend forming the candy in to a sheet. When in your hive, peel back the one side of the candy and stick the sheet on to the inner wall closest to the entrance. You can choose to keep the wax paper on, score it for easier bee access, or remove it. The bees can chew through the paper if they want it.

Sugar Candy

  • 10 lbs of white sugar
  • 5 cups of water
  • 1 tsp of vinegar
  • Disposable aluminum pie moulds
  • Wax paper

Directions

Put the water and half of the sugar in a pot on the stove. Slowly bring to a simmer and let boil for 15 minutes, adding sugar slowly as it dissolves and starts to turn into a ball (242 degrees). Do not stop stirring. Turn the heat down and let cool to 190 degrees and add vinegar. This will stabilize the sugar and water, keeping it from forming large crystals, keeping a fine texture. Pour it into wax paper lined pie moulds less than 1/4″ thick so they are easy to place between inner cover and top bars. Easily lift the candy from the mould by pulling on the overhanging wax paper.

Scheduling Your Feeding

 

The time of year is important when you are artificially feeding honeybees. Whether the product being stored in the comb comes from nectar or sugar, the form of the product must end off at 14%-21% moisture. This means that the excess moisture must be lost through evaporation before the product is considered cured or ripened. At which case the moisture content is also low enough to keep it from fermenting in the comb. For the proper ripening to occur, there needs to be an ambient temperature high enough to promote healthy evaporation as well as a long enough break in time from the feeding, capping, and cold fall daytime and night-time temperatures.

As mentioned before in the previous topics of winterization, moisture can be a very important challenge for the bees throughout the winter. If the bees go in to winter with combs full of nectar with a moisture content over that of 21%, you run a risk of excess moisture build up throughout the winter. Evaporation intermittently takes place throughout the winter months inside the hive without adequate external temperatures to encourage that moisture to go beyond the hive door. So, be sure not to feed too late in to the fall season or in the winter months. Your aim should be warmer than an average of 5°C for liquid feeding your bees. Any other time you should dry feed.

Pollen Stores

 

Pollen is an important part of honey bee health. Pollen is not only consumed by the young developing bees in their larval stages as bee bread, but a key component of the nurse bee diet (young adult bees). Pollen gives nurse bees the essential amino acids and minerals necessary to boost royal jelly production. When pollen stores are low within a colony, it can negatively affect the development of queens and brood as nurse bees will produce deficient excretions in their feeding schedules. Therefore, pollen is key in brood development throughout the early spring and fall brood rearing seasons.

Fall brood rearing decreases in pollen consumption as the decreased pollen consumption by the larvae stimulates the development of enlarged fat bodies called vitellogenin. The amount of vitellogenin metabolized within the adult  bees during the winter leads to a slowing in the ageing process, and causes the now winter (duitinus) bees to remain in the nurse bee caste, and extends their lives from 8 weeks to 8 months.

 

If your beehive is low in pollen stores in the fall, this will not impact your winter bee production, but rather will decrease the viability and health of the summer bee production (which requires more pollen/protein feed than winter bees) that begins in the early spring. Fall stored pollen is used in the spring, not during the winter months by the colony.

 

Therefore, it is not uncommon to feed honey bees pollen substitutes and supplements when the colony has not provided for itself. Pollen powders, liquids and patties are commonly fed in large 1/4 – 1/2 b volumes at a time in the Spring seasons to aid in hive growth and development. There are numerous products on the market.

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