If you are in a room of beekeepers and you want to see faces flush and arguments to ensue, ask about whether you should feed or not and the right way to do it! Beekeeping doesn’t have to be painful. Keep in mind these are my opinions, the information that I have found and digested (pun intended) and that you should always practice what you are comfortable practicing! It is your relationship with your bees; not mine. So, here are some basic questions answered.
Here’s what we are going to cover:
- What is Feeding?
- Considerations to Take Before Feeding
- When is it a ‘Good Idea’ to Feed?
- What are the Risks of Feeding?
- A.B.C’s Rules to Feeding
- Feeder Types
- Bee Candy Recipes
What is feeding?: Our definition of feeding is ‘ Supplementing Nature’.
Many beehives are fed foodstuffs that they didn’t have before to support their welfare and success. The act of feeding is a MANAGEMENT strategy and should be done with an goal set so you are able to observe outcomes and learn from the process. Feeding because someone told you to is fine, but set a goal anyways. It will help you judge your actions and potentially impact your future actions for timing, what you feed, and volume you feed!
Feeding is done by beekeepers, primarily, to ensure that the colony has enough food reserves to survive through a dearth. Feeding got its sour image amongst many hobbyists once honey became a bulk commodity and it became, for many beekeepers, general practice to harvest most/more honey then the hive can replace before the winter. Sugar on the market has always had a cheaper price per pound than honey, so it has been a beekeepers economic incentive to harvest the honey and artificially feed the bees. And guess what? The bees don’t even know the difference! Just kidding. Of course they do! So are you an evil do-er if you feed? Of course not, but there are some very important things to consider before you feed.
Considerations to take before feeding: In the image above, you can see what makes up honey. So much glucose and fructose. If you are going to feed your bees sugar, it is easy to see how the bees would embrace the free treat! The .5% of minerals and enzymes in the honey, I feel, plays an integral role in the health of the colony throughout the year. So, although the bees do and can survive on artificial feed, there will be a long term effect on the bees if this is all they are eating. So, it is important that you leave enough honey for the bees to overwinter with or without feeding. They work all year to gather the food that they know they are going to need to survive the winter. But, sometimes you don’t have honey! Or your bees are needing a little extra kick!
When is it a good idea to feed?: Many people will feed their bees when they come from a package overseas because the trip can cause the colony to be weak and lack the energy needed to forage for nectar and pollen sufficient to feed the bees and their young (or its a crap time of year for it).
- Feeding attributes to hive build up: meaning that there is food to go around, even if there isn’t a nectar or pollen source coming from the environment. This can be useful if you are hoping to support a longer year, encouraging earlier brood build up in your colony.
- Feeding during times of dearth: This means bees are fed in the early spring, during prolonged rainy periods, and in the fall.
- Feeding when your bees are sick: Many diseases can be pharma-treated through feeding (antibiotics mostly). Feeding can also help a weak colony kick a chalk brood outbreak, or help with purging low nosema infections in the spring. Feeding can also decrease your bees interactions with bees in nature, increasing your chances of isolating a sick hive, including drifting.
What are the risks of feeding?: WET BEES ARE DEAD BEES
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 that 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 fall/spring cold daytime and night-time temperatures. If the bees go in to winter or have a liquid feed inside the beehive, you run a risk of excess moisture build up throughout the winter as the evaporation process intermittently takes place throughout these months inside the hive without adequate external temperatures to encourage that moisture to go beyond the hive door. So, be sure not to liquid feed too late or too early in the season or in the winter months.
A.B.C’s Rules to Feeding
There are two principals that you MUST understand as a beekeeper: Climate vs weather.
- Climate is the average weather patterns in your area OVER TIME.
- Weather is the current and projected weather events in your area
Liquid feeding preparation is a mixture of the following things in A.B.C’s book
Spring Feeding: These rules encourage that you won’t be adding moisture to the hive that can freeze, stealing heat from your growing brood nest (needs to be at 34ºc) as well as potentially creating a frozen cloud above your warm cluster and then WET BEES once it melts and drips on them.
- Night time climatic averages are above 0ºc
- Weather is at a 14 day forecast averaging+12ºc
Fall Feeding: These rules encourage FULL feed ripening before Fall comes. I am looking at the weather reports often in the months of September and October to see if anything changes.
- Night time climatic averages are above 5ºc
- Weather is at a 14 day forecast averaging above +15ºc
Outside of these times I recommend feeding with Bee Candy
Liquid Feeder Types
The syrup should be placed as close to the cluster as possible to make it easy for the bees to feed, but the syrup should be unexposed or it will promote robbing. Several types of feeders could be used:
- Hive top feeder – sits directly over the brood chamber and is the same length and width as a super. Standard feeders can hold 9 litres – and it’s really important to have a screen over the access area and down both sides so bees have something to cling to as they feed so they don’t drown – but drowning losses are likely.
- Division-board or frame feeder – built to the same dimensions as a frame, it replaces an outer frame in the brood chamber and is holds 2-4 litres. This also should have wooden floats or screening inside to allow bees to feed without drowning.
- Friction-top pail – a 13.6 kg friction-top pail allows for large amounts of syrup to be available to the hive. The pail is filled, the lid replaced with several holes or a large hole with a piece of mesh, and inverted over the hole in the inner cover of the hive. The recessed lid of the pail allows space for the bees to come up and take the syrup. This method can leak – caution and checking are required (wet bees are dead bees), and dripping can promote robbing.
- Boardman feeder – a wooden block that holds an inverted canning jar and is inserted in the hive entrance. It will hold the amount of the canning jar – and the beekeeper can see how much syrup is left to a colony. There are a few downsides: direct sun may cause leaking, in colder weather, bees won’t leave the cluster to come to the hive entrance, they require a lot of refilling and they’re easy to rob.
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