Early spring and late fall are the most important times to watch for the need to feed. Bees are nearing starvation when no capped honey is in the hives. Bees should have 50 to 60 pounds of stores going into winter. If properly wintered, enough should be left to build the colony to full strength in time for the main nectar flow. |
The honey crop will be small if bees are still building colony strength during the main nectar flow. This is due to the small workforce and the fact that they must spend most of their time gathering food just to maintain the brood. It takes one cell of honey and one of pollen to rear one bee, and the adults must eat too. Food should be provided if there is an imbalance between brood needs and available food.
There might be a tendency to overfeed bees too early in the spring or too late in the winter in an attempt to prepare them for nectar flow. Bees store syrup as if it were honey and may be stimulated to swarm even if there is not a natural source of nectar. To avoid this, feed bees only the amount they need when they need it. You will learn by experience to judge the condition of stores by hefting the hive. Assume a full deep frame weighs six pounds and full shallow frame weighs three pounds. Never allow stores to drop below 12 to 18 pounds.
The best bee food is ripe honey. Beekeepers often set aside dark, strong flavored, or other low-value honey to feed bees during emergencies. The honey is left in the frames and used to replace empty frames as needed. If you do not have honey reserves, make a syrup from equal volumes of pure cane sugar and water. Bring the water to a boil and remove from the heat. Stir in the sugar until it dissolves.
You can spread dry sugar on the inner cover during warm weather when the bees are flying freely. Make sure water is available when feeding dry sugar. Sugar candy can be used for emergency winter feeding and is made as follows. Add 12 pounds of sugar to a quart of boiling water. Stir well and let simmer for 15 minutes. Add a little salt and a teaspoon of cream of tartar. Let it partially cool, then stir vigorously and pour into dishes. After the candy is set, a dish may be put upside down over the frames holding the cluster.
Honey gathered in late fall might not be ripe and can cause problems for the bees. Wintering bees become loaded with indigestible material from this honey when they cannot get out of the hive to void themselves in flight. They become restless and die in the hive. Feeding 10 pounds of syrup to the colony before brood rearing stops in the fall can help.
No special equipment is needed to feed dry sugar, but put syrup in containers large enough to hold a good amount but not enough for the bees to drown. There are many types of syrup feeders. Some are designed to be placed in the hive; others are for use outside. Outside feeders might be inaccessible to bees during bad weather and can encourage robbing by attracting bees from other hives.
One of the best feeders is a five- or 10-pound friction top pail with about a dozen small nail holes punched near the center of the lid. A large screw top jar may be used as well. Place the feeder lid-down over the hole in the inner cover on the hive body. Place a super around the feeder and cover with the top lid.
Some beekeepers prefer to use a division board feeder. The size and shape of a deep frame, it is supported in the hive by top projections like a regular frame. The feeder sides are made of metal, plywood, or a similar material. It can be made watertight by coating the inside with melted paraffin. The top floats on the surface of the syrup allowing the bees to enter and feed without drowning. The feeder is hung at one side in the hive and may be left there permanently. If no feeder is available, fill an empty comb with syrup and hang it in the hive.
An adequate supply of pollen is essential for early spring brood rearing. At this time, natural pollen is scarce and poor weather can prevent pollen collection. This is the critical period for colony buildup so you might need to feed a pollen substitute. Make this by mixing one part brewer's yeast, two parts expeller-processed soybean flour, and three parts sugar syrup. Mix these to a paste-like consistency and shape into cakes to be placed over the brood area of the colony. Start with a small cake in late winter, and use larger portions as the brood area increases. Continue to feed freshly prepared pollen substitute until natural pollen becomes available. A pollen substitute may be purchased from supply dealers and is usually better than a homemade mixture.
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