Feeding Bees

Feeding bees is both beneficial and essential at certain times of the year. In the Autumn after the honey crop has been taken it is necessary to supplement their food to see the bees through the winter and into the spring when nectar will be available again. If the bees dont get fed in the early spring the beekeeper risks slowing the colony growth or even causing starvation.

Its rare for hives to starve in the Winter but in the early Spring. Spring feeding results in more bees but feeding unnecessarily at this time may encourage the tendency to swarm in May. Check in early March by lifting the hive at the rear, if it feels light they may be in trouble and require feeding or a more detailed inspection.

Freshly hived swarms or installed bees require feeding to stimulate wax production and replenish the bees who have been living off what they could carry during the swarming process. If not fed they may decide to leave or take longer to establish themselves.

In June after the spring flowers and before the summer yields, there is in the UK what is referred to as the June gap. This period is when colonies can starve either because of the lack of nectar and/or because swarming has reduced the stores and the number of flying bees to critical levels.

Queen rearing and other manipulations require feeding.

Bees are fed a substitute for nectar which is made by mixing and dissolving white sugar in hot water. Make sure all the sugar is dissolved. For autumn feeding mix one kilo of sugar with half a litre of water (2lbs:1Pint). For spring and summer feeding mix one kilo of sugar with one litre of water (1lb:1 Pint).

The Winter feed requires a higher ratio of sugar to water. If winter feeds have too high a water content the bees might not be able to dehydrate it enough to prevent fermentation before winter sets in. Another way to feed in the winter months it to use baker’s fondant (the soft icing on cakes) as this won’t ferment and the bees can eat it straight away.

Never use unrefined or brown sugar as this causes dysentery in the bees. There is no evidence that refined beet sugar is any better or worse than refined cane sugar.

Sugar syrup has no smell to the bees, so add a little honey to make it more attractive and give it an aroma. A honey and water mixture can also be used as feed but be careful the honey you use is from a known and trusted source or you could infect your bees with foul brood or nosema spoors.

Liquid feed is given to the bees in containers placed above the brood box from which the bees can help themselves. Access to the syrup is restricted to prevent the bees from falling in and drowning. Never put an open container of syrup in a hive or you will lose hundreds of bees. Most beekeepers use purpose made containers made of plastic and holding approximately one litre (2Pints) of syrup.

Ensure the bees cant enter the hive under the roof or you will encourage robbing. The feeders should be put on in the evening when the bees have stopped flying. Doing this allows the initial excitement of the bees to subside over night and reduces the risk of robbing.

Reduce the entrance size to allow the bees an advantage when fending off robbers. Also, be careful not to spill syrup around the outside of the hive. Remember, pure sugar syrup has no smell and it is possible that bees will ignore thef food just above their heads. To avoid this problem either dribble a little syrup into the brood to provide a trail to the feed or add honey or do both!

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