Feeding Bees in Winter

Why do we need to feed bees at all? the beekeeper takes his honey crop in late August, early September.  Surely the bees have plenty of time to make up stores before clustering for the winter.  Perhaps they will and perhaps they won’t. If they don’t they die so feeding is an insurance for their survival. It does not matter if they have two or three times more than they need, you cannot predict conditions that may go against them.  Bad weather and low temperatures  can confine the foragers to the box. Hives need at least 15 kgs stores to carry them through to Spring. Beekeepers roughly gauge this by hefting, ie lifting the hive on one side to subjectively assess the weight.

Sugar syrup is normally fed in the Autumn after Harvest up to November either light of heavy recipe. Light syrup is one kilo granulated sugar to 1.25 litres of water and fed in early autumn. Heavy syrup is two kilos of sugar to 1.25 litres of water and fed mid to late autumn. As the temperature drops bees have more difficulty dealing with excess water hence the stronger syrup.  In November the bees will very often slow up in their consumption of syrup and therefore should be substituted with fondant. Fondant can be purchased from a bakery in small blocks which can be ideally placed on the crown board over the feeder hole.

Beekeepers keep an eye on consumption of fondant through the winter without disturbing the cluster. The critical time when starvation can suddenly hit is February and March. The colony is becoming more active and demands on stores can increase rapidly especially as the winter bees are dying off before the new brood has developed in sufficient numbers. Pollen patties are often used  at this time to provide a protein source as well.  There are many on the market and unfortunately many have a poor recipe with too much protein of the wrong amino acid constituents. Candipolline Gold would be one of the better products.

The main feeding containers are rapid feeders, though they require frequent filling , contact feeders bring the food closer to the cluster while Miller feeders allow a bigger reservoir of syrup.