Tag Archives: feeding bees in winter

Winter Emergency Feeding

Just In Case…

It’s over 50°F again today and the honeybees came out of their hives even though it’s cloudy.  I observed them carrying out their dead and picked up a few for a closer inspection.  I found that dead bees from hive #2 have their tongues sticking out, a sign of starvation.  So I decided to open the hives for emergency feeding.

Dead bees from hive #2 with their tongues stuck out. Dead bees from hive#1 have no sign of this.

Even with heavy feeding last September, hive #2 still shows signs of depleted food storage.  I think either they were robbed then or new bees emerged during a few very warm days early this month to reduce the supply further.  As I mentioned in the previous post, hive#2 seemed to have more bees than hive #1 now.

I took my cue from them, even though it’s a cloudy day and the temperature is slightly over 50°F they still came out, so it’s ok to open the hives.  What I saw in both hives is very encouraging.

As soon as I opened the inner cover on hive #1 the bees come up to greet me. I looked inside, found plenty of capped honey combs. I decided to feed them anyway so I don’t have to open them again until spring.
There are many bees in hive #2 but they are down below in the middle super. There are a couple of empty frames in the top super. They crawled up to look at me.

After I saw inside hive #2, it confirmed my belief that I made the right decision in an emergency feeding today.  I don’t know when the next warm day will be and I don’t want to find too many starved bees by then.  Mid-winter emergency feeding can be done either with fondant (mixed sugar with high-fructose corn syrup), or granulated white sugar.  I tried to make fondant once but it didn’t come out well.  I didn’t want to buy the fondant either since most corn syrups are made from non-organic, GMO corn and there is no guarantee that the company I buy from uses quality ingredients.  So, I use granulated sugar.  It’s easy too.

  • I put a shim on top of the super to provide a little room between the sugar and the inner cover when re-placed on top.
  • Put a sheet of paper on top of the frames, either make a little cut in the middle or leave a gap.  I used plain natural packing paper, newspaper is fine too.
  • Pour white granulated sugar on top of the paper.  Level it down to a little bit lower than the shim height.  I put 3 pounds in each hive.
For hive #1, I cut a hole in the middle of the paper and poured sugar on it
For hive #2, I left a larger gap between the papers so they have more feeding space. This hive has less food left over than hive #1
More bees from hive#2 came up to inspect the sugar as soon as I poured it in
Put the inner cover back on top of the shim then put the top back on

I find that winter emergency feeding this way is fast and painless.  The moisture in the hive will rise up and condense which will help soften the sugar.  The bees will slowly feed on it.  They will chew the paper, which will be wet with moisture making it easy to chew off, and carry out of the hive.

I feel better now after feeding them.  I also removed dead bees off the screen bottom of hive #1.  I saw that bees from this hive had been using only the top entrance lately.  I checked the bottom entrance and found it blocked with dead bees, too many for the bees to carry out.  Once I cleaned out the dead, they started using the bottom entrance again.

Bees started coming in and out of the bottom entrance of hive #1 again

Hive #3 is confirmed dead.  There are plenty of dead bees and plenty of food left in the hive.  I think they froze to death when the temperature dropped to -5°F earlier in the season.  They were the smallest of the 3 hives.

Seesaw temperatures make it difficult for both bees and their keepers to maintain the health of the hives.  The bees wasted energy coming out in warm-mid winter weather with nothing to take back to the hive to replenish their stores.  Then they starve if not closely monitored.  In my earlier days of beekeeping, one of my hives died of starvation.  It wasn’t a good feeling to see them that way so I do my best not to repeat it again.






Feeding Bees in Winter

Mission Accomplished

It’s mid February and mounds of snow are piled up all over the place, the residue of blizzard ‘Nemo’.  I have no idea how the bees are doing inside the hive at this point.  After each snowstorm I make sure that snow or other debris doesn’t block the hive’s entrances, both upper and lower.  Aside from checking the entrances I also look for:

  • Dead bees.  Dead bees in front of the hive or on the snow nearby indicate that there are still bees, alive and well, in the hive.  I’ve seen a few of them after each snowfall. I’ve never been so happy to see dead bees until this winter. One day I even saw an undertaker bee taking a body out.
  • Varroa mites (Varroosis) Though I don’t treat my bees for Varroa mites, I check for it weekly  just to keep a record.  A corrugated foam sheet is inserted under the screen bottom board to make it easier to do the count.  Not many mites so far, actually way below the maximum allowed.  According to Beekeeper’s Handbook by Diana Sammataro & Alphonse Avitabile, more than 50 mites a day is considered high (amount of mites divided by amount of days the sheet was under the board)
  • Wax residue.  Tiny wax particles on the corrugated foam sheets under the bottom board is a sign that new cells were uncapped either for food or a new generation and there were some pale brown wax bits every time I checked.

That’s all I know from observation outside the hive.  It seems fine, but I don’t know if they will have enough food to last until they can forage again.

One blogger, mylatinnotebook, has recommended that I feed bees fondant.  Aside from leaving them a lot of honey, I also fed them a few gallons of sugar syrup before I closed the hive in autumn.  But, as a newbie, I am willing to follow all recommendations I get as long as it doesn’t involve feeding them chemicals. 

I made four packs of fondant over a week ago but the weather has been too cold to open the hive and feed the bees until today.  The hive shouldn’t be opened for feeding if the temperature is below 40°F, or with rain or high wind.  Today is 42°F, sunny with a little bit of wind so I cracked open the roof to peek in.

I took one pack of fondant out of the freezer and let it warm up a little bit.  It wouldn’t stay solid.  It softened to a thick syrup first and then started to stiffen up again.  I couldn’t put it directly on the frames so I put it on the winter cover and fold the wax paper under to make a border.  I checked the foam sheet 20 minutes later and saw some fondant on the sheet so I opened the hive again and put a plastic lid as a ring around the feeding hole to prevent more of it running out through the frames.

Opening the hive the second time, I found the bees were eating the dried fondant that dripped on the frame and some of them came up to eat on the inner cover.  There were also uncapped honey frames present.  I insulated the hive enough and the daytime temperature in the next couple of days will be around 40°F they should be able to come up to the inner cover.

Bees coming up to eat fondant dripping from the inner cover
Bees coming up to eat fondant dripping from the inner cover

They looked happy (as much as you can tell from a bee) and liked the fondant even though it may not have been up to ‘bee’ standards.  I’ll have to practice making it, maybe with a different recipe.

There is still a month or so of winter left here but the bees have survived through hurricane ‘Sandy’, blizzard ‘Nemo’, and single digit temperatures with wind factors below 0°F, so they most likely will pull through this winter.

Let’s see how they are when I feed them next time.

More bees coming up.  I know I'm imagining it, but it still looks like they're smiling.
More bees coming up. I know I’m imagining it, but it still looks like they’re smiling.