Tag Archives: feeding bees

Very Warm Autumn

Feeding Honey Bees In Mid-December

Sunday was a record breaker for high temperatures in New York.  With 67º F in Central Park, it breaks a high temperature record set back in 1923.   Where we live the temperature was only slightly over 60º F and it was warm enough for the honeybees to come out of their hives, cleaning themselves and looking for food.  Daytime temperatures will stay above 50º F for the next couple of days and they will come to forage though there are hardly any flowers left for them this late in the season.

We have insulated all hives for the winter so opening the top to feed them is not an option.  We would have to remove the tape, foam, and inner insulation in order to put the feeder in.  A front feeder is not an option either because we would have to crack open the entrance to slide it in.  Anything we open forces the bees to spend more energy in sealing them again with propolis.  So I put the feeder out in the open and let them take whatever they can back to their hives.

Insulated with 2 inches of foam board and tape all around
Insulated with 2 inches of foam board and tape all around
The smallest hive even sealed off the top entrance with propolis and left only a little, round hole just big enough for one bee to go in and out at a time
The smallest hive even sealed off the top entrance with propolis and left only a little, round hole just big enough for one bee to go in and out at a time
This girl was trying to make a perfectly round hole and I didn't want her work even harder by opening the top
This girl was trying to make a perfectly round hole and I didn’t want her work even harder by opening the top

The advantage of feeding them this way, aside from not having to open the hives, is that they tend to clean themselves carefully afterward.  The surface they are walking on is coated with sugar syrup and dry sugar particles that stick to their legs, body and wings. After taking some sugar syrup, they will land on any dry surface near by, myself included, and clean themselves before flying off to their hives.  It’s not only to get sugar off their body, also get mites, if any, off themselves as well.

Bombarding a sugar syrup tray
Bombarding a sugar syrup tray
Some line up neatly along the side
Some line up neatly along the side

The disadvantage of this ‘communal’ feeding is that if there is a disease around it would easily spread from hive to hive.  As far as I know, there is no one keeping bees within a few miles but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

A clean bee takes sugar syrup from a bee with legs and wings smeared with syrup
A clean bee takes sugar syrup from a bee with legs and wings smeared with syrup
Another pair doing the same routine, then the clean bee flies off leaving the other bee to clean herself
Another pair doing the same routine, then the clean bee flies off leaving the other bee to clean herself

I took the opportunity to do a mite count.  There were hardly any mites on the corrugated sheet with printed grid that I inserted under the screen bottom board.  I keep the sheet on from late autumn to spring, not just for mite counting, but to keep other insects from getting in under the hive and to help keep warm air in.  I think they can use all the help they can get to keep them going through the deep freeze of winter.

Finished checking for mites, cleaned the corrugated sheet and smeared olive oil on it before inserting it back under each hive.   Cleaned birdbaths, added clean water, not just for the birds but the bees drink it too especially when the syrup turns to tiny sugar particles.

Honeybee drinking water perched on a stone in a birdbath. I leave a stone in each bird bath to serve as a landing
Honeybee drinking water perched on a stone in a birdbath. I leave a stone in each bird bath to serve as a landing

Thus ends my record breaking mid-December day chores.  After all, the bees are my family and family always looks after one another.

Honeybees in Autumn

Experimental Feeding

Our honeybees are resting in the comfort of their hives now.  The recent weather is good for staying inside since it either rains or is very cold and windy.  We fed them early on using the inner hive feeder but we removed the feeders before we sealed off the hives.  There were some warm days in between which we decided to experiment with a new way of feeding. We used a bird water feeder where I had sanded the tray to provide some traction for bees.

The idea came from seeing honeybees looking for the last nectar and pollen from flowers left in the garden during days that were warm enough for them to come out.  There wasn’t much left but they found the inner feeders I left to dry outside and had gone for the residual honey in them.  I filled the adapted feeder and hung it up by the patio away from all the hives.  I knew I was taking a risk with my bees for contracting diseases from this communal feeding method but the closest apiary is around seven miles from us.  No one else keeps bees around here.  All our hives are disease free so far.  So I think the risk was minimal.  The bees seemed to enjoy it.

A bird water feeder, filled with sugar syrup, with the sanded tray to provide traction
A bird water feeder, filled with sugar syrup, with the sanded tray to provide traction
Honeybees lined up at the feeder.
Honeybees lined up at the feeder.

I have learned from this experiment that:

  • I don’t have to open the hive or use the front feeder for extra feeding in late autumn when I have already closed the hives.  I just hang a feeder filled with sugar syrup up and watch them take their food at will.  This has also minimized robbing since the feeder was far away from the hives.
  • The bees also obsessively clean themselves which helps in reducing mites, if any.  From my observation, after they have loaded up with syrup, they fly to an area close by and clean the dry syrup (fine sugar particles) off their legs and bodies before flying off to the hives.
  • There were some wasps at the feeder as well.  I got rid some of them one at a time using a plant clipper.

I will not know if this feeding has helped or hurt them until next spring.  I will try again in spring when I see them come out looking for the early spring flowers before I can open the hives and do spring feeding.

From this feeding experiment, I have also seen some darker colored honeybees.  My original bees are Italian bees that are light in color.  Some of the later generation developed slightly dark color but not this dark.  I have no idea what they were but they were friendly enough to crawl on my hand and clean themselves like the other bees.  I suspect that they were Carniolan bees since the breed is as common as the Italian whereas the German and Russian are a little less common.  But, they could also be some feral, mixed breed honeybees from the woodland nearby.  I can use all the help out there to identify them and I thank you in advance.

The dark colored unidentify bee on the left
The dark-colored unidentified bee on the left
One of the unidentify bee upclose
One of the unidentified bees up close

Talking about wintering the honeybees, one fellow blogger and a seasoned beekeeper, Emily Scott, has posted an interesting question regarding summer and winter bees on her latest blog Burdens of Bees.  Between a winter bee that has a longer lifespan with ready to eat food storage and doesn’t have much to do but coop up in a hive and a summer bee with a shorter lifespan that works itself to death but in the interim is able to enjoy the warmth of the sun and explore the world…. which one would you rather be?

 

Two Months of Beekeeping

What I have learned so far

As a novice beekeeper or a novice of any trade, what you learn by making mistakes always seems to stick well in your brain.  I’m still brooding over losing half of my hive to swarming.  Looking back on the last two months here’s what I see:

  • I came home one day to find them “bearding” outside the hive.  I panicked, thought they were swarming.  Now I know the difference between the two.  Bearding: a considerable amount of bees just calmly gathered outside, on the hive, in a hot day like you would sit on the patio to get a breeze.  Swarming: a lot of bees flying all over the place like in a horror movie before settling someplace away from the hive.   I promptly removed the corrugated sheet blocking off the bottom, just left the screen bottom board intact for better air flow.  It worked.
  • Honeybees need water nearby.  We have plenty of birdbaths spread around the garden and I make sure they’re filled to the brim as well as cleaning them more often than once a week.  It’s an interesting sight to see them lined up around the rim, drinking water.

    Taking a sip from one of the birdbaths
  • Feeding according to your hive, not to a specific rule.  I fed them twice a day, that was 2 quarts a day.  Then reduced it down to once a day when I saw the third super starting to fill up.   They’re busy foraging now, like….bees .  I may have over-fed them while needing to find a balance to it.

    Gathering around the feeder.
  • Anything can happen.  A week before they swarmed, they strung my face while I was feeding them…for the first time since having them.  My face looked like a Klingon from StarTrek for a couple of days.  This incident lead me to find out why bees sting since I don’t believe I did anything to provoke them.  Bad weather maybe, skunk or raccoon visits the previous night perhaps, handling too rough, or they have no queen and rearing a new one…all these could make them overly defensive.  Note to self: wear the vail even when you’re just feeding them..
  • Don’t make any assumptions. Getting strung in the face lead me to make an assumption when I saw queen cells during the inspection the next day.  I thought they were emergency queen cells.  I thought I must have flattened her by accident or she’s not well and the bees are annoyed at me for rousting them while they’re trying to rear a new queen.  Wrong.
  • First year honeybees DO swarm.  If the conditions are right, warm winter, early summer and having a lot of surplus food, they will proliferate.  Mine, within two months of settling in a new hive.
  • Each hive is unique to itself.  Don’t base your decisions on generalizations about what bees are supposed to do.  I could have prevented the swarming if I hadn’t been so concerned about feeding them.  If I hadn’t believed that a young hive doesn’t swarm.   I overlooked many indications that the bees were just about to swarm.

Over all, half a hive is a small price to pay for the experience.  Put in other words, is the hive half empty or half full?  Rhetorical but relevant philosophically.  In any event I still have a lot to learn.  My consolation is that there is a colony of independent honeybees somewhere in the watershed area telling each other that “See, we don’t have to smell that smoke any more.  Just fresh air.”