Warre Update

After more seemingly unrelenting weather, and very few bees appearing to be bringing in any pollen, I decided to feed on Wednesday using 500 ml of a 1:1 syrup solution in a bowl placed in the bottom of the hive.  The bees demolished this in 24 hours so they must have been really hungry.  I have fed them again this evening as well, but don’t want this to become too much of a habit.  I have also noticed that they have been busy building comb – about 4 individual, nice parallel combs. Surely that must mean that things are on the up??

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12 Responses to Warre Update

  1. ruth talbot says:

    So, how do you know when to feed bees? I’ve heard people talk of ‘the June gap’ which I assume means a period when there’s not much nectar flowing. And assume that when the weather is wet and cold as it has been recently, that ‘gap’ is even greater? is there something you notice about the bees or do you just assume that they are likely to be hungry because of the conditions?

    • I suppose the honest answer is – I don’t!! I have just been listening to what others have been saying on forums and asking questions here. Also, watching the bees. There has been a lot of coming and going but with very little pollen seeming to come in. Just doesn’t seem to be much available at the moment. I also think the fact that they woofed the forst lot I put in shows just how desperate they were.

  2. hazelmb says:

    I too find the question of ‘to feed or not to feed’ a vexing one. The swarm in my warre have filled the first box (fantastic to see the combs and bustling workers through the observation window) but seemed to have slowed down now and I’m not sure how far into the second box they have got (no window in this one). After a couple of days of rain I decide I’ll feed them and then the next day has a break in the clouds so I defer and presume they’ll manage on their own. Then back to rain again. And so it goes on. Can it ever be harmful or unwise to feed them – is one building in a dependency attitude? Hazel

  3. alitee says:

    I can’t understand your quandary. If your bees have already filled one box and are on their second, why do you feel the need to feed them at all? Are they not working hard enough for you? Should they not be using more effort and energy into putting something into the comb they have built or do you measure success by counting how much comb there is, not what is in it? I believe, and this is my opinion (obviously) that there is no need to feed bees, they can do this all by themselves or they never would have survived for the tens of million years that they have. And, they have NEVER fed on refined white cane sugar. That is a conventional bee keeping gimmick for when the greedy bee keeper has robbed the colony of its highly nutritional honey and given fondant (calories but not a jot else) to keep them going until they can build up honey stores again. Bearing in mind that if you give bees unrefined sugar (sugar in a slightly more natural state) it gives them the raging squits, it seems evident that sugar is not meant for bees; at least not in the form that we humans would have it. Bees, being very clever, can make their own ‘sugar’ i.e. honey. Why not let them do just that at their own pace?

    • I totally agree that in ideal circumstances it is best not to feed bees, especially white sugar, and that they have managed for millions of years without our help. However, we do not live in ideal times. Weather systems are all up the spout, the seasons seem to be going haywire and we seem to take pleasure in cultivating nectar’less crops and flowering plants as well as cutting down wild habitats. This is something that bees have not had to cope with through their entire evolution. I don’t say this as an apologist for the commercial beekeepers who want to maximise yields and strip mine all the honey from the hive. Faced with the stark choice of a colony potentially starving to death and one being given a helping hand to get through some difficult times what do we do? I understand the arguement that weaker colonies should just be allowed to die out, but is this really the best way forward? Perhaps there is a middle way where we feed to support a struggling colony and we feed them something closer to their natural diet than just raw sugar e.g. inverting it and possibly adding things like nettle or chamomile to the syrup to add trace elements.

      It certainly is an emotive subject that obviously generates strong feelings on both sides.

  4. simplebees says:

    I have fed swarms this season. Not initially, but after a week or so when the weather has turned bad, nothing is coming in, and it is obvious that the little colony has shut down its activity to save energy. I feed just enough to tide the colony over but not sufficient to stimulate it and get it thinking that all is milk and honey. I don’t want to take the colony too far out of synch with the weather which, in southern England, has always been a changeable beast. I feed about 1/3 to 1/2 a litre of 1:1 syrup made with white sugar and nettle tea with a touch (the tip of a teaspoon) of vitamin C. The latter is the only vitamin present in any quantity in nectar and also makes the syrup slightly acid, reflecting the acidity of nectar. I sometimes add a sprig of crushed lavender as bees do not seem to be able to smell pure sugar. I will repeat the feed once or twice (with a break in between) over the period of poor weather but stop when I see the bees foraging – which this summer that has been an intermittent activity. I never give large amounts of continuous feed at this time of year – it gives the wrong signals.

    Refined sugar, by the way, is refined plant sap and is thus very similar to nectar, albeit without the micro-nutrients (hence the nettle tea).

    West Oxfordshire

  5. Gareth, so what to do with a new swarm with little supplies who are actively building comb and foraging but it seems as if there is little pollen coming in. When it is nice like today and tomorrow I wouldn’t think of feeding. However, as the weather is going to turn cold and wet again for the end of the week and weekend any suggestions would be welcome.

  6. simplebees says:


    …it seems as if there is little pollen coming in

    It depends on what ‘little’ means. ‘Little’ may be enough for the nurse bees given the amount of brood that is being currently being reared. It could alternatively mean that the colony is not queenright and hence is not seeking large amounts of pollen. It could even be that there is a bit of a dearth of pollen in your area just now, although this does seem unlikely. And the last question is, of course, what, if anything, can be done to assist.

    Bees allocate their foraging resources according to need, available workforce and supply. Feeding syrup is often advocated as a means of switching foragers from nectar gathering to pollen collection. I have not tried this myself.

    Yes, the weather is due to turn again at the weekend but, if the colony is building comb and foraging, that suggests that the bees are getting a decent supply of energy. If they weren’t you would see no comb building and little or no flying. So perhaps it is a case of being patient. Colonies can collect surprising amounts of goodies in breaks in the weather if the temperatures are reasonable, which they are at present.

    West Oxfordshire

  7. “the colony is not queenright”
    Thanks Gareth, very helpful. I’m sure this is not what is happening in my case but could you say a bit more about queen right’ness as this is something I don’t know anything about. How would you know if this was the case and is the only solution to add a new queen?

    • simplebees says:


      The point I was making, in part, was that there can be several reasons why a hived swarm does not appear to be doing what the books say it should. For example, I hived a couple of swarms this year at about the same time. I walked the bees in and saw the queen in both cases. Through the windows I could see that one was building steadily when the weather allowed, but the other built a few small combs and then stalled, with very little activity at the entrance. By lifting the box of the stalled colony and looking up from underneath, I could see 4 beautiful, sealed queen cells, but no other signs of brood. I gave them a small feed and have left them to it. They know what they are doing and I have no wish, or need, to interfere further.

      West Oxfordshire

  8. johnmkubwa says:

    To add to Alitee’s post. If a new swarm is allowed to find and occupy its own home, it will usually need no assistance from a beek. However, in nature 3 out of 4 swarms perish (Prof Tom Seeley). I have recently rescued 3 swarms which emerged in sunshine and had been in cluster when thunderstorms occured and bad weather persisted. The clusters had been exposed for up to two days so I collected the swarms (working under a tarpaulin) and provided a few spoons of pure honey from my own bees; this revived the swarm bees.
    Bees natural processes are often disrupted by man and this causes stress and consumption of stores. Activity such as swarm cluster collection; travel in closed box before being thrown into or infront of a hive as well as nest interference and comb disruption all constitute man-made stress. If we cause stress I think we are obliged to help a little to compensate.

    I will help a swarm ‘back onto its feet’ but I do not want a colony dependant on sugar ‘hand outs’. Nor do I want to have sugar syrup put in storage honeycombs. If poor weather persists and bees can not forage, I emergency feed 200 – 300ml of syrup to a Demeter recipe. This can be repeated to help the new colony build comb but only up to a total of one litre, IMO. Colonies will store honey as reserves against hard times but wild bees learn to manage their stores adjust broodrearing and forage in poor weather. If there is insufficient local forage to sustain a hived colony it might be in the wrong location.

    Demeter syrup: 1:1 cane sugar and camomile tea, a pinch of salt and when cool, 10% honey. I have found bees prefer honey to sugar, so I now add up to 50% honey to the cool syrup. I do not use UK sugar from beet as seeds are likely to have been treated with systemic insecticide. I do not heat honey above 42 degC as higher temperatures will destroy its qualities.

    John, North Hampshire

    • simplebees says:


      I do not use UK sugar from beet as seeds are likely to have been treated with systemic insecticide.

      Have you seen David Heaf’s correspondence with British Sugar on this subject?

      West Oxfordshire

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