Feeding advice please

My bees seemed to be coping okay in between the rainy days and when I last looked some weeks back they had honey. I was trying to let them do their own thing but am now getting cold feet as this Autumn is looking pretty dire. Is it still okay to make up 2:1 sugar syrup and place in an inverted jar with holes in the lid and place inside the hives? Will they still make use of it? Comments please!

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9 Responses to Feeding advice please

  1. simplebees says:

    As a general rule bees will take syrup if it is placed directly above them provided temperatures are still in double figures. We are still in double figures during the day, but nights are beginning to be chilly. So there is still a small window of opportunity. The important thing is that the bees need to be able to get the moisture content of the syrup down to levels where it will keep and not ferment. Fermented syrup gives upset tums. So make the syrup as thick as possible, 2:1 or even 2.5:1 (5:2). Be careful not to allow any caramelizing of the sugar when making the syrup. The result should contain no hint of any yellow colour. I bring a thick bottomed pan with, say, 2 litres of water to the boil, turn the heat right down and then slowly add 4 plus kilos of sugar, stirring all the while. When most of the sugar has dissolved, the pan can be removed from the heat. Further stirring will dissolve the remaining sugar. Don’t try and heat a mix of sugar and cold water up to boiling, it will take ages and likely result in some of the sugar caramelizing.

    The syrup can be fed warm. Pack lots of insulation around the feeder. If the bees are really short, they will need a lot more than the odd jar. Feed as much as they will take each night. A hungry colony with spare space will take up to a litre of syrup a day.

    That said, where I am, there continues to be a good ivy flow that has added considerably to winter stores. Have you hefted the hives? Do they feel light?

    Gareth, West Oxfordshire

    • ingrid says:

      How would I put syrup above the bees with a horizontal TBH? I have always put jars in the space the other side of the followers. Wish I had addressed these issues sooner 😦

  2. salp111 says:

    Does anyone know about the stuff called fondant? I read somewhere that it could be fed to bees over winter.

    • simplebees says:

      Just as with any other feed, in cold weather the bees will not take fondant unless it is immediately above, and in contact with, the winter cluster. This is a problem in horizontal hives. Moreover, fondant should be seen as an emergency feed only. Both of these factors are often overlooked.

      In addition, good fondant is not easy to make and, if bought from a bakers, you need to make sure it does not contain additives such as maize starch, egg white or glycerol.

      I have not tried it myself, but I believe that ‘lazy fondant’ can be made by adding about a wine glass of water to a bag of sugar (through a cut in the side) and then placing this, cut downward, over the bees. As with all fondant, the bees will only take it slowly and sometimes not at all if the weather is really cold.

      Gareth, West Oxfordshire

  3. tramcaro says:

    Thanks for that advice Gareth. I have been feeding my bees a thick syrup via the jar method set in a specially designed chamber (Phil Chandler) at the end of my TBH. They have stopped taking it over the last few days, so I think I am being told that it is now too cold for them, so I shall start feeding from on top. Luckily just one of my brood frames originally came from a deep National when I collected the swarm, so I can place fondant directly over this and the bees will be able to access the bag.
    I have Apiguarded my National and the varroa drop has been fairly considerable. I haven’t given my TBH bees that treatment as the floor is covered with wood chippings and live varroa would simply climb back up! I just hope that the bees learn to deal with the problem themselves.

    • Ali says:

      What a lot of ‘natural’ bee keepers we have on this site.

      • simplebees says:

        There are degrees of natural, Ali, from those who are prepared to let their bees starve, even though they did not ask us to screw up their environment (and, as we are seeing this year, the weather too) through to those that feel they owe it to the bees to feed when starvation otherwise beckons. 45 years ago, when I first kept bees, there was no need to feed, ever, provided one did not rob all the honey. We are not talking here about feeding to replace honey that has been taken by the beekeeper, but to allow colonies, especially newly established ones, to have a reasonable chance of getting through the winter following the worst summer in 100 years. I for one feel no need to apologise for this. 🙂

        Gareth, West Oxfordshire

    • simplebees says:

      As you are noticing, Caroline, once the temperature falls into single figures the bees start to cluster. At around 8 degrees they will not break cluster, so will not take food if it is not in direct contact with the bees. The bees maintain a cluster temperature of around 10 degrees at the outer edge and 25 degrees in the centre. Heat from the cluster rises, so insulating a feeder above the bees allows the warmth that rises from the cluster to be retained in the feeder. Hence the bees will continue to feed even when outside temperatures are a little below 10 degrees. In a horizontal arrangement, this is unlikely to work because heat does not travel sideways. This is a downside of the horizontal arrangement if there is no space above the bars for a feeder (and gaps between the bars to allow access to the feeder).

      Gareth West Oxfordshire

  4. jonbinspired says:

    I think the decision on feeding needs to be done prior to mid September. You can’t rely on good weather and a strong October ivy flow to make up an obvious shortfall. Leaving it until late October risks the bees not being able to process the feed or it being too cold to take. While it’s nice to be able to feed the minimum amount of sugar, it’s a gamble if you leave it too late.

    Many July swarms (and I guess late June) had zero stores coming into September, so feeding was always going to be needed whatever October brought.

    Fondant was really only ever used as a spring emergency method just as the hive started to expand in Feb, yet many new to beekeeping seem to use it as a late feed now. If you do this it can suck up winter moisture and drip all over the cluster for a long time.


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