Here’s the easiest way I’ve found to winter-feed a hive that is low on honey stores. In the winter you can’t reliably feed sugar syrup because it freezes, and making bee candy like fondant is a pain. But this is a simple, and effective technique. Condensed to a single sentence, what to do is to leave dampened sugar on top of a sheet of newspaper right over the cluster of bees. Ideally, you’d do this on a warmer day, in the 40’s or 50’s, but if a hive is in danger of starving, you can do it anytime. Ideally, a hive will have enough honey for this to be unnecessary, but a rainy summer and low nectar flows last year made this difficult in the winter of 2013-14.
Click on any of the pictures below to display a larger image.
A couple of light (short on honey) hives on the first warm, clear day after a lot of snow.
From behind (with bovine neighbors):
And from the front.
I was a little surprised that there are no signs of cleansing flights at the front of either hive. Probably with temps in the 40’s, it’s not quite warm enough for flights. On the first warm day, you’ll usually see hundreds of small yellow dots in the snow around the hive entrance.
The day is warm enough (temps in the 40’s) to proceed. First, I quickly remove the outer and inner covers.
Then I check for a cluster of live bees, inside, usually right at the top. You can see what remains of an earlier feeding– newspaper with a hole chewed into it and a lump of sugar.
Luckily, both these hives are still alive. Notice how one cluster is pretty centered in the hive, while the other is considerably shifted to one side)
I lay down a sheet of newspaper on the very tops of the frames (or in this case, over the old sheets of paper and sugar):
Then I dump a bit of sugar right on top.
And I dampen lightly with a spray bottle, and slash a few holes in the paper for access. Done!
Only feed a hive when there’s no other choice. Opening a hive in winter disturbs the cluster and loses heat. In some years, there’s no other choice to prevent starvation.
Yesterday I installed a couple new packages of bees at different sites. Here’s the process.
A “package” of bees usually contains 3 pounds of bees, or roughly 10,000 workers and a single queen. This box contains a can of sugar syrup suspended under the brown sheet of particle board in the center.
Here’s another view of the package. Click on the image below to see a chunk of comb these bees have made since being cooped up in this cage with a can of syrup about two days ago.
The package is going into a hive with almost ten frames of prepared comb (“drawn” comb). The workers will be able to start right away making honey, and the queen can lay eggs once she’s released. A package that has to draw out comb will take a while longer to get going, so this is a major head start. (The hive I’m using is from a hive that I lost last winter– the bees got separated from their food stores and starved. I found them with their heads stuffed into cells, desperate to find food.)
Drawn comb looks like this. These frames contain both used brood comb (darker) and golden, covered cells holding honey. The small section of black plastic on the second frame is an area that hasn’t yet been filled out with comb. I’m using black plastic frames sized for “small-cell.”