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.
(Thanks to Mike Bush at http:/www.bushfarms.com for this method of winter feeding).
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):
Notice the stick propping up the outer covers for ventilation. A hive makes a lot of water vapor over the course of a winter. Propping up the lid slightly lets the vapor escape, so water won’t condense and drip down on the bees inside.
And from the front.
(I’ve already fed these hives this winter, and you can see newspaper sticking out below the top box, which is basically empty. If you were doing this for the first time, you’d be adding an empty super immediately above a sheet of newspaper covering the bees).
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.
This is the bottom of the inner cover, with a lot of burr comb still remaining from earlier in the year.
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.