If you have to feed your bees this fall, something probably went wrong this summer. Spring feeding, or feeding packages or splits is maybe more common, but there are some things to think about if you have to feed your bees in the fall. Is what went...
If you have to feed your bees this fall, something probably went wrong this summer. Spring feeding, or feeding packages or splits is maybe more common, but there are some things to think about if you have to feed your bees in the fall.
Is what went wrong the fault of your bees, your management, or the environment your bees have to live in. Too many row crops, pesticides, too much lawn…is there really any food out there at all?
How much food does a colony actually need to get through the winter?
You also have to think about what kind of feeders will you use, what will you feed, how much should you feed, and when do you stop feeding.
All of these questions have to have answers, before you start.
Fall feeding may not be as simple as you thought it was.
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Music: Heart & Soul by Gyom, Walking in Paris by Studio Le Bus, original guitar music by Jeffrey Ott
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Kim Flottum: Jim, have you ever had to feed your bees?
Jim Tew: Oh, yes, I have, Kim. In the past, I’ve had to feed quite a bit.
Kim: There’s a lot of questions about feeding. [music] People who haven’t been doing this very long they all basically have the same sorts of questions. Hi, I’m Kim Flottum and I’m here today with Jim Tew, and today we’re going to be talking about Fall Feeding.
Introduction: You are listening to Honey Bee Obscura brought to you by Growing Planet Media, the folks behind Beekeeping Today Podcast. Each week on Honey Bee Obscura hosts Kim Flottum and Jim Tew explore the complexities, the beauty, the fun, and the challenges of managing honeybees in today’s world, and engaging an in informative discussion meant for all beekeepers, long-timers, and those just starting the journey with bees. Sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things honeybees.
Kim: The first one that I get often is why are you feeding? Can’t the bees take care of themselves?
Jim: I’m going to have to struggle here too. I feed to subsidize the food they’ve got because I think it helps. Kim, sometimes I wonder if it just keeps me busy while my colony either dies or while it corrects its own problem. Because what feeder right off the bat, if feeding was the right thing to do every time, we would have a feeder or two that fits the bill, but there’s all kinds of feeders, use a top feeder, use an entrance feeder, use a division board feeder.
If you’re feeding liquid syrup, there’s all of these different feeder models that you could use. I never really know which one is the best, which one the bees learn to take it from, and by the time you get that figured out, probably whatever the issue was that required feeding, it’s pretty much passed.
Kim: [laughs] You know that there’s another side argument here is if your bees are unable to support themselves in the environment that you’ve put them, is it because the bees have a problem? Are they not healthy enough? Or do they have issues that they can’t forage enough to gather food? Or is there not enough food out there for them?
In either case, you’re not taking care of them, or you’ve put them in the wrong place, so why are you feeding? I think that it goes to answer why are you feeding, they’re in the wrong place or you’ve not taken care of them so that they’re healthy enough to produce enough food.
Jim: Kim, can call this a management Band-Aid? If you’re having to feed, something else went wrong. Now maybe it was your shortage as a beekeeper or maybe it was a shortage you expected like maybe you made a divide. You knew that that colony was going to be light in stores and you didn’t have honey to feed it and you wanted to feed that small colony while they got to jumpstart.
Maybe you knew that you made that split at a time when there was no incoming nectar, but maybe you knew that the season would be starting in just a week or two and that there would be incoming nectar. You applied a management Band-Aid to get the bee colony through these difficult times.
Kim: That’s a good way of looking at it. In the wild, if a colony swarmed in the spring, the swarm would be probably fairly small. If it was healthy enough and there were enough bees in it, it would probably make it through the summer but if it didn’t, it wouldn’t survive. What you’re doing is you’re almost artificially swarming, but you have produced another colony from the original and you are supplementing its food resources so that it does survive.
Jim: Yes. Bees in the wild, in my opinion, are not bees in my hive at all. Bees in the wild will never have somebody come along and give them a piddling amount of sugar or some other kind of carbohydrate or in some cases protein source. They one day either to live or die. This is expected – apparently – instinctually, that a lot of those colonies in the wild are going to die. I don’t want that to happen. I want my bees in my boxes to stay alive, so I’m going to put some feed in there.
Kim: What do you feed when you feed?
Jim: Let me think. Through the years, I’ve tried everything. I generally feed syrup. Kim, do you heat the syrup because I generally feed thin syrup just because it’s easier to make. That’s not the right thing to do because someone like you is going to say, “You’re just giving them a lot of water, aren’t you?” Yes, I am, but at least I gave them a little bit of sugar because if you’ve got to heat, add sugar, add sugar, add heat, add heat, add more sugar, stir, stir, stir, they’re probably going to starve to death. I’m probably never going to do that.
What do I feed? I generally feed a syrup as thick as I can make it with water as hot as I can get from the tap. I understand that that’s probably not the best feed that I could have made, but no, I don’t try to get corn syrup of any kind. I do feed fondant a lot but let’s talk about that more in a few minutes. The syrup I feed is pretty thin right now.
Kim: Yes, all the books will tell you to stimulate a colony to get it up and going you feed a one to one, a ratio of one-part sugar to one-part water. If you’re trying to feed it so that there’s enough sugar there for them to store then it’s a two to one, two-part sugar to one-part water. A two to one mix is so thick it’s almost difficult to stir. Jim to make a one to one sugar syrup, you got to put in 17 cups of sugar into a gallon of water.
Jim: 17 cups for one gallon of water.
Kim: 17 cups of sugar to a gallon of water, and that’s one to one so to make a two to one you double in that. Like I said it’s so thick you almost can’t stir it. What you’re doing is better than nothing. Neither of us do what the books say to do. I’ve never made a sugar syrup two to one because it’s so hard to do. You mentioned fondant, I like using fondant.
Jim: You know the old days, Kim, now, everything is in the old days it seems like, but there used to be recipes for making fondant candy boards. It had cream of tartar in it and all this kind of things. I never did it, it looked like divinity that my grandmother would have made. After searching, I came across this product, I can give it a brand name but I guess I won’t - commercial fondant. It’s got, what is it? Corn starch. I’m sorry it’s got corn starch in it.
A lot of beekeepers don’t like feeding candy with corn starch because it’s indigestible to the bees apparently, but it’s so easy to put a glob of that stuff on there. Kim, it’s just heavenly while you’re working with that fondant if you lick your fingers, it’s just the sweetness of heaven to use that stuff. That way, there’s no mixing, it’s pure sugar it’s already there. It’s pricey you got to go buy the stuff but it’s so easy to feed.
Kim: When you put 10 pounds of fondant on you can be pretty sure you’ve got almost exactly 10 pounds of sugar in there. That mix comes down to equivalent of about eight pounds of honey. I’m going to say that yes, fondant for me is the best way to go sugar syrup is-- You mentioned all those different kinds of feeders and every one of them works but none of them work perfectly.
Jim: Right. So many times, in beekeeping, Kim, there’s so many options. I would like to suggest without any proof that there’s a lot of options surrounding a management procedure that means that the jury is still out on what to do and how to do it. Because if we had figured out the right way to control Varroa mites we wouldn’t have all these other ways to do it.
If we had figured out the best way to feed, we wouldn’t have 10 feeder styles available to us. Number of queen cages you’ve got that you can choose from, something’s not right with that. Every step of the way, there’s a lot of diversity and a lot of creativity that beekeepers can use.
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Kim: I asked about when to feed and you mentioned when you make a divide, and you want that divide to make sure that it lasts long enough that it can build itself up to be self-supporting. There’s also a need for feeding in the fall so the bees have enough over winter store. How much honey should be in a colony? We’re in Northern Ohio. How much honey should be in a colony? Say the 1st of December, when pretty much everything’s done.
Jim: You want a number? I’ll give you a number.
Jim: 68 pounds.
Then there’s kinds of variables. How much did the hive body weigh? That’s 68 pounds of honey and that’s going to be a gracious plenty. I’ve read other that could go as low as 40 pounds, but it depends on the size of the cluster and where this unit is wintering. What I’ve been told through the years and what I have boldly repeated to beekeepers who wanted an answer was in Northeast Ohio 45 to 62 pounds of actual honey, which means that the colony would weigh, a double would weigh something like 145 to 160 pounds. If you weighed the entire colony.
Kim: I was just going to mention that, is a weigh to tell how much food you’ve got stored in that colony is to weigh that whole colony. That’s simply use a spring scale on the front record that weight, use the hook it on the back, record that weight, add the two together, and I’ve always said 150 pounds just most exactly what you just said. If you’ve got a colony with two deeps, 10 frames, bottom board inner cover and cover 150 pounds is going to give you about 50 to 60 pounds of honey.
Jim: If you don’t have that feed, but Kim this is more conversation than instruction. Feeding is a temporary thing - there’s something else wrong. If you just feed a time or two or three, you probably just prolong that colony’s death. Unless just like you said, at the first of the start there was a reason for it.
If you’re trying to feed for winter supplement, that’s a significant undertaking. That’s going to be gallons and gallons because we’re talking one colony, when you said one gallon of syrup. What have you got 30 colonies and there’s 30 gallons of syrup times 17 cups per gallon? Suddenly, this is a big job. It’s a lot of work to feed and it takes a lot of commitment to keep feeding enough to get the job done at a meaningful level.
Kim: Then you got to figure out, again, I’ll go back to where we started. Why are you having to feed? Is it because there isn’t enough food available or because there’s something ailing the bees that they’re not able to collect enough? That brings you back to that problem. You got to solve that problem. Why isn’t there enough food?
Jim: Have you tried dry sugar, dried, granulated sugar?
Kim: I’ve done it. It’s a mess.
Jim: How did you feed it?
Kim: I sprinkled it on the inner cover, around the inner cover whole opening. I think they carried as much out and dumped it on the ground as they--
Jim: I’ve done that too. I think that they carry it out and dump it on the ground as soon as they can. I think they probably eat some of it. I think the main thing it does, Kim, is it makes me feel like that I did something as a beekeeper. I didn’t just stand by while that colony idly starved.
If I let that colony go into winter, really light, and I go out and do the tip tests on the back and that colony is easy to tip it’s nowhere close to 150 pounds total. Then I have these anxiety attacks. Can’t doze off at night, worrying about that colony and I’ll go out there and pour a pound that a half of sugar around that inner cover hole and feel like somehow, I’ve done my part.
Kim: You just mentioned hefting. When I was way back when, that was the test if you could lift it, it needed food. If you couldn’t lift it from the back, then it had enough food. I always looked at that and said, “I’m this tall skinny guy,” and next to me is this guy who’s a professional wrestler when he was in high school. [laughs]
How do you compare the two? This guy picks the colony up with one hand and puts it under his arm and walks away. I can’t budge the thing. Hefting was always unknown to me.
Jim: You got to learn your own “heft”, Kim. I was the tall, skinny. I was never all that tall. I was always skinny and lightweight, unlike now where I’m still short and heavyweight, but the hefting thing was a relative thing. What’s a “heft” to me would not be a “heft” to that wrestler, everybody has to learn their own weight thing.
Kim: Yes. That weighing front and back - to me - is spot on in terms of being able to decide if there’s enough food in there. Then if you don’t know, then you must look inside the colony, but it saves you having to look at a lot of colonies.
Jim: Kim at times you have to feed, but probably you’re feeding because you want to try to help the colony that’s in trouble. Understand why it got in trouble?
Jim: It’s what we tried to discuss some of the things you can do to help them get out, but feeding is not always the end-all solution, but it is something that the beekeeper can do in their arsenal, in their toolbox of management suggestions. You can feed to help this colony. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it just lets the colony linger a while longer before its end still comes around.
Kim: I guess when that weight gets to where you want it, it’s time to quit and/or there’s enough snow on the ground that you can’t get to the colony anymore. [music]
Jim: You’re just done.
Kim: Yes. Just done.
Jim: All right. Feed if you must, and then stop feeding when you can.
Kim: There you go.
Jim: I guess, thank you buddy.
Kim: Take care.
Jim: Let’s talk again next Thursday about something just to stimulate.
Kim: Okay. [laughs]
Jim: Thanks to all these folks who listened this long. We deeply appreciate you doing it.
Kim: If you got questions, don’t hesitate to send them in. Go to the webpage and spot there, you can ask us a question. We’re looking for questions.
[00:16:18] [END OF AUDIO]