Why feed bees?

Well, ideally you wouldn’t. But when you start a new hive, you generally need to feed them to give them some food to consume, this will help them to make bees and make wax. You can start a hive generally two ways: via a package or a nuc. A package is literally a box that consists of 3 pounds of bees and a queen. There is no “home,” i.e. no honey, no brood (larvae), no pollen, no hive, no wax, no combs, no nothing. You get them into your own hive and they start from scratch, making everything. The other method of starting a hive is by getting a nuc, short for nucleus. A nucleus is a very-mini hive consisting of bees, a queen, a frame or 2 of honey/pollen, a couple of frames of brood and an empty frame for them to work on. Your hope is that either of these starts will grow into a healthy hive.

The goal of a hive is to collect enough honey to make it through the winter.To do this they need lots of foragers to collect the nectar from the flowers. Bees eat two things, honey for their carbohydrate and pollen for their protein. Both of these are collected by foragers. They use honey and pollen to feed the larvae, themselves and the queen (she eats Royal Jelly which is secreted by a gland in the worker bees’ head). There must be LOTS of foragers to effectively forage enough food to feed the colony. Now when you get a nuc or a package, the number of bees is minimal compared to an established hive so you feed them sugar syrup to make up for the nectar that these small colonies can’t get.

As they grow and become established, you will need to feed them less. BUT since bees consume honey every day, they need to replace it every day. But they can’t forage when it’s raining, when it’s cold or if there is a dearth (absence of nectar due to heat, drought or lack of flowers). So if they can’t replace what they use, they end up with no honey and no honey equals starving bees. Starving bees do not increase their numbers and eventually the lack of food will kill them. If you harvest too much honey, it will have the same result if they eat through the remainder without being able to replenish it. So if you notice your bees are unable to forage due to the above reasons, you feed them to keep them alive and growing until the nectar flow.

Pretty much everyone has a spring nectar flow, most places have a fall flow as well but the Spring one is the bahama mamma. After the spring flow, the bees evaporate the nectar to make it honey and cap it to preserve it. But here’s the kicker: they make honey for themselves, they don’t care one whit about you and are NOT making honey for you. So IF you harvest honey in the summer (the traditional time to do it), you are taking a GUESS that there will be a fall flow to make up for what you took. You are also making a guess about what they will need to survive the winter. Bees need a lot of honey to live every year. If you take off too much, you are essentially starving them. But how do you know if you took too much? Every area has a recommended amount of honey to leave on the hive for winter survival. In my area they recommend 60-80lbs of honey for the winter.

Honey is the best food for bees and has loads of good stuff that sugar syrup does not have. So how to make sure you have honey for them to eat?  Don’t take too much! I will not harvest honey only to feed them. That makes absolutely no sense to me.

My plan: to overwinter with 2 deeps and a medium super. If there are extra frames of honey available, I will store them in the freezer. We will harvest some honey to share but most of the extra I will freeze for rainy periods, dearths, bizarre weather.

Quick update: I peeked into Melissa because I saw a ridiculous number of bees orienting in front of the hive and there were bees all over the inside! I guess some brood hatched out. Sunday looks like the day we’ll be going to Peter’s hive to take some frames for our hives. I hope the weather cooperates!


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