One of the first things you may need to think about when considering beekeeping is how easy they would be to keep. Do they need constant care? What are the disease risks for the bees? Will I have predator problems? What about weather and seasonal changes? Today, let’s explore how to feeding the hive!
The truth is that honeybees are really no more complicated to keep than most other livestock. Feeding, disease and disease prevention, protection from predators, and general upkeep through the seasons and all types of weather are all concerns that apply to honeybees as much as cattle or fowl.
Every animal or bird on the homestead or backyard farm will have some sort of work involved or idiosyncrasy to account for. Yet, to many, the world of the honeybee seems so mysterious and magical that they feel there must be some difficult secret involved in learning how to raise these little girls (and boys—what few there are). As with all things, the trick is to take things a step at a time. The first issue we will cover is that of feeding the hive or feeding honeybees.
Feeding the Hive
Honeybees eat nectar and pollen, and, of course, they drink water. In the wintertime, in regions where hives are unable to forage for themselves, they will survive on their stored honey and pollen. In addition to their own natural stockpiling, keepers may also provide supplemental nourishment both inside and outside of the hive.
Depending on the climate you live in and are keeping your bees in, they may hunt seasonally, remaining bundled up in the hive in the winter, or they may hunt for most of the year. In the world of the honeybee, it is the job of the worker bees to feed the hive.
Those who “handle” the food detail are known as “scouts” and “foragers.” In the hive, 25 percent of the worker bees are “scouts.” The primary job of the scout is to find various food locations. Once the scouts have located viable food sources for the hive, they will return to base to inform the foragers as to where to find these food sources.
The foragers are the bees that will actually go out and bring the food back to the hive. They do so through the use of odor, direction, and distance. Upon their return to the hive, the scouts will do a little dance that will actually convey information to the foragers about the distance and direction that the food is from the hive. There is a different dance for different distances:
• Up to 50 meters: The dance only conveys direction, not distance.
• 50 to 75 meters: The “round dance” is performed on the comb surface, with literal dancing in circular movements.
• 150 meters or more: The “waggle dance” is performed.
The “waggle dance” has two parts. The first part tells the foragers the direction of the food, while part two, which conveys information through the speed with which the dance repeats, indicates the distance. Remember that the closer the food is, the better the bees like it.
The scouts also use odor to provide information to the foragers. It is thought that the scouts bring back the unique scent of the flowers that they have visited to the foragers. The foragers will then proceed to go after the food that the scouts located to bring back to the hive.
So what happens when the foragers bring the food back to feeding the hive?
Pollen intended for honey making will need to be stored right away. The reason is that, if the pollen is not stored correctly, it will spoil. To protect the pollen from spoiling, it must be kept in a honeycomb cell mixed with honey, which acts as a preservative. This will prevent the pollen from spoiling and allow the hive to safely store the pollen until it is needed. Nectar that is gathered by the forager is divided between the bee’s main stomach and the honey stomach.
It is best for the bees if they are allowed to store their own food for winter. Although this can mean less honey for the keeper, it will mean a much better chance for the hive (or hives) to survive the winter. However, sometimes the keeper may find it necessary to provide supplementary food to the hive to ensure its survival. Also, when the keeper does find the need, it must be done properly for the health of the colony.
There are a number of reasons that a beekeeper may need to provide supplemental food to the hives. Some of these situations include:
• Increasing colony size
• Sustained colony development during unfavorable weather conditions
• Sustaining the ability to feed the young during unfavorable weather conditions
• Not enough honey produced for winter
• Providing backup during a pollen/nectar shortage
However, there are only a few situations in which supplemental feeding would be necessary. As stated, the colony’s own honey is what is best for the survival of the hive, including during the winter. A single hive/colony should have 60-80 pounds of honey available to them and their hives in the fall to carry them through the winter.
Furthermore, if and when it becomes necessary to provide your hive (or hives) with supplemental food, there are three options available that will provide the necessary nutrients that your bees will need: dry mix, moist cake, and sugar syrup.
Dry mix compositions include brewer’s yeast or soy flour. The dry mix can be fed inside the hive into the brood nest (where the larvae are) or outside of the hive in an open container such as a tub or tray. However, if placed outside of the hive in an open container, the dry mix must be sheltered from becoming damp due to rain and dew.
This can be accomplished simply by the addition of some sort of little roof structure set up over the container. One drawback with feeding dry mix outside is that other bees besides your own may find and feed on it, so keep in mind the environment that your hives exist in. Another feeding option is moist cake.
Moist cake is made up of pollen pellets, sugar, and soy flour. Moist cake may be fed to the bees inside the hive. The cakes should be placed close to the larvae so the nurse bees (worker bees that care for the larvae) can feed their charges. If more moist cakes are made or obtained than can be used at any one time, they can be frozen for several weeks without losing any nutritional value.
Sugar syrup is made from cane sugar, beet sugar, or isomerized corn syrup mixed with water. A carbohydrate substitute, sugar syrup may be fed outside the hive in any open container. However, there must be something for the bee to stand on in the container if using a tray or dish for the syrup. Some keepers will install their own jar feeders as well.
Sugar syrup may also be fed to the bees inside of the hive as well. Some of the ways that this may be achieved is through:
• Empty chamber combs: Sugar syrup is placed (usually squirted) into empty honeycomb chambers, where it can be held for the bees to use.
• Division board feeder: A boxlike replacement for comb placed in the brood nest.
• Plastic bag feeder: A plastic bag encloses one or two frames in the lower edge of the nest. This will then hold the sugar syrup and allow the bees to feed. allow the bees to feed.
It cannot be overstated that the bees’ own honey is their best food; however, it can be comforting to know that there are alternatives that are healthy, safe, and nutritious if there is an emergency or a natural food shortage. Keeping and caring for honeybees can seem a daunting task at first glance. One look at a beekeeping outfit can leave people feeling that the whole process is drawn out, complicated, difficult, and maybe a bit scary.
Yet, in actuality, bees are industrious, organized little insects that are more than capable of taking care of themselves when correctly handled by their keeper. So, when approaching beekeeping, think of it more in the vein of caring for fruit-bearing trees than actual livestock, even though bees are (technically) considered livestock.
Originally posted 2020-09-12 16:07:28.