At key times during the year when honey and pollen stores in colonies are low or weather conditions prevent foraging, feeding supplemental sugar syrup is vital to ensure they have enough carbohydrates for energy needs as well as proteins for brood rearing.
Simple sugar syrup can be easily made by filling a clean jar with chilled sugar solution (1 part sugar to 1 part water). After cooling, punch or drill holes into the lids of this container.
Many beekeepers rely on feeding stimulants as part of their spring feeding regime, usually natural essential oils mixed with sugar syrup. You can find such products at most feed stores and hive supply outlets – products like Honey-B-Healthy are particularly beneficial, preventing mold and fungus growth in your mix while improving immunity, helping with queen introductions, masking pheromones and stimulating faster queen laying times.
Supplemental feeding may also be necessary when new packages begin from nothing and must quickly build their size up. Supplemental feeding may also be needed during late freeze events or weather patterns that prevent colonies from foraging effectively.
Feeding can present its own set of problems, including robbing and drowning, but can be particularly effective during poor seasons or weather conditions that prohibit colonies from foraging for food themselves. Even during optimal seasons it’s essential to monitor available stores of sustenance in order to adjust feeding accordingly.
Some beekeepers may opt to feed liquid food to their colonies during early spring and other times when weather patterns limit or inhibit foraging activity in their colonies. Although this method can be time-consuming and messy, it has proven highly successful over the years.
Liquid feeding can be done using various methods. Some beekeepers employ an entrance feeder which encourages robbing and can cause bees to drown; it is also difficult to check and replace quickly.
Another popular method for feeding bees early springtime is using a jar or tin with many small holes drilled or punched in its lid, allowing bees to access its 1:1 sugar to water solution that promotes brood rearing. You could also purchase or make a top feeder which is simply a mason jar equipped with cutout lift for easy feeding.
Between mid-February and late April is often an uncertain period for bees, when their emergency winter food stores run low and weather restrictions limit foraging opportunities. Even strong colonies can find themselves starved if their stores become depleted.
Sugar syrups provide a quick boost for colony nutrition during this difficult period, and beekeepers should prepare a solution of 1 part sugar to 4 parts water. When boiling this solution, be aware that this may caramelise and reduce availability.
Syrup should be placed either in a feeder or directly in the hive cluster itself, depending on beekeeper preference. Some beekeepers opt for contact feeders using plastic ice cream containers with holes drilled for contact, while others employ frame feeders which can be inserted into either the bottom of a deep hive body or frames in supers. Furthermore, many include Honey B Healthy or Hiveworld Brood Powder into their syrup to add additional proteins and nutritional supplements for bees.
Vodka may not seem like an obvious choice when it comes to feeding honey bees, but several craft breweries, wineries and spirits makers are doing just that in their spring feedings of bees to promote health. New York state’s Arrowood Farm Brewery plants 35 square feet of wildflower seeds on North American farms for every bottle sold of its year-round Honey Porter Beeestly product; Siponey also creates canned cocktails combining New York rye whiskey and wildflower honey that support local beekeepers while giving proceeds back to nonprofit organizations such as Detroit Hives which turns vacant lots into urban hives.
Scientists frequently employ bees as models of alcohol-induced behavior because drinking ethanol affects locomotion, learning, communication and foraging decisions3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10. Additionally, drinking ethanol appears to alter aggression levels, self-grooming behavior and analgesia symptoms in bees1. Researches have even discovered evidence that they feed each other ethanol stored in their crop12.13.