Timely Colony Management – February

February 1, 2017 – By Clarence Collison, PhD

The active beekeeping season will be getting underway soon.  Early pollen and nectar sources serve as a strong stimulus for brood production and spring buildup.  Colonies need to be carefully monitored during this spring buildup period.  As a result of the brood rearing stimulus, the size of the brood area may increase faster than food stores are replenished.  Colonies often run a tight line between available food and starvation at this time of year.  When cold weather inhibits flight activity, strong colonies with large brood areas will deplete food stores rapidly.  It is important to have food above and to the sides of the brood cluster at all times.  Anytime that a colony has less than 15- 20 pounds of food (3 full depth frames, 5 medium depth frames, 6 shallow depth frames of honey), it should be fed.

Sugar syrup is the most common feed for bees when the weather permits easy movement of the cluster, occasional flights or when the outside temperature is above 40º F.  Sugar syrup, 2 parts sugar to 1 part water by volume, will be the best source of food at this time.  Make this syrup by dissolving either cane or beet sugar (sucrose) in water.  Do not use brown sugar, molasses, and other similar materials containing sugar as feed.  To make sure all the sugar dissolves, you may have to heat the water.  Be careful not to burn the sugar, carmelization can be harmful to bees. Such a mixture will not freeze at temperatures as low as -10º F.

You can use several methods and types of feeders to feed sugar syrup to your colonies.  Under almost all conditions, feeding should be done inside the hive.  A pail or jar on the frame top bars works well. This is the warmest part of the hive, and it is the place where the bees are clustered and raising brood.  Make sure the holes in the feeder are not too large; you are interested only in keeping the bees alive, not in their storing large quantities of sugar syrup.  Usually six to twelve  holes made with a tip of a 4d nail in the lid of the feeder are sufficient.   To test each feeder before placing it on the hive, invert the full feeder over the top bars.  A small amount of syrup will run out until a vacuum forms in the container.  Do not use the feeder if the syrup leaks out after the vacuum has had time to form. Protect the feeder with an empty super and replace the cover.  A division board feeder which replaces a frame in the brood nest also works well.  There are also various types of hive top feeders that are effective in dispensing large quantities of syrup.  Sugar syrup in the early spring not only saves the bees from starvation, it also acts as a stimulant to encourage brood rearing.  Each gallon of syrup fed increases reserves by about 7 pounds.  Combs of honey may also be used as feed, if you are positive that they are free of disease.  However, sugar syrup fed slowly seems to stimulate brood rearing more than frames of honey.

Pollen must also be present to raise brood and for newly emerged adult bees.  Nurse bees require large amounts of pollen to produce royal jelly.  Check to see that sufficient supplies are stored in the brood area.  The early pollen flows should take care of any deficiencies found at this time. Supplies can be extended with pollen substitutes that are available from your bee supply dealers.

Clarence Collison, Emeritus Professor