Friday, March 11, 2016

Open Feeding Honey Bees





This time of year is probably the most dangerous for a honey bee colony. The Winter stores are almost completely used up while the queen is laying new eggs like crazy in preparation for the Spring blooming. Depending on how far North or South you live from the Mason-Dixon line or how severe the Winter was this danger period can start as early as February or as late as April. Here in North Central Missouri the end of February is when the real danger starts.

A reader (Ruth) asked me in comments about feeding honey bees. I would encourage anyone who wants to feed bees to do so, especially this time of year. When we have an early Spring with warm temps the bees use more honey looking for nectar but if the blooms haven't caught up there may not be much for the bees to replace these lost stores with.

I noticed years ago that every warm day during the Winter local honey bees would be all over the outside trash cans at work foraging on the remains of soda cans my coworkers had left. You don't need special feeders to help local bees but there are three things you should keep in mind.

1. Honey bees have very short tongues compared to other bees. They cannot generally reach very far into an opening to get at the syrup.

2. This time of year it is harder for the bees to get the moisture out of the syrup so a mixture of 1 to 1 sugar to water ratio is about the lowest you want to go. A 2 to 1 ratio is probably better.

3. Bees have a bad habit of drowning in pools of syrup. If you use an open container fill it partially with gravel or something the bees can sit on while licking up the syrup.




This year I been open feeding a 2 to 1 sugar to water ratio syrup out of those cheap chicken water dispensers you can buy at Orschlens or Tractor Supply. I fill the lip with gravel and make sure to block the filler hole up enough that bees cannot climb into the reservoir when it gets low.  I then take an old pie pan with me when refilling to dump the gravel into while I refill the container. This has worked very well so far but of course has some issues when it rains as the lip fills up with rain water and dilutes the syrup down. Up until this week however a full container rarely lasted more than a day or two so I would just not fill them if it called for rain.

I noticed today the bees are not hitting the feeders anywhere near as hard as they have been so I am betting something is blooming enough to get their interest away from sugar crack.

As long as the bees cannot get into a pool of liquid open feeding is great. I have even went so far as to put out a pan of sugar and just add enough water (Using a spray bottle at times) to it to make it gooey and not liquid-like and the bees have been all over it. As I said it has been my experience that as more natural sources of nectar become available the bees will shy away from the sugar so you can tell when you are able to stop feeding and a little bit of sugar water coming into the hive will not ruin the harvest come Summer. In fact this time of year it will more than likely be consumed long before a harvest can even be thought about.

Once you see blooms all over the place you will know it's time to stop feeding. I went to open feeding as opposed to feeding individual hives as having syrup directly in or on the hives seems to attract way too many pests. Especially ants. So far the open feeding appears to be working but the main downside is that you will also be feeding other local vermin as well.

Raccoons have a bad habit of attempting to steal my feeders and take them home or something. I have found my empty feeders as far away from the stands as 50 yards or more.

So anyway go ahead and feed the local bees if nothing else it might keep a local feral colony alive and help your garden come Summer.

Keep Prepping Everyone!!!!!!

16 comments:

  1. The syrup you make for them is similar to what I make for the hummingbirds. My crocuses are in bloom now but no other flowers yet.

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    1. Lisa - I usually make hummingbird syrup about 1 to 3 cups of sugar to water but ya it's the same more or less. I noticed daffodils blooming over at the orchard today although the trees there appear to be behind mine by a bit. I saw my first dandelion today too!!!

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  2. Nice tip about the gravel, thanks. I don't keep hives, but do have bees feeding on my land. Is there any formula you know of to figure out if there are enough bees visiting? I tried a few searches, but google is not my friend :).

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    1. Jewlz - I have not heard of any formula for visiting feeding stations. I know there is one for entrances to kinda get an approximate count. Supposedly closer you are to the hive the more traffic you get though.

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  3. Can you put a piece of plywood or a trashcan lid over the top of the feeder to keep the syrup from diluting down; maybe an "umbrella" made of a trashcan lid or the like, nailed to a post in the ground?

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    1. Pete - Ya. I have thought about building a feeder station with a roof on it but since I only open feed for a few weeks to a month at most I have other things to work on right now. It would have to be able to hold at least a concrete block to keep from being blown away this time of year though and that may not do it either. I will eventually make some type of little gazebo type thing for the feeders though I imagine.

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  4. 2B or Not 2B
    Still just some little weeds low to the ground here with peaches budding. The frogs are out but few bees.

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    1. Sf - I saw a bee working the Apricot blooms today and the first daffodils, dandelions and dead nettle in the fields. Unless we get an extended cold snap I think the danger period is over now for the bees.

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  5. What a great use for a chicken waterer? I should also think those flat glass marbles will work if one had them.

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    1. TB - I use them as well but they tend to be harder to find when a raccoon tries to carry the feeder off and scatters them. Although cheap they aren't free :)

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  6. Thank you! I've put alot of energy into attracting polinators into the property, I'd hate to lose them cause of the sudden early spring!

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    1. Ruth - I understand. This is the time of year when a colony can die out fast too. They can store and store but it takes time for them to actually make honey from the nectar and syrup and a sudden cold snap that lasts too long can really hurt a hive.

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  7. I have wondered about this but this is the first time anybody has actually given good information on open feeding. Good info!

    I have sad new though; I discovered the other day that my bees didn't make it. I'm getting a post about it finished up to publish tomorrow. :(

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    1. Leigh - I used to feed each hive but I noticed feeding a hive really brought the vermin and pests into it too so I started open feeding. It seems to be working better over all.

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  8. I lost my hive to starvation. lots of bee bottoms sticking out of cells only a few inches from sealed honey. The 40+ days swinging into single digit nights here in WNY did a lot of hive damage.

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    1. That is my concern. Weather swings here aren't unheard of this time of year, and are infact pretty normal, but we've had some insane swings this year. And now we have green grass when we normally still have a foot of snow.....but the crocus have only just begun blooming, and basically nothing else is. And the local farms are reporting "swarms" on everything remotely sweet.....

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