The need to feed

Fondant being fed to honey bees

With Easter only a couple of weeks away, it's hard to believe that it's been snowing most of today here in this part of Devon. The temperature outside is still in single figures with a wind chill of -5oC today and the 14 day weather forecast offers no sign of warmer weather. With the long drawn out wintry weather, there's a need to feed our colonies of honey bees, or at least monitor them weekly to check they have adequate stores.

Throughout the winter and right up to today, I've been hefting each of my three hives to check the weight of stores until my next visit. On average, a colony of honey bees requires about 40lb of stores to get them through the winter and by hefting each hive, you can mentally picture how heavy they are and learn to know when stores are light. By now, I (and probably the bees) would be expecting to feel the warmth of the sun and to see flowers starting to bloom offering the first nectar for the foragers to gather.

Last week's visit to the apiary, I felt that all three colonies needed feeding, so I left them all with a tub of fondant. With the temperature so low, honey bees should only be fed fondant and it should be remembered that this feed isn't for the bees to store, but to prevent them from starving until you next visit the apiary to check again. At the same time, I popped a varroa tray below each colony to check the daily mite drop on my next visit.

So this morning I set off for my weekly walk to the apiary with a back pack of fondant made up in plastic takeaway containers... just in case! Even though I was just checking stores, I still wear my beesuit - it would be the one time I didn't that one of the girls may take offence to me opening up their hive, even though I try to be as quiet as possible to cause minimum disturbance to each colony. Taking off each roof, I was surprised to see how much fondant the colonies had used within the week with one colony having no fondant left at all. Picking up a useful tip from a fellow beekeeper, there's no need to lift the container off the crown board. Instead, place the new container full of fondant immediately to one side of the one you are going to remove and simply slide it back over the feeding hole in the crown board. If there are bees in the old container I quietly pick it up and hold in front of the hive entrance for them to walk back in, especially with the weather being cold.

With the bees all fed, I pulled the varroa trays out from under the open mesh floors:

  • Moormead (the strong colony) - total count 30 / 6 days = 5 daily drop rate
  • Manston - total count 10 / 6 days = 1.6 daily drop rate
  • Overbook - total count 0

Guess what I'll be going back to the apiary tomorrow to do? You guessed it... treating two colonies for varroa to bring the level back down.