Feed, feed, feed.... ?

Discussion in 'General Beekeeping' started by Omie, Jul 11, 2012.

  1. Omie

    Omie New Member

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    Times are tough for bees and for beekeepers. Not only diseases, but pests, pollution, agricultural practices, and pesticides are taking a huge toll on bees and other pollinators.
    Add to this scenario our latest awful droughts and heat waves in various parts of the U.S.

    It's no wonder many beekeepers feed their bees a lot to keep them going.
    Commercial BKs have little choice but to feed, unless environmental conditions and the ag business system undergo large changes.
    So let me instead address the legions of new hobby and backyard beekeepers-

    Has our whole attitude shifted concerning what is considered 'normal' or beneficial in terms of feeding sugar syrup or corn syrup to our bees?

    Consider the possibility that it might not be necessary to feed bees whenever there is no nectar flow.
    When there's a good flow, the bees will store nectar, pollen, and honey. They do this in anticipation of dry spells, cold spells, and dearth periods when little is blooming. If given enough brood box space, a typical hive will have stores to live on for a while when times are tough.

    New beekeepers seem endlessly worried that their bees have nothing to eat. They are told by many to 'Feed, feed, feed, until they won't take it any more'...and I observe that this sometimes leads to nucs being fed right on through the entire Summer and into Fall. They can't see bees bringing in nectar, but they can see the syrup feeder level slowly go down, which is reassuring to see. And every winter hive death that has no obvious cause is automatically blamed on starvation.
    Feeding sugar gives a sense that one is doing everything possible to keep their bees alive. ...But are we really doing bees any favor by putting them on a near constant IV drip of sugar water?

    Has it come to the point where we feed our new package bees and nucs on sugar water to help them build up, then feed off and on through the Summer because it's dry, and then feed more in the Fall to prepare them for winter, and during the winter on dry sugar too, to guard against starvation, and then back to 1:1 in Spring again for buildup...and on to Summer feeding again?
    At what point are we just keeping expensive pets and no longer even getting pure honey in return?
    Is our bees' general health compromised by a diet heavy on cane sugar and corn syrup- is it like folks who guzzle too much soda and don't eat enough more nutritious food? Street dogs and cats that live on garbage and suffer malnutrition and nutritional deficiencies are more susceptible to ticks, fleas, mange, worms, fungus, and viruses...they have almost no resistance. Might this not be true for other creatures as well?
    I'd love to see an experiment on raising several generations of bees purely on a diet of sugar syrup, corn syrup, and artificial pollen substitute...I wonder what results we would see?- maybe we'd see bees that readily succumb to nosema, viruses, varroa mites...? hmmm.

    Just stuff I found myself pondering this afternoon. What do you all think about this subject? :smile:
     
  2. Eddy Honey

    Eddy Honey New Member

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    First off, I am the non-feeding king....you must be the queen lol, although last year I fed candy in January and February because I was told to by experienced beeks.
    Without a doubt, the hive that didn't touch the candy and decreased their population the most has been my more productive hive to date.

    That being said.....the beekeeping gods have decided to test me. We haven't had rain in forever it seems. There has been rain 50 miles north and 20 miles south in good quantity but not here :(

    There is acre upon acre of sweet pepperbush in bloom with every kind of bee on it except honeybees even though pepperbush is classified as a major nectar source....it was the same last year...no honeybees on the pepperbush.

    I have splits that I am thinking about feeding because they haven't a single comb with any measurable nectar...in fact I just walked in the door with 50 lbs of sugar.

    My big hives all have plenty of honey to get through this until it rains or we burst into flames and perish!
     

  3. DLMKA

    DLMKA New Member

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    All my hives are new this year from a package, swarms, and one nuc. I fed the nuc and the package for several weeks but they just didn't take the syrup much and was tired of mixing up syrup with a decent nectar flow on so I stopped feeding and made them do what they are supposed to do. All the swarms I threw into a hive body with no feed. The first swarm I caught has a deep and 3 mediums almost full of brood and honey. The other swarms caught weeks later are lagging but not by very much but missed out on the heaviest flow and I've started to feed them. The pacakge bees are by far in the worst shape, they only have one deep filled out and I can't get them to work on a second box without them starting to backfill the broodnest. I shuffled some frames around and that helped but I'll be feeding them until goldenrod starts or we get some rain and the soybeans start providing some nectar. I don't want to feed, I'd much rather let them have stores of real honey but I also want to get them at least a shot at getting through the winter too.
     
  4. PerryBee

    PerryBee New Member

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    Great topic! :thumbsup:
    I feed but because of a change in management practice, I have backed waaaaay off. I checkerboard quite a bit, replacing frames of honey (deeps) with empty comb or even foundation during the summer. I typically just store the frames of honey (I don't extract deeps) and anything that is in need of feed in the fall just gets those frames. I have even taken to overwintering some of my hives as triples just as a way to "store" the honey. With the price of sugar and the work involved, it just seems to be a whole lot easier.
    That said, I haven't used fumadil as a result of not feeding sugar syrup, and I did not have a particularly good overwinter success this past year, but that could be the result of many other things as well. :oops:
     
  5. RE Jones

    RE Jones New Member

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    As of right now, I am not feeding. I have been told by several beeks down here that we are in a dearth until September.

    All of my hives have capped honey in them, except for the swarm that I just hived, and until their stores are gone, I will not feed.

    I understand that at times we may have to feed, but until that time arrives, I think they can fend for themselves.
    Robert
     
  6. Zookeep

    Zookeep Active Member

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    I fed a few hives in January of this year but that was it, now that we have had a little rain all my hives are pulling comb again and the good are pouring in, Im not real big on feeding unless its a new nuc and even then soon as I see a good field force out of the nuc I cut the feed, I figure the only way to know if a hives good with its stores and can make it in the area you live in is to let it fend for its self for the most part.
     
  7. riverbee

    riverbee Active Member

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    a very thoughtful post omie, and a critical decision to be made by all of us whether to feed or not to feed; harmful vs helpful. feeding or not feeding usually comes with experience and thoughtful advice as yours. with anything i do with the bees, for the most part, purpose and knowledge of my bees and hives, and nectar/pollen flows drives that decision, and feeding or not feeding falls into that category. i need to be fully aware of what stores are available in my hives (or lifting of the hives in winter months or this year's record heat), available pollen and nectar to sustain them through a nectar death if they run out of stores, and be aware of what blooms are or are not present. this is an important factor many new keeps are not aware of or do not educate themselves about what is present in their area and need to do so. i can't stress this enough. this is critical to the bees healthy survival at all times of the year, and to the point of your post. natural sources are much more nutritiuous for them than sugar syrup and pollen substitutes.

    i think there are many aspects to your post about feeding omie, starter hives or nucs, drawing foundation,etc. many variables.

    this year i was faced with this decision, a severe nectar drought because of our relentlessness rain and flooding, unlike anything i have ever seen or what southern keeps see in hot dry weather, excessive rain does kill nectar and pollen sources (more so nectar). in my area, i saw and experienced, in lifting strong hives in extreme record temps, my hives getting lighter and lighter, and using the honey from supers they had put away early on in the season, that nearly ran out. there were no nectar sources and minimal pollen sources. for the first time in over 10 years of the last nectar drought, i thought i might have to feed. the rain stopped, and the heat started, plants began to bloom. some of my strong hives are still light for this time of year, but have not yet had to feed any of them.

    i know you are not one to advocate feeding your bees, but for me i will say this, for healthy productive hives, i will not let them starve any time of the year. i have worked too hard (and so have the bees) and my investment is too great to lose them to starvation, and if feeding is required, i will feed them as necessary for them to sustain.

    thanks for the thought provoking post:grin:
     
  8. jim314

    jim314 New Member

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    I'm still real new to this only being my second year with bees. What I have done and seems to work is feed until I have 2 deeps drawn and filled with honey/sugar honey. Once that happens, I quit feeding and add supers. Whatever is in the deeps the bees keep, whatever is in the supers, I keep. This did encourage swarming this Spring because I wasn't quick enough with the supers, but I haven't regretted it so far. Since the deeps were full, they move up into the supers and filled them with honey.
     
  9. bamabww

    bamabww New Member

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    Exactly my situation and course of action. So far, so good.
     
  10. indypartridge

    indypartridge New Member

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    Excellent post!

    I'm seeing so many posts on the bee forums from newbies asking if they should feed during the drought, many of whom haven't even opened the hive to check stores. I often get asked questions about when to use pollen patties, and when I say I've never used them, I get shocked looks. I've found that the longer I keep bees, the less I do for them.

    BINGO! While I'm very glad to see the resurgent interest in keeping bees, there's no doubt that many of these new beeks have very pampered pets. I'm thinking that right now beekeeping has become a fad hobby, and in a few years there's gonna be a lot of nice used beekeeping equipment on craigslist!
     
  11. efmesch

    efmesch Active Member

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    As a small scale operator, this is my method:
    When I melt down my wax cappings, the wax and the honey separate. I consider this heated honey to be "inferior" and I don't bottle it for my use. But I do bottle it for future use of the bees in case they need a feeding desperately.
    Rarely do I feed, but when I do, it's from heated cappings honey. If feeding is required to apply medicines, mixing them in heated honey can be just as good (if not much better) than syrup.
    I dare say that the flavor of my honey (personal opinion and that of unsolicited praisers) is vastly superior to that of honey that comes from hives fed at any point with sugar syrup.
     
  12. hlhart2001

    hlhart2001 New Member

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    Thank you for posting this. I am a first time beek and I have been frustrated with the whole feeding thing. I really don't like giving the bees refined white sugar...I avoid it as much as I can and try not to feed it to my child, so why the heck am I feeding it to the bees. This has been my biggest conundrum so far...I have been feeding our package since the 1st of May and they have never stopped taking it(like people say they will). We had frosts thru June. The two deeps had plenty of frame drawn out, brood...I added a super 2 weeks ago(with no intention of taking the honey it's for the bees as we have long/cold winters here in eastern WA) It finally heated up...last week at 100 everyday. The bees have busy and bringing in the nectar/pollen all along(so why do they keep taking the sugar water..lazy?;)....we live out in the country, near a river, with surrounding fields, meadows, trees....Lots of wildflowers have come and gone. We have no intention of taking the honey this year...want them to have lots of stores for the winter(we have very long/cold winters here in eastern WA). I will be going in within the next week to see how things are going. I haven't fed for several days and really want to lay off of it. But of course now we are going into what appears the hotter/drier part of the summer and I worry about a dearth. Sigh! Anyway I just want to get thru the first year. Glad this topic has been brought up.
     
  13. Omie

    Omie New Member

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    From your description I am quite sure you'll be perfectly fine to quit feeding now.