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Master Craftsman Beekeeper David MacFawn feeding his bees using a bucket feeder.

It’s time we had a heart to heart talk about feeding.

It can be a touchy topic and there are lots of opinions on feeding bees but the bottom line for many first year beekeepers is that there may be no other option.

Lately I have been getting lots of email and telephone calls from people regarding bees on their property, at hummingbird feeders, fig trees, or trash cans causing some concern. And then there is the snow cone business owner with bees harassing his customers and covering his garbage bins. And the call from Krispy Kreme Donuts describing large numbers of bees around their dumpsters and trying to enter the building. All of this is symptomatic of the problem in the bee yard – hungry, irritable bees!

My concern at this time is not so much ensuring the bees have enough stores for winter because there is still time enough for that (if they have built enough comb to store winter stores). Instead I am worried that the little scamps may not have enough NOW. Even with honey stores honey bees prefer nectar to carry out day to day operations and without incoming nectar (or syrup) they will become increasingly irritable and will mob otherwise unlikely sugar sources.

So why am I worried about day to day operations? Soon the bees that will be overwintering will be produced. These bees will have to be “fat bees” to get through the winter. Sooner than that though will be the bees that raise and feed the “fat bees” using the secretions from their glands to produce the jelly the larvae will eat. Those bees will, likewise, have to be strong and healthy. So, we have to raise healthy bees now to ensure our winter bees will get the best possible care and nutrition before they undertake the task of surviving winter.

My first real summer of beekeeping I had a series of events that took me away from the house (and bee yard) for a few weeks. It was around this time of year and basically I had been gone for about three weeks (off and on). When, after three weeks, I returned my bees were looking bad and I couldn’t put my finger on it. They had some honey stored and I was feeding as much as I thought they might need. Some anyway. When I was home. Well…

One of our own MSBA Master beekeepers came by (name withheld to protect the innocent) and helped me as I went through a few hives. Diplomatically I was told the larvae looked dry. Not enough jelly in the cells. Probably not enough feed. I got serious and a started feeding in earnest (and stayed home the rest of the summer). It turned them around and within a month things were ticking along just fine again.

I know, it’s expensive. But it’s probably cheaper than feeding the dog and when has the dog made honey for you anyway? Plus, it’s paying it forward – get this hive through winter and a simple split will double your hives for cheap next spring.

A final comment on bees harassing non-beekeepers: If you think it is their problem, certainly not yours, you’re not looking far enough ahead. In reality, that neighbor or business owner has every right to take action to eliminate a pest that is threating his/her business or the enjoyment of their property. And even if local ordinances allow beekeeping, nuisance laws still exist. And bees making a pest of themselves may get sprayed by others. Occasionally I get calls to come help but there isn’t much that can be done if bees have identified a food source. I suspect most people and business owners simply eliminate the problem and don’t tell. Do the right thing and keep your bees satisfied and busy at home.