More and more it’s pointing to nutrition to help us save our bees.
Researchers have discovered that honey bees alter their diet of nutrients according to the season. A spike in calcium consumption in the fall, and high intake of potassium, help prepare the bees for colder months when they likely need those minerals to generate warmth. A careful inventory of the bees’ nutrient intake revealed shifting sources and how limitations in nutrient availability from these sources can have implications for the health of both managed and wild colonies.
As with all creatures, good nutrition is very important to a colony of bees. Many beekeepers only look at the amount of liquid stores a colony has, but pollen is equally important, yet often ignored. A lack of liquid stores can lead to starvation in both summer and winter, but a shortage of pollen can have a serious effect for some time, as poorly nourished larvae can result in poorly performing or unhealthy adults.
As a beekeeper, it is important to “read” a colony, because it is telling you something all the time. On each inspection, get into the habit of looking into a few cells where there are freshly hatched larvae, around 4-5 days from egg laying. If there is plenty of food coming in, the larvae will be in a big puddle of brood food, but if there is little food coming in, the bottoms of the cells will be almost dry. I wish this sort of observation was taught more by teachers.
In the course of a study on mosquito movement at a zoo in Manhattan, Kansas, researchers discovered that local colonies of honey bees had foraged on a sugar bait for the mosquitoes that had been applied to foliage near the zoo. The bait had been dyed for the purpose of tracking mosquitoes that had fed on it, but the dye also showed up in much of the bees’ honey. Here, a frame from one of the zoo’s bee hives shows honey dyed red (black arrow). The bait in this case was nontoxic, but the discovery indicates a need for further study on attractive toxic sugar baits’ impacts on bees and other nontarget insects. (Image originally published in Kapaldo et al 2018, Journal of Insect Science)
Based on my own experience, and in talking with others, honey removal places an additional stress on the colonies. And, if you think about it, it does so in several ways. Of course we just took away much of their stores. Often we have taken apart their entire structure and rearranged the order they had created. The scent of torn honey combs may have caused some robbers to investigate which necessitated defense of the colony. Simple removal of a hive body changes the thermodynamics and ventilation characteristics. And on top of it all we have done all this at the beginning of one of the most stressful times of the year – dearth and pest season.
I’ve lost colonies within a month of harvesting in prior years. It may have been because of mites or robbing and simply coincided with harvest but regardless, the stress of harvesting played into their inability to maintain the healthy state they were in prior to my disruption.
So, back to my original question, What have you done for me lately? Or more appropriately, What have you done for your bees lately?
Are you providing ventilation to allow them to cool the hive? Screen bottom boards? Small upper entrances to allow air flow? Popsicle sticks under the outer cover? We know they are working hard to cool the hive as evidenced by water gathering. Are you making it easy for them to gather water?
Syrup on top where it can be protected and not start robbing.
Are you giving them some syrup to replace some of the stores you took? You might say that you left adequate stores on the hive but would access to a little feeding of light syrup not be welcomed rather than having them gather water and reconstitute honey left on the hive? Remember honey harvest occurs at a peek in colony population and brood rearing and they are consuming lots of carbohydrate while unfortunately nectar flow has just dropped off so they must now take on the additional job of diluting honey and using it to feed the larvae along with all the other tasks.
Are you monitoring for hive beetles? I’ve already found a few in smaller nucs. Stronger hives seem to still have them well managed in my apiary. Soon it will be yet another job for them to guard and corral the SHBs.
Have you made adjustments in the size of your hive? You may need to add a hive body or remove one depending on the colony population.
Assess for mites. I checked my mites in early June to be ready for action after harvest. I’ve already completed my second OAV treatment and can see an increase in the enthusiasm of the bees already as the mite load begins to drop. This management of the mites means the bees can do more for themselves by lowering their stress levels so that they can perform the many other jobs they have to do.
It’s hot outside and it can be difficult to motivate yourself to get out and work your bees like you did in the spring. Regardless, your bees need you more than ever right now. Hopefully they are strong and will be able to handle the many challenges awaiting them through dearth, pest season, and ultimately winter. As beekeepers we know that last minute preparations rarely yield the results we want, so we must find a way to work with them now rather than later. Try getting out early in the morning while it’s still cool. I recommend you do as the bees do this time of year – get out and get your work done early and stay home and dance after it gets hot. I’ve found the bees gentle in the early hours recently. Most foragers are out early to gather the nectar produced overnight and many of the house bees are cordial enough. Limit your inspections to ensuring they have what they need and are well. Lower their stress levels with some feed, water, and mite control, and they will do much of the rest.
Pictures above show thin syrup on top (protected) and water in Boardman feeders.
If they have enough honey you don’t have to feed. We tell new beekeepers to feed because they need to build comb and often their colonies have not stored enough to weather the dearth period, and ultimately the coming winter. Remember, your bees may eat up a lot of what they have stored during our long Midlands dearth period. Fall nectar flow is often minimal in the Midlands and not to be relied on. If your hive has already built out enough comb and filled it with stores then the decision is yours.
As with most things in beekeeping, try to look forward at least a couple months. If your bees have plenty right now then they won’t starve over dearth but keep a close eye on their stores as dearth progresses. You may find they have eaten up much of what they have stored by late summer. That’s fine and you’ll still have time to feed if necessary before cold weather. However, ignoring them and waiting until the winter is imminent will not give them time to ripen (reduce moisture) syrup given too late in the season so plan accordingly and always look forward a couple months.
Other factors: If you have a weak hive sitting in close proximity to strong hives they may be robbed by the stronger hives. The past few years I have used open feeding at a distance from the hives to give the bees something to gather. The stronger hives seem to dominate the open feeders and I get the impression I’m paying off the stronger hives to prevent them from robbing the weaker. Oh, well.
We had a commercial beekeeper speak at a meeting a few years ago that said he open feeds with buckets but severely limits the amount of feed available by limiting the number of holes on the bottom of the feeder to just a few. The bees know feed is there and work the feeder but it takes a while to drain the feeder. I’ve tried doing this but at some point the limited access creates rather brutal fighting for the syrup. It’s an unpleasant sight.
Fat Bee Man feeds on the hive but limits the number of holes in the lid. He uses a staple gun to punch two small holes in the lid. That, he says, provides them with enough feed to maintain the hive without causing excessive storage of feed or overstimulating brood rearing.
How much is enough? I’ve asked this question to some of our more experienced beekeepers in our association. The reply I have heard most frequently for hive maintainance and to sustain the hive is a quart a week. Of course, it also depends on your goals for the hive. If you made a split then you’ll have to offer them as much as they want. The quart a week is more of a maintainance amount for a typical hive to sustain them over summer dearth.
I spoke with a member at last night’s meeting that has hives at quite a drive from his home. He’s going to try open feeding with a bucket after having a recent small disaster feeding on the hive. I can’t remember the whole situation. I think he may have been using boardman feeders and essential oil mix in the feed. He mentioned he thought that the essential oil might be a mistake when he used it but did so anyway. Yes, it caused robbing. There is, perhaps, a time for feed stimulation but during dearth, when food is scarce is not a time to tempt strong hives to rob weaker hives.
If you want to start feeding do so when they stop bringing in nectar or if they need food based on your assessment of their stores. You can tell if they are bringing in nectar by the way they fly, coming and going at the entrance, and if they are storing nectar in the hive. You can also tell by activity at the hive entrance when the nectar has played out for the day by lack of flying as the day progresses. Yet another test can be made by placing a quart jar with syrup at some distance from the hives (far enough so as to not cause a feeding frenzy around your hives). If the bees show strong interest in the test jar then they are obviously hungry because nectar is far more attractive than sugar syrup. Also, some people with an acute eye for such things can see fat bees returning home with payloads of nectar. Make your best judgement as to whether you need to feed, and how to feed, based on your individual situation.
The National Bee Unit has just issued a starvation alert for parts of the UK. Here in Oxfordshire, we’ve had a great start to the year, the bees have boomed, hives were heavy with stores early in the year and swarms began about a month early. There are many flowers visible to the eye. So why do we need to worry?
The short answer is lack of rainfall. For some weeks we’ve had relentless sun and heat, which is lovely up to a point, but plants need water to make nectar. Without rain, that blossom is empty. Conversely, in some years we have excessive rain extending throughout peak forage periods, which can hinder nectar production in key plants.
And even if a hive has honey stored, bees can’t eat pure honey. They need to dilute it to make it digestible, so they need a water source not just for cooling…
Amino Acids are building blocks of proteins. All amino acids are comprised of 4 groups. The first three are common in all amino acids. They are: Alpha Carbon (C-H) Amine Group (N-H-H) Carboxyl Group (O-C-OH) The last is the R Group. The R Groups are what defines the individual amino acids. Some are polar […]