A newly stocked tbh needs continuous feeding until it makes a living.
But eventually a beekeeper will encounter a hive that needs feeding. Failing to feed a hungry hive always retards development. Extended hunger demoralizes a hive and threatens its survival:
- put all feed inside the tbh
- bee stored honey/pollen combs are the best feed
- when needed sugar can substitute for honey
- pollen substitute can augment but not replace pollen
- don’t block or interfere with hive ventilation
- don’t let any feed push against the bottom of a hanging comb
Bees can sense how much surplus feed is in a hive. If that surplus drops below a critical amount, the bees,through time:
- curtail brood rearing
- cannibalize drone brood
- cannibalize worker brood
- curtail colony activities including foraging
The best feed is what the bees themselves store up. And that’s honey and pollen in a beeswax comb. A prudent beekeeper often sets aside enough feed comb for emergency use. Feed combs have lots of advantages:
- can be placed in a hive when it’s too cold for other methods
- no bee drowning in syrup
- no fermented syrup
- extra feed isn’t hauled out at trash
- not messy
- no preparation or mixing required
Feed frames are simply inserted into a tbh next to the cluster. A cappings scratcher can be used to scrap a small amount of cappings off, exposing some honey for the bees. The bees discover it and uncap the rest as they need it.
Solid sugar is usually fed when the bees are flying. Just dump some sugar inside the free space away from the entrance. The bees will gather water outside the hive and liquefy what they need inside the hive. Don’t put too much sugar in as the bees haul it out as trash once nectar becomes available.
Bakers sugar is a finely crystallized granulated sugar. It isn’t confectioners sugar. The bees still need water to liquify it. But they won’t haul baker’s sugar out as trash like they do with coarser, granulated stuff.
Bee candy is a sugar water mixture cooked to the soft ball stage. As it includes water, it can be fed during the winter when the bees can’t fly:
- there are lots of recipes for bee candy on the net
- it’s easy to prepare and use
- keep the ingredients simple – water – sugar – heat
Fondant is another form of solid sugar. It is a softer form of bee candy that includes whipping in lots air. Again lots of recipes on the net.
Bakers fondant is a sugar, water, air product sold to commercial bakeries in large blocks. It’s often used in place of bee candy or fondant.
Sugar syrup is best used when the bees can fly.
If it’s cold and the bees aren’t flying much, a thick, 2:1 sugar syrup is best. For warmer weather, a thinner, 1:1 sugar syrup works. Minimize the disruption and use methods that conserve the colony’s warmth when feeding.
Syrup not consumed by the bees in a short time quickly ferments. Fermented syrup is repulsive to bees. Some beekeepers add stuff to sugar syrup that inhibits fermentation. It may save a little syrup. But who knows what it does to the colony’s beneficial bacteria.
There are several ways sugar syrup is fed in a tbh. If the bees aren’t clustered and there’s room away from the entrance:
- fill a container with syrup
- place floats in the container to prevent drowning bees
- a quail or dribble type waterer can also be set at the back of the hive
- in bad weather put the feed where the bees can get at it
Two litter pop bottle
A special top bar can be built that accepts the capped end of a two-liter pop bottle:
- drill a hole, through the top bar, that admits the cap but is smaller than the bottle’s collar
- drill three or four small holes in the bottle cap
- completely fill the bottle with syrup
- tightly, screw the cap on the bottle
- set it in the hole in the special top bar
- the collar, on the pop bottle, keeps it from slipping into the hole
- this special top bar is placed close to the cluster when the weather is cool
There’s no need to open the hive when feeding this way. Just replace the empty 2 liter bottle with a full one. This approach is used by commercial migratory beekeepers and some queen rearers using standard equipment.
Baggie feeders could be a good choice:
- a plastic ziploc type baggie is loosely filled with syrup
- lay the baggie inside the tbh near the comb
- cut several slits in the top of the baggie
I’ve tried using them, but found them leaky. I apparently don’t understand some important element about baggie feeders, as others have used them successfully.
Division board feeders
My friend Barry, has a tbh with room for a deep frame beneath the top bar. He screws a standard division board feeder to a top bar and uses it to feed his bees. Don’t forget that division board feeders need floats to prevent bees from drowning.
Pollen supplement can be marginally fed as patties inside the hive. But the patties must be thin and pushed directly beneath the broodnest. Unlike sugar, pollen supplement isn’t consumed from the bottom board beyond the broodnest area. And bees reluctantly take it directly below the broodnest.
Patties quickly dry out when placed on the hive bottom near the entrance. The bees ventilate their hive using that space which accelerates drying. Once the pollen patty is dry, the bees stop working them. I haven’t found a good way to feed pollen supplement inside a tbh.
Another option beyond the patty is to mix some pollen supplement into a bee candy or fondant recipe. The pollen supplement manufactures have recipes for this. Sounds like a good idea. But I’ve never tried it.