Bruce Bowen, of Bruce Bowen’s Bees in Mt. Vernon, has over one thousand hives. Here at Brookfield Farm, in Maple Falls, and in my surrounding bee yards, I have about 40 hives. This means we have very different ways to feed bees.
I still feed the way I did when I had two hives. This is something I have to change, but it works for the moment. I make my syrup in huge pots, stir in the oils, and then pour
the syrup into buckets with tight lids. Then I pour the syrup into gallon containers that once held water. I use the gallon containers to pour the syrup into the feeders.
My feeders are simply plastic containers bought at the Dollar Store, which have thin flat pieces of wood floating in them as rafts. Yep, this all takes a bit of time, but it’s cheap.
Bruce doesn’t have time. If he spends more than 5 to 10 seconds feeding each of his hives they won’t get fed. Now, 10 seconds times one thousand comes out to about 3 hours. But that does not include getting the feed for 1,000 hives into a system that can
carry that weight and pump it to the hives. Nor would that 3 hours include the time it takes for the feed truck to get around all the hives. Moving fast, Bruce can feed nearly all the hives a gallon of feed in one day. Every other day he will return and feed again, until all the hives have had 2 or 3 feeds
He carries 4 totes of feed on his truck. Each of those totes can feed about 300 hives. To move the feed from the totes to the hives requires a pump, hose, and feed nozzle. Bruce built all of his own gear. I wish I had that ability.
But why feed, you might be wondering. Every beekeeper I know feeds their bees after the honey crop is harvested in the fall. Sufficient honey stores for winter are always left on the hives, but fall feeding meets a number of different needs for different beekeepers.
I feed to give my bees essential oils, and because I worry about the bees (this is rather like saying the earth rotates and the sun rises, but that’s a different story). My area has no wild forage for honeybees from about mid-October until mid-February. Some of this time the hives are in cluster, but if the weather is warm, they will continue to fly. I worry that although I leave them about 70 pounds of honey on each hive, they will eat all of it before the cold drives them into cluster. So they get fed about ½ gallon of cane sugar syrup plus essential oils once a week for about 6 weeks: from honey harvest to the end of October. The syrup also allows me to give them their essential oils: spearmint, lemongrass, and thyme oil, which I spoke of in a previous post. These oils seem to help them make it though the winter. No science to back it up, I’ve just always done it. Next year’s experiment will be to select 2 hives which will only be fed one gallon of essential oil laced syrup, and see if they do die. I will worry, and the sun will rise.
Bruce has more fall forage in his area, but he uses fall feeding to stimulate his hives to produce more brood. His hives travel each February, along with most of the commercial hives in the nation, to pollinate California’s almond orchards. Each hive must be packed with bees to fulfill his contract. The payment on that contract provides operating revenue for his apiary. The primary money in beekeeping is in pollination, not honey. Bruce runs a nice balance: his hives go on one pollination trip each year. Then they return to peaceful bee yards where they will spend the remainder of the year making wonderful honey for Bruce that we sell at the Fremont Market in Seattle.