I feed for three weeks in the spring, before the honey supers go on, and three weeks in the fall after the honey is harvested. I feed cane syrup with essential oils.
My spring feed has two components.
1) There is no forage from October to April in our area. Although I leave about 70 pounds of honey on each hive, by March there is a good possibility of stores being very low.
This is especially true in a mild winter when the bees do not go into tight cluster and carry on eating their honey (the nerve of ‘um). We just had a mild winter. It’s the first year in a decade where we could drive to the farm every day. Normally, for one to two weeks each winter, the snow is too deep to get up the hill to the farm even with 4-wheel drive, snow tires, and chains. Mild winters are easier on me (no ¾ mile walks though the snow with groceries), but harder on the bees because they eat a lot of food and can run out by spring.
2) I want my bees to be building up by the blooming of the Big Leaf Maples. These are our first major nectar source. The Alders and wild Hazelnut trees have been providing pollen, but the Maples are the bees’ first sweet taste in the year.
Every year I write down when the flowers bloom (and when birds arrive, when green plants emerge, and the weather – good notes going back years are worth their weight in honey). By my notes, the Maples should go into bloom around the second week in April. Thus I need to start my up-river bee yard feedings in the third week of March. The concept is build up, but no feed when the Maples bloom – so the bees will concentrate on them.
Of course nature does not follow humans’ plans, so I can be off by a week or two. I had intended to start my down-river hives a week earlier than my up-river hives, but it rained for two weeks straight at that time. I don’t open hives in the rain if it is not critical to do so.
I’m finally getting a chance to post this at the beginning of the second week of April. I just finished the final feed on Friday. That was the same day that I saw my first up river blooms of Big Leaf Maples. So, a week earlier start would have been better (but it had rained for 2 weeks at that time).
Up-River / Down-River an explanation:
I keep bees along a west to east corridor in the most northwest county in Washington state.
The route falls pretty much along the North Fork of the Nooksack River. The down river (westerly) bee yards see spring at least a week earlier than my up river (easterly) bee yards.
The down river yards are in berry country – Whatcom county is the largest producer of Raspberries in Washington state, and Washington state is the largest producer of raspberries in the US (according to the internet). The up river yards are in mountain wildflower country.
The road along the river turns about 10 miles up river from my last bee yard and climbs to Mt. Baker, the second most glaciated mountain in Washington.
Have I mentioned how beautiful it is here?
Back to Feeding: The physical part:
1) Remove the insulation that has been on the burlap that’s on the top bars.
2) Place a “dollar store” hive top feeder on the top bars. This is a plastic container in which I place thin pieces of wood. They are set in two layers, at right angles to each other. Think “raft” and you have exactly what I’m doing. The containers are from the local “Dollar Store”. The cut wood is off-cuts of my husband’s furniture making
3) The burlap is folded over and placed next to the feeder – it acts as a ramp to the feeder
4) I add the feed.
What I Feed:
I started with a recipe I found on line; then over the years, made changes. Nothing, I repeat nothing is scientifically tested – this just seems to work for me.
The Recipe I Use:
The following is based on making a pot of feed that produces 3.5 gallons of feed.
The pot I use is a four-gallon cook stew pot (if someone can explain the discrepancy to me, between the full 4-gallon pot and resulting 3.5-gallons of feed, please let me know. I’ve always wondered).
½ pot of water
½ pot of cane sugar
1 teaspoon organic soy Lecithin (dry) – this is an emulsifier
2 ¼ teaspoons Lemon Grass Oil
1 ½ teaspoons Spearmint Oil
¾ teaspoons Tea Tree Oil
1 ¼ teaspoon Thyme Oil (Thymol)
Bring water to boil on stove.
While water is boiling:
Dissolve lecithin in 1/4-1/2 cup of boiling water – stir until dissolves
Add oils, stir.
Take boiling water off stove:
Remove and let cool a bit – cold rooms, less time than warm rooms.
Add sugar – Stir until dissolves (usually the length of singing “Aupres De Ma Blonde”
Add cup of essential oils, lecithin and water.
Stir. Let cool
If another batch is to be done: RINSE OUT THE CUP THE OIL WAS IN BEFORE STARTING AGAIN – other wise the lecithin won’t dissolve as well (took me ages to figure that out).
I do 3 pots at a time, and make just over 90 gallons of feed each spring and fall.
All Fed – Trees in Bloom
I’m writing this just as I have just finished all the feeding. Some bees are chowing down heavily, some are eating at a steady pace, and some are ignoring the feed. Happily, most hives have lots of honey left from last year – and no matter what I feed them; their honey is the best thing they can eat. Best yet, we’re about to go into 3 to 4 weeks of Big Leaf Maple Bloom, followed by vine Maples. Now if it would just stop raining (yes the rains came back, as they always do here).
That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees and Honey. Do you feed? If so, what do you use? I learned about Tea Tree Oil from another beekeeper. Another friend is experimenting with putting stinging nettles and dandelion leaves in the syrup water (I’m very interested to see how that goes for him). Beekeeping’s all about constant learning and evolving – the bees don’t stop changing, so we need to change with them.