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Spring feeding
Craig Toth 261

Spring feeding

supplemental feeding, What should I do?

Hi all,

In the beekeeping world at Natural Elements honey we are out in the beeyards getting things ready Starting in the middle of March. We always make sure that the temperature is +5C or more and we have a 5 second rule. We won't open the hive up for more than 5 seconds until the temperature is closer to the +10C degree mark.

When the temperature is cool and the hives are light (less than 75lbs) we will add some moistioned sugar and a pollen patty to sustain the bees until they can start feeding from natural sources. Please note that if the colonies are strong and there is ample food leave the hives wrapped and don't disturb them.

We mark the hives that did not survive the winter and bring them home for cleaning, sterilization and any maintenance that is required. Most of the colonies that don't make it through the winter is older queens (more than 2 years) and lack of food. 

Once the snow is off the ground we are cutting dead trees, changing out old hive stands and making the yards look amazing for the new upcoming season. Each year we get many questions on spring time feeding. Thanks to the Bee Team (AB Government) they have put together some of their thoughts on supplemental feeding. 

 

Spring Supplemental Feeding

In the spring, bees require both carbohydrates (sugar/honey) for energy and protein (pollen) for brood rearing. Often, there are limited sources of pollen and nectar in the environment.

During the spring, honey and pollen stores in a colony should be evaluated. Additionally, the surrounding environment should be investigated for sources of pollen and nectar. If both areas are low, the colony may need to be given supplemental feed in the form of sugar syrup and pollen patties.

The length of time and amount of feed given will depend on your goals as a beekeeper:

  • Ensuring colony survival until more food sources become available
  • Increasing brood production and colony size for the honey flow
  • Increasing brood production and colony size for splits or sale

 

The goal of supplemental feeding is to bridge the gap from when colonies are unwrapped to when natural sources of feed are available.

 

Managing Risk

Beekeeping, just like farming, is at the mercy of Mother Nature and one must constantly watch the forecast and monitor the hive closely. One must weigh the benefits and risks to feeding as there is no exact date for when to start feeding. Supplemental feeding should be given on a case-to-case basis.

Encouraging increased brood production in the early spring could put the colony at risk of overextending their resources if a cold snap were to occur. When brood is present in the colony, the cluster must expend more energy to keep the brood warm. If the colony has expanded too rapidly, it may be unable to protect the brood from an unexpected cold snap, leading to chilled brood or hive collapse.

Feeding can also be a costly expense. Once feeding has begun, it must continue until other food sources appear as the growing colony will be reliant on the supplemented feed.

However, without feed, weaker colonies may die. Even strong colonies may require feed if weather is preventing bees from foraging.

 

Sugar Feed

When to Feed

As a general rule, if the hive is not heavy (under 75 pounds), it needs feed (1). Also, if there are any signs of starvation (groups of dead bees with their heads facing into the comb), it is a sign that syrup feeding is required. If the colony has a healthy number of bees and frames with existing honey surplus from winter, feeding is not necessary.

The provided feed should be a minimum of 1:1 parts sugar and water (1). Continue to feed until the dandelions (or other large plant sources) bloom.

Amount of Feed

Typically, colonies that require feed need gallons rather than quarts (1). Observe how quickly feed is consumed by the colony. Provide enough feed so frequent refills are not needed but not so much that it turns rancid before it is all consumed.

Potential Risks

Recent research looking at gene activity in response to diet found significant differences occur depending on what the bees eat. This research suggests that a colony’s immune response may be weaker when fed an artificial diet as opposed to naturally collected forage (2).

Additionally, bees can become reliant on an artificial source of feed and can become less resilient in finding their own sources of feed.

Early feed helps stimulate brood production, and if the hive is already fairly strong, this could lead to early season swarming, which may be unappealing especially for residential beekeepers.

If too much syrup is provided, the bees may store it as honey, therefore diminishing honey quality.

 

Pollen Substitutes

When to Feed

In the late winter/early spring, the colony responds to lengthening days with a gradually accelerating growth surge. In order to rear brood in early spring, the colony needs adequate pollen for larvae development. However, pollen sources are often limited at this time.

Pollen substitutes should be considered if the local pollen sources are not supplying the colony with adequate pollen for spring growth, and if your intent is colony growth.

Amount of Feed

Feeding should continue until the bees stop consuming it or natural sources are adequate. It is best to not have a break in supply. Pollen coming into the hive on the legs of bees is another indicator that the colony is foraging from natural sources and that substitutes are no longer needed.

Pollen substitutes are less acceptable than natural pollen to honey bees. When given the choice, bees will usually consume considerably more natural pollen than pollen substitute (3).

Potential Risks

If weather is still too cold having excess brood will be a detriment to the hive health as a whole as they will have to overextend their resources to maintain the brood.

Additionally, bees can become reliant on an artificial source of feed and can become less resilient in finding their own sources of feed.

 

First Food Sources in the Spring (4)- Please note: depending on the Area there is other pollen varieties which show up, the below are the most common

  • Willow (Apr-Jun)
  • Dandelion (Apr-Sept)
  • Elm (Apr-May)
  • Poplar (Apr-May)
  • Box elder (May)
  • Serviceberry (May-Jun)
  • Cherry (May-Jun)

 

References

  1. Deplane, K.S. 2015. Management for honey production. In The Hive and the Honey Bee. Edited by J.M. Graham. Dadant & Sons, Hamilton, Ilinois. Pp. 498-99.
  2. https://www.beeculture.com/is-it-feeding-time-in-your-apiary/#:~:text=For%20years%20beekeepers%20have%20been,to%20stimulate%20early%20brood%20rearing
  3. Herbert, E.W. & Hill, D.A. 2015. Honey bee nutrition. In The Hive and the Honey Bee. Edited by J.M. Graham. Dadant & Sons, Hamilton, Ilinois. Pp. 252.
  4. Ayers, G.S. & Harman, J.R. 2015. Bee forage of North America and the potential for planting for bees. In The Hive and the Honey Bee. Edited by J.M. Graham. Dadant & Sons, Hamilton, Ilinois. Pp. 418-19.

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Natural Elements Honey

Natural Elements Honey is a family run business. We raise strong and healthy honey bee colonies for new and experience beekeepers. We provide Beekeeper training/mentoring so if you are in an urban environment or you want to go commercial we can help. We are focused on honey bee health, producing some of Alberta best honey and honey products.

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