Feeding bees in the Spring

01.04.2016. 19:46

Spring for the beekeeper starts at the blooming of the maples. You would think something as simple as feeding would not be controversial, but it is—on several fronts.

Spring for the beekeeper starts at the blooming of the maples. This is when the bees start rearing brood in earnest. It’s important from this point on that the supply of pollen and stores is not interrupted as this can interrupt brood rearing. If this is a problem, pollen patties are a common solution.

You would think something as simple as feeding would not be controversial, but it is—on several fronts. Since feeding in the spring and feeding in general overlap and since feeding in the fall when needed or leaving enough stores is how you avoid feeding in the spring, we will touch on that as well.

When is the best time to feed the bees?

Michael Bush, a well-known beekeeper, researcher and spokesperson said:

„The best thing is never to feed them, but let them gather their own stores. But if the season is a failure, as it is some years in most places, then you must feed. The best time for that is just as soon as you know they will need feeding for winter; say in August or September. October does very well, however, and even if you haven’t fed until December, better feed then than to let the bees starve.“

In relation to spring management, one of the issues is the amount of stores they burn up rearing brood. They often starve in late winter or early spring because of brood rearing. They burn up a frame of honey and a frame of pollen for every frame of brood they rear.

There are many reasons to avoid feeding if you can:

  • It sets off robbing,
  • It attracts pests (ants, wasps, yellow jackets, etc.),
  • It clogs the brood nest and sets off swarming,
  • It drowns a lot of bees,
  • It’s a lot of work,
  • If you use syrup there is the effect of the pH on the microbial culture of the hive and difference in nutritional value compared to what they would have gathered on their own.

Some people feed a package constantly for the first year what usually results in them backfilling the brood nest and swarming when they are not strong enough and often failing. Some feed spring, fall and dearth regardless of stores. Some don’t believe in feeding at all. Some steal all the honey in the fall and try to feed them back up enough to winter.

Michael Bush said: „Personally I don’t feed if there is a nectar flow and they have some capped stores. Gathering nectar is what bees do. They should be encouraged to do it. I do try to avoid feeding. Also, while I think honey is the best food for them, it’s too much work to harvest it and then feed it back, so when I feed it’s either dry sugar or sugar syrup, unless I have some honey I don’t think is marketable.“

Stimulative Feeding

A lot of literature suggests that stimulative feeding is an absolute necessity to get honey production. Many of the greats of beekeeping have decided this is not productive.

„…weather has everything to do with the success or failure of any stimulative feeding attempt.“, Michael said.

Some years it seems to help some, some years it misleads them into rearing too much brood too early when a hard freeze could be disastrous, or having too much moisture in the hive in that precarious time of late winter when a hard freeze could still happen. Plus, the really impressive results are usually from feeding a hive light in stores. Leaving more stores still seems to be a more reliable method of getting a lot of early brood.

What do you think, guys?

Source: https://www.kelleybees.com/Blog/1/Healthy-Bees/
Image: http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/02531/hawthorn_2531036k.jpg