Everyone seems to feed their bees - even most of the low intervention bee keepers. I'm not convinced.
Bee keepers feed their bees for several reasons:
- to advance their brood production in spring
- to help the bees through hungry gaps during summer
- to ensure that the bees have adequate stores to survive the winter
- to compensate the bees for honey harvested in autumn (see 3)
I've read that I've spring feeding is ineffective (citation needed; I think it may have been Guide to Bees and Honey by Ted Hooper).
Feeding as a compensation for harvests is understandable but could conceivably reduce the nutritional quality of the honey. I have no evidence to offer to support this but it is my concern. I wonder also what proportion of the harvested honey will have come from bought sugars.
A colony will balance of brood production against foraging. Brood must be fed and kept warm. Expanding brood too quickly in spring will exhaust stores and tie up foragers keeping brood warm. If the nectar flow stalls there could be starvation. Slow expansion of the brood in spring will leave relatively few foragers when nectar flow is strong.
Feeding to ensure the continuation of the colony seems to do more than the vicissitudes of the environment. It risks changing the behaviour of the bees. My concern is that it supports colonies which over-produce brood. Feeding leads to more feeding.
3 of my 5 colonies are definitely from feral stock. I reluctantly decided to feed honey to B, C and D earlier this year during the June hungry gap. They were new colonies so felt it was justified.
With some reluctance I have started feeding them for Autumn (for the same reason). I hope that I'll have the resolve not to do this in their second year.