Oxford Bees

Summer Feeding

Submitted by will on Wed, 13/06/2018 - 06:46

I don't hold much expectation that Colony 13 will thrive. It is a small colony and vulnerable. It is building comb, but I still don't know whether there is a Queen. I haven't opened the hive. I've only looked at the hive floor, where there were wax platelets.

I had put a feeder on the hive a couple of days ago. My intention was that they should use he feed to build comb and concentrate on growing larger numbers of brood. There isn't much forage around and this is a small colony.

The consequence, predictably, is robbing. Colony 11 can clearly be seen flying between the hives. This doesn't have to be a short term problem as long as there is food in the feeder. In the longer term I may need to move the hive.

There are also wasps around now. The conditions are getting tougher.

Starvation alert, again

Submitted by will on Thu, 15/06/2017 - 18:36

The National Bee Unit issues alerts. I received an alert today (15th June) about starvation. I received one last year on 30th June. It's getting to be a habit.

I've been anticipating a nectar flow from the Lime trees next to my out apiary but it now looks like that won't happen. I visited the hives this evening and it looks pretty certain that the two newly established colonies (Hives F and G) have very low stores.

I don't like feeding. It's an intervention and, like all interventions, I'm reluctant to interfere*. Feeding will change the bee's behaviour. I suspect that once you start feeding you'll have to continue. It's the same with watering plants. Let the bees/plants adapt to their conditions. Another gripe is that sugar from feeding may end up in harvested honey.

I've put the case against feeding. Now the case for in favour: I don't want the two new colonies to die. I think that C, D and E will have sufficient stores. F and G do not. Hive F is the one dropping dozens of Varroa. I could bear to let that fail - except that it might spread those Varroa. The colony in Hive G is different. I think that it has come from one of the feral colonies. It's showing characteristics similar to Hive D and has relatively low Varroa.

The more you want for the bees, the more you'll intervene. A low intervention bee keeper should try to want less. I want some honey. I want it to be fantastic. I want the bees to be healthy. I want them to survive. I'm always drifting towards increased intervention.

I will probably feed Hives F and G. I have some 2016 set honey which is suitable.

* Yes, I take honey and that is an intervention. Yes, I muck about with queen excluders and I rearrange the supers. Yes I do look at the brood combs.

Submitted by will on Sun, 14/08/2016 - 11:57

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:

  1. to advance their brood production in spring
  2. to help the bees through hungry gaps during summer
  3. to ensure that the bees have adequate stores to survive the winter
  4. 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.