Living in cold climates during the winter is hard on everyone, including all of your critters. Bees are no exception, and it’s essential to make sure you add your bees to your winterizing checklist.
It isn’t difficult to see that bees probably have a pretty rough time through cold winters. Vegetation is under the snow, and pollen is not readily available.
But winter isn't the only time bees might need a bit of help from their beekeeper. Disease and environmental issues may also be the culprit. Read on to learn more!
When to Feed Bees
There will be times throughout your hive's life when you need to help them along a bit with extra sustenance. You may need to supplement your bees’ feed during the following situations:
1. Fall and Spring
During the winter months when vegetation and pollination are at an all-time low, you should always be leaving extra honey stores for your bees. Never take all of their honey, or they will perish in winter.
If your bees became a little glutinous over the winter and their stores have depleted significantly, it's time to add a little something to make sure they have the energy to make it through to the early spring months.
Check your hive in fall and early spring to assess their stock as well, as these transition periods can also be hard on your bees.
2. Hive Illness
If your hive is a little under the weather, due to sickness or mites, for example, they will be weak and production will slow. Providing food for your bees is extremely important in this situation.
3. Low Pollinating Plant Population
Environmental factors can affect the availability of pollen. For example, wildfires and droughts may make it difficult for bees to seek out pollen and store any honey.
What to Feed Bees When They Are Low on Honey
Bees may become low on food stores for a variety of reasons, but rest easy knowing there are things you can do to lend a hand to your busy bees.
1. Provide Surplus Honey
You can save honey in your freezer if your bees have produced enough during the foraging season. Simply take frozen frames of honey and deliver them to your hive if you believe they need a little extra food.
This works really well with your bees’ own honey because there isn’t a risk of them contracting diseases from a different hive’s honey.
However, if you know that a neighbor, for example, has healthy bees, you can purchase their surplus stores to feed to your bees if needed.
2. Feed Your Bees Homemade Fondant
Perhaps one of the best options for feeding your bees in a time of need is to give them a simple syrupy concoction of homemade fondant.
Fondant is formed into little patties, about an inch thick, and situated in the upper frames of your hive. Your bees will find the sweet, stiffened syrup, and draw enough energy to make it through the tough times.
Extra fondant can be stored in your refrigerator and sliced into patties as needed.
3. Feed Bees Grease Patties
Grease patties aren’t necessarily a reliable form of sustenance for your bees if they are dangerously low on food stores, so don’t rely heavily on grease patties for food.
However, grease patties are great for combating mites, especially throughout the winter when it is inadvisable to treat your bees by other methods.
Bee grease patties provide some sustenance through the sugar in the recipe, but patties also create a slippery surface on your bees that prevent mites from hanging on to their hosts.
The grease from the coconut oil in the recipe lightly coats your bees as they consume the sugar in the patty, thus, mites cannot attach themselves securely to your bees.
The essential oils may act as a repellent, or even kill mites.
Homemade Fondant Recipe for Bees
This simple recipe will feed your bees for months! You could, of course, purchase ready-made fondant from your local bakery, but this recipe is quick, easy, and inexpensive.
You will need:
- 1½ Cups of Water
- 2 Cups of Granulated Sugar
- 2 Tablespoons of Organic Corn Syrup (if you cannot find organic, regular is OK)
- ⅛ Teaspoon Cream of Tartar
- Small Saucepan
- Candy Thermometer
- In a small saucepan, combine water, sugar, corn syrup, and cream of tartar and warm slowly over medium-high heat. Stir while the mixture warms and until the sugar has dissolved.
- Using your candy thermometer, warm the mixture until it reaches 235-240° Fahrenheit (soft-ball stage: to test, drop a small amount of the syrup into cold water and ensure that a ball form, but when pressed does not hold its shape)
- Once the soft-ball stage is reached, remove the syrup from the heat and allow it to cool in a separate dish. It should not cool completely, but still be warm to the touch. Move the fondant to a loaf pan, or something similar, to cool completely.
- Slice fondant from the mold as needed and deliver to your hungry bees.
- Store the remaining fondant in the refrigerator
Homemade Grease Patties
You Will Need:
- Granulated Sugar
- Coconut Oil
- ¼ Cup Honey
- 10 Drops Wintergreen, Spearmint, or Peppermint Essential Oil (pure)
- Mixing Bowl
- Wax Paper
- In your mixing bowl, mix 2 parts sugar to 1 part coconut oil.
- Add honey to the mixture. You may need to add a bit more or less to ensure that the mixture is not runny in consistency.
- Stir in your chosen essential oil.
- Press mixture into small patties with your hands.
- Using wax paper, separate your patties, and store in a sealed container in your freezer until needed.
- Place one patty at a time directly onto the top of the brood chamber.
No matter what you use, fondant or grease patties, give your bees water as well by setting a small bowl or feeder near your hive. Between the fondant and the grease patties, your hive will fair well during some of the toughest times.