This changeable weather can be very harmful to our bees, with some Bee Inspectors already reporting low levels of stores. It is the responsibility of the beekeeper to ensure that they have sufficient stores to see them through until better conditions allow them to forage in earnest again.
We need to establish the level of stores within the hive* and if necessary supplement them by feeding syrup** and /or pollen.
Please, do not allow colonies to dwindle or perish, when we can do something to stop it.
Welsh Beekeepers’ Association
Footnote from Pembrokeshire Beekeeper
* Do not let the level of stores fall below about 5 kg. To help with estimating, a BS deep frame full on both sides holds about 2 kg of stores – but of course stores will be spread across several frames.
** A “weak” syrup mixture should be fed 1:1 by weight is a good compromise and easy to remember.
Best Practice Downloads from Beebase which may be helpful:
advice from the national bee unit
With the continued poor weather looking to persist through to the end of March, colonies may be starting to run out of food (if they haven’t already). It would be advisable to check the food levels by opening the hive and making a very quick observation on their store levels. Key points to remember are:
• The colony may still have stores available which are at the other end of the brood chamber to the cluster of bees. If there are ‘empty’ frames between the two then the bees could still starve, despite food being in the chamber. Move the frames of food directly next to the outer frame where the cluster resides, ensuring that you score each frame of food (not excessively, but enough to stimulate feeding). Be sure not to knock or roll the bees when doing this and to be as quick as possible.
• If the colony has little or no frames of food then give them a block of candy or fondant. You want to aim for about 2.5 kg per hive and although this may seem to be a great expense, it is far less than the money you will have wasted should the bees die.
• Mini plastic bags that are used to store loose fruit in from the supermarket are perfectly acceptable for holding the fondant and cost nothing. Pack the candy in the bag and then pierce holes in the appropriate place once you get to the hive. If the bag seems fragile then you can double bag it (just be sure to pierce both bags).
• At this time of the year we would usually start feeding sugar syrup but with these temperatures it is still too cold. Place the fondant directly above the bees, turning the crownboard if necessary so that one of the porter bee escape holes is above the cluster.
Please be aware that this should be done as quickly and carefully as possible and although it may seem too cold to open the hive now, it is far better to do so knowing the bees are ok than not to and find later that they have died.
For more information please refer to Best Practice Guideline Number 7 – ‘Emergency Feeding’.
Remember to keep an eye on the stores in your hives by giving them a heft periodically. The queen is likely to start laying in earnest soon and the remaining winter stores can soon get used up. Late winter and early spring are the danger periods for lack of stores, so don’t risk your colonies. If you need to feed them now, use candy or fondant. You can use light syrup (1:1 by weight) in a contact feeder once the weather warms up and the signs of spring start to appear, especially if you want to build up a colony for queen rearing, or to split. Don’t use a rapid feeder, or pan feeder as NBU now suggest we should call it, though as it may be too cold for the bees to come up. For more information see BeeBase’s Best Practice Guide to Feeding Sugar.
Remember too that bees need energy food (sugars) and protein (pollen). Raising young bees takes a lot of both. So in addition to making sure that sugar is available in liquid form stored from last year (honey or fed in late summer as sugar syrup) or in fondant form make sure that pollen or a pollen substitute is available. See this Feeding Pollen and Pollen Substitutes guide on BeeBase for more details.
With the on-going poor weather, there is a real risk of bee colonies starving. “Please check for stores in the colony and if in any doubt feed your bees. You should feed with either a fondant or a thin syrup [PBKA feed mix ready reckoner].
Further information on feeding bees can be found in Best Practice Guideline No. 7, on the Advisory Leaflets page of BeeBase (click here).”
This is a good opportunity to reminder to register on Beebase to get emailed with the latest updates on bee health[webmaster].
Given the relatively cool weather we are having at the moment which is limiting foraging activity and the increasing size of our colonies, lack of stores is a serious threat. It is advised therefore, that you check your colonies for stores and feed if required. Do not assume however, that you can gauge the level of stores simply by hefting alone, as the increased brood also adds significant weight to the hive. Better safe than sorry!