In part one of our continuing series on wintering your hives, we discussed treatment for mites and hive strength. In Part Two we'll be covering best practices for winter feeding and supplement use.
WINTER FEED AND SUPPLEMENTS
During the late summer to fall there is a dearth period that can drastically affect the stores the colony has worked so hard to build up all season long. What this means is that with the ebb and flow of the seasons, flowers come and go. When the first blooms come on full force, and major nectar sources are in abundance, this is called the ‘flow’. When there are few to no blooms, this is called a dearth. (Keep in mind that though there may be blooms nearby, they may not be blooms that provide substantial nourishment to honey bees. Some flowering plants are good for both pollen and nectar, whereas some are only good for one or the other. What a colony forages on is all dependent on what fills the need they have at the time.)
First and foremost, whenever possible, it is always best to feed your colony its own honey, whether you leave it for winter consumption or freeze frames for later use (Note: If you freeze and feed, make sure to let your frames come to room temperature before placing in your hive so as to not chill your bees!) Feeding is a form of rescue as well as a form of insurance. If you plan to leave your honey super for your bees, make certain to remove your queen excluder! A winter cluster will not move beyond its queen, so it makes no difference to leave your bees a super if you do not allow your queen access to it.
Protein- A rich source of protein encourages the production of vitellogenin, enabling bees to winter over. Some beekeepers prefer pollen patties as a feed and/or supplement during the dearth periods. Read some well-researched thoughts on this here, here and here.
Fall Syrup- The fall calls for a ratio of two parts sugar to one part water. This ratio encourages your colony to store for the winter, (versus the one to one ratio that is generally thought to encourage comb building) as well as requires less work to dehydrate or ‘cure’.
‘Which one to use’ is a great resource for explanations of why to use which ratio and when.
Solid Feed- When temperatures start to drop in the late fall and winter, it is highly recommended to switch to a solid food. If standard syrup were to be fed, the bees would have to work to warm it before being able to use it. This would be the reverse of the conservation of energy that a beekeeper aims to assist the bees in doing to survive the winter.
Options for solid food include, but are not limited to, the following:
Fondant- A great go-to recipe for this is located here. The vinegar acts as a microbial deterrent to keep the candy as stable as possible while under warm and moist conditions present in the hive. This can be placed directly on the top bars for ease of access.
Candy Board- This is essentially a fondant that has been fixed to a board directly above the brood chamber. An inner cover can be used for this purpose in lieu of building a feeding specific unit. An inner cover can also be used with straight cane sugar sprinkled onto its deep side for a quick feed in moments that demand a quick solution.
Classic Candy Canes- This is an inexpensive option after the holidays and enticing to bees because of the peppermint. These are also convenient for placing between frames to get close to the brood when concern of low supply of convenient stores is an issue. Any un-caramelized white hard candy can be used.
Grease Patties- Keep these patties on your top bars year-round to thwart tracheal mites. Our recommended tried and true recipe is four parts powdered sugar to one part canola oil or Crisco. The same can also be done using coconut oil.