Friday, 29 August 2008

Honeybees starve to death!

Now is the time to take any surplus honey off your beehives and feed your bees. This year has been a relatively poor year and your bees could starve to death if you do not feed them now!

Late August if a perfect time to feed your bees and take any measures to rid your bees of Varroa. Remember-NEVER feed your bees with supers (honey boxes) on! Remove all your supers and only feed when you have the brood breeding box in place to avoid a cross contamination of sugar or medication with your honey.

For those of you reading this and not hands on beekeepers I will explain.

We are asked all the time by the general public if we feed our bees sugar. They assume that if we feed our bees sugar then our honey must contain the sugar that we feed our bees. People hear about bees being fed sugar and again assume that there must be a percentage of sugar (refined processed cane sugar) in the honey as a result. NOT TRUE!

Professional, responsible beekeepers will NEVER feed bees a sugar solution during a honey collection period. They will only feed their bees a sugar feed AFTER or BEFORE that period. All the honey boxes (supers) will never be placed on a hive during a feed period, thus avoiding any possible contamination of processed sugar within the pure honey.

The European Commission (EC) have VERY strict laws governing this and frequent random tests are carried out throughout the EU states. Heavy fines and prosecutions are enforced if any high levels of sucrose are found within a sample of honey for sale. These measured are welcomed by the UK honey community to ensure a pure natural product throughout the UK & Europe.

With that said, why feed bees? Well one theory is that in the middle of a wet cold winter, bees can find honey too rich and this can trigger Nosema and other stomach complaints. By feeding your bees CANE SUGAR, ( beetroot sugar is a no no!-too complicated for bees to metabolise) this will be in abundance in the brood area ( breeding area) and your bees will find it a simple sugar, easier to digest in the winter months. Your are also topping up their food supply. In recent years many bee colonies just do not collect enough honey throughout the year to see them through the winter, even if you leave them ALL the honey they collected.

So feeding-no harm to your honey or bees, great because your bees will not starve to death. GREAT because this August feeding will encourage your queen to lay, thus ensuring lots of young bees going into the long winter period. We need young bees late in the year because they will need to survive the six months of winter to see the new generation of young Spring bees get going.

Now here's a TIP! Make your own DIY sugar syrup container and keep it filled throughout the year! Having a ready supply of sugar syrup on hand will make your life SOOOOOO much easier. At this time of year it is a must, in the spring it will be a life saver!  You will need to feed your bees approx 2 gals of syrup per colony. I just keep feeding them until they stop taking it down. In the spring I begin feeding again once the days become a bit mild. I do this to promote colony growth and avoid starvation. Feeding is vital. I get people suggesting to me that it is unnatural to feed bees. Yes this is true and in nature they would starve to death and die. Nature is cruel, I am not. Bees die on mass each year and are under threat at present. I afford them every luxury and tend to them with the utmost respect and attention. I do not subscribe to the theory that just because they are wild insects they should be left to their own devices and chance. I believe, when necessary, we should intervene to help the survival of these wonderful creatures by means of feeding, monitoring, cleaning and eradicating any parasites or diseases.  

But I digress. How do you make sugar syrup? Take 2 kilo's of CANE sugar to one pint of hot water. Mix well until it is crystal clear. I make over two tons of this per year! So now what container to keep your sugar solution in? Well EBAY is a great place to start! Many food companies get large food grade drums sent to their factories containing lime juice, lemon juice etc. These drums are offered on EBAY and are perfect to store your sugar solution in. You might be thinking, but James I only have two hives! Once you make up the solution, it never goes off and if is better to have too much in store than not enough! 

I just did an EBAY search on, 'Plastic drums' and 33 items came up. Average price was between £2.99- £7.99 for a 238 liter food grade drum. (not bad) I just cut a hole near the base and inserted a water butt tap. BINGO you have a very professional syrup storage unit. 

This can be easily upgrades to a mixer unit as well by simply buying a small motor and have a shaft with a paddle made to insert on the motor shaft. (its easy and costs around £70) The motor is mounted on the drums lid. I'll show you a photo of this next week.

The beauty of this unit is that you can keep it on site, in the outdoors, ready within reach when you need it. So feed your feeds now. 

PS. do not feed syrup in the cold months of winter. It stimulates the bees to fly out in search of nectar-feed fondant instead. Don't worry, I'll tell you about this in December.

photo copyright 2008 ©-The Hive Honey Shop

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