With recollections of Oliver Twist running through my mind, I peered into one of my smaller colonies on a bone chilling, mid-February day. This was the second time that this colony cried out for more. The last time was early winter due to their failed attempt to fend off robbers last fall. I shut down the robbers, packed them full of syrup, then candy, and wished them well. Now, in this frigid, vacant month in the dead of winter, I half expected to find a laying queen and ample stores to hopefully, catch up with a wishful early bloom of some sort. But no, all that was found was a mass of hungry, clustered bees with no room left at the top. This is the clear sign of starvation that beekeepers hope to never see. A sign that lets you know that your attention is needed as the guardian of this little world which is sometimes called a super organism. In this case more of an ordinary organism with no “super”. My weakest colony will die if I do not act and act fast.
Beekeepers have more opinions on each topic than there are beekeepers. One of the many hotly contested topics is feeding bees. Some never do, some only in emergency, some swear by it, some never feed pollen substitute, some religiously every spring, some high fructose corn syrup (some call that poison), and on and on. I guess my argument is with those that never do feed or especially, fail to feed. I have the privilege of being able to speak to beekeepers at all levels of experience. I attend meetings at several bee clubs and have presented information on many topics but have seen more than one eye glaze over when it comes to feeding bees in winter. I guess that after a full season of swarms, splits, missing queens, mites, beetles and stings winter takes on the air of a vacation to some. There is really no vacation for beekeepers. There are no voids in the endless line of tasks. Winter has in store for us a full line of catch-up duties that we hurriedly try to mend before spring. There will be no point to spring preparations if they starve for lack of stores. I have always said that nutrition is the key to a long and disease free life. I accept nothing less for myself and have lectured my children on this too many times. The bees, we have accepted responsibility for, are subject to the same pitfalls that we are. Malnutrition and deficiency can afflict us all. A robust colony can only ride the wave of growth if it is supported nutritionally even if those needs are supplied artificially. Winter is a serious time for bees as they do not hibernate. They shiver through the winter eating as they go. When honey and pollen run out, the landlord had better be there or you will lose a tenant the hard way.
If you are sitting by the fire on this cold winter day, remember that the warmth of the colony depends on the amount and quality of the stores they have available to them. You will not know the status of a colony unless you do a quick and easy check. New beekeepers are strongly encouraged to get advice on this topic. Ask an experienced beekeeper, join a bee club, read several books and articles on feeding and by the way, this is an “all of the above” recommendation not a multiple choice. After digesting the information, you will need to develop an action plan on what YOU think makes sense. I would like to recommend that you try a little experiment to help you make up your mind on feeding bees. Turn off the heat in your house, skip all three meals for the day and shiver to make as much heat as you can. Get the picture? I will be doing a presentation on feeding bees at one of our local beekeeping clubs during this month of February, 2014. I’ll be looking for those glazed eyes.