Feeding Method Options:
You can feed via a Boardman feeder, a top bucket feeder, a division board, or a top tank feeder. All have their pros and cons. Whichever you choose, have it ready to go when you hive the bees. At right are some pictures and comments on these modes of feeding bees.
Scroll down for information about spring feeding, winter feeding, Honey-b-Healthy, pollen patties, & providing a water supply.
Spring Feeding Mixture:
Feeding your bees the classic spring mixture, 1:1 sugar:water solution, will promote wax production, which they need to draw comb.
For a pound of sugar, add a pint of water. For a table of measures for bee feeding, click here.
To make the sugar dissolve, heat water to boiling, turn off burner, then add sugar and stir till it dissolves. Let it cool before feeding to your bees!!
If you're using a sprayer instead of a smoker on your bees, you might add 2 Tbs. of Honey-b-Healthy to one gallon of the mix after it cools. Honey-b-Healthy contains lemon & spearmint essential oils, which contain nutrients bees can use; some believe it helps calm bees. Don't use too much: excessive essential oil odor can impede bees' capacity to scent pheromones within the colony.
Want to make your own Honey-B-Healthy mix? Try this recipe, courtesy of mentors Kevin & Jeanne Reichert: click here.
Winter Feeding Mixture:
If you choose to help your bees build up winter food supplies by feeding in late August/early September, be sure you have removed honey supers first, or you'll get pretty watery honey!
Winter feeding mix: 2 parts sugar: 1 part water. For 2 pounds of sugar, add 1 pint of water. This fall mix, being thicker than spring mix, takes less energy for the bees to fan & dehydrate so that they can cap the cells.
Making the mix: dissolve the sugar by heating water to boiling. Then move the pot off the burner, and stir in sugar until it dissolves. Be sure to let it cool off before you feed it to the bees! For adding Honey-B-Healthy, see spring feeding, above.
Research has shown that vitagellin, a key protein in bees, is depleted by Varroa mites, which suck bees' hemolymph. On the WSU-APIS lab website, Dr. Steve Sheppard summarizes a 2004 paper that explains how this depletion leaves bees less able synthesize protein for successful over-wintering. If Varroa is in a colony, the research suggess that the fall bees who will over-winter will have already been affected and will have less protein storage capacity. Feeding pollen patties to supplement in fall *may* help bees survive winter if they have had Varroa.
To use pollen patties, break the patty up into 1 to 2 inch squares & put them on top of frames in your top brood box.
Providing a water supply:
Having a clean reliable water supply by the hive will minimize foraging energy your bees use finding water. If you have a clean water source near your apiary, you can rely on that to feed your bees. Otherwise, use either a Boardman feeder or a nearby container like a poultry waterer with stones inserted so the bees don’t fall in and drown. If you use a Boardman, be sure the holes in the lid are very small – otherwise on sunny days the heating of the glass will make water drench out.
Above, a poultry waterer filled with stones to prevent bees from drowning. It's better to put the waterer up on top of the wood planks, though, since less debris gets into the water!
You can go through A LOT of sugar feeding your bees! It normally promotes their drawing comb more quickly, though.
Below, filling one tank of a top feeder. Your scribe abandoned this feeding method after year one: too many bees got under the floater boards & drowned.
Below, another feed delivery method: the top bucket feeder, which sits atop the hole in the inner cover & bees drink the sugar-water solution through a fine mesh covered hole. The bucket is housed in an empty frame body & the telescoping cover goes on top.
Bucket feeders have the advantage of not requiring you to pull frames to insert feed, as one must with a in-hive feeder (these take the place of two frames). Another issue with in-hive feeders: even the kinds that have lattices descending into the water mix can still end up drowning many bees.
Boardman feeders, below, share the "bucket advantage" of being a non-invasive feeding method. It's important to keep the holes small: sunlight will heat the water & drive it down, drenching the bottom & possibly seeping into the hive. Hint: a styrofoam cup placed over the bottle deflects sunlight & avoids this problem.
Above, 2012-14 LCBA mentorship coordinator Gary Stelzner's apiary. Gary likes to use one Boardman for water, the other for sugar/water solution: he can see at a glance when his bees need feeding.