Emergency Feeding – Don’t let your Bees Starve!

If you have any suspicion whatsoever that your bees might be low on food – or even if they have food but the cluster might not be able to get to it. You can insure that your bees don’t starve by “mountain camp” feeding. It is very easy, doesn’t require any special equipment, and doesn’t require digging around in the hive – you can even do it when it is pretty cold. There is no reason to let your bees starve.

Mountain Camp Sugar Feeding

This article has been previously published, but contains seasonally relevant information…

dry sugar emergency feed for honey bees
To ensure your bees don’t starve over the winter you can very simply pour plain sugar onto a sheet of paper towel or newspaper  laid directly on the top bars of the hive. leave room for the bees to get around – that’s just about all there is to it. A useful addition is a piece of  half  inch mesh wire under the paper so that when you need to inspect you can easily lift the whole thing off and replace it.

If you have any suspicion whatsoever that your bees might be low on food – or even if they have food but the cluster might not be able to get to it.   You can insure that your bees don’t starve by “mountain camp” feeding.  It is very easy, doesn’t require any special equipment, and doesn’t require digging around in the hive – you can even do it when it is pretty cold.  There is no reason to let your bees starve.

If you don’t wet the sugar a bit the bees will often carry it out of the hive as if it were refuse – or when they eat through the paper it will trickle down into the hive and make a mess.  Using a spray bottle of plain water wet down the paper, add a layer of sugar about 1/2 – 1″ thick, wet it down, continue adding sugar in layers and wetting them until you have added all the sugar you want to apply.  If you are worried about adding so much moisture to the hive – don’t the sugar will quickly absorb all of it as it hardens up.  It will not hurt anything.  4-5 pounds of sugar  is not too much to use.  Be sure to leave space for the bees to go around the paper.  Add an empty super or a feed shim to make room for everything.  An empty super may seem too roomy, but it works fine – I have been doing this for 5 years now, and a medium super does the job with no problems.

this honey bee hive has eaten almost all of the mountain camp sugar.
This hive needs more sugar.
bees out of sugar
Now even a complete novice can tell that this hive will starve without immediate action. No guessing, very simple judgement, and a good excuse to go out and visit your bees on a winter day.

It will now be easy to tell just by peaking under the cover if your bees have used up the sugar yet.  If you feed like this and the cluster is at the top of the hive – which they often are by now – they Will Not Starve unless you let them.

A common spring occurrence is that colonies will have a good amount of open brood in them during a late cold snap.  The hive will cluster on the brood to keep it warm, and the bees and open brood will consume all of the food stores withing reach of the cluster.  Within just a few days of cold weather under these conditions a hive can starve to death with honey stored less than 3 inches from the cluster.  If the cluster is at the top, and you apply mt camp sugar this will not happen unless you let them run out of sugar.

An additional benefit of feeding like this is that the sugar absorbs moisture and helps to prevent condensation from dripping on the bees and freezing them.

maountain camp honey bee emergency feed with pollen sub candy.
As the bees consume the sugar feed you can replenish it with bee candy – I start feeding pollen sub candy in mid January.  As you can see in this picture the bees often hollow out the sugar from the bottom as they eat it.

As the food is used up you can either add a layer of paper on top of the old feed and just give them more granulated sugar or you can give them chunks of home made bee candy.

By the time you are ready to remove any remaining feed the sugar will be set up into a solid chunk that can easily be removed.  You can make syrup out of the scraps and nothing goes to waste.

There are two drawbacks to this system that I know of:  Sometimes during long spells of bad weather or if the bees have nosema a few of them may defecate on top of the sugar feed – they normally would not do that inside of the hive unless conditions were really bad.  This can’t be a good thing as far as hygiene goes, but I have never lost a hive due to nosema as far as I can tell despite routinely using mt camp sugar feed. On the other hand the signs of nosema are very clearly apparent when you see them on top of the white sugar, and that could give you the notice that you need to take timely action if you plan to treat for such things.

The other drawback to feeding like this is that you can’t add supers until you remove the feed – you can actually, but it won’t do much good if the weather turns cold and there is a box of empty comb between the emergency feed and the cluster of bees.  Of course you don’t need to add supers until there is nectar coming in anyway, but I thought I should mention that it can cause a conflict in certain weather/hive conditions.

I always feed like this in the winter, because I think that the benefits outweigh any downsides that there may be, however this does not mean that you can or should rob excessive honey, or fail to feed syrup in the fall if they need it.  But if your hives are light this will save your bacon.

Counting Mites

“If you can’t measure it, You can’t manage it…”  Varroa mites are  the scourge of honey bees and beekeepers – success is unlikely without some strategy to manage them.

This previously published article is being re-posted because it is seasonally relevant.

“If you can’t measure it, You can’t manage it…”  Varroa mites are  the scourge of honey bees and beekeepers – success is unlikely without some strategy to manage them.  Unfortunately many beekeepers – especially new ones – come under the impression that they will somehow get a pass or that their bees don’t have mites.

Since they are almost never seen during inspections mites are out of sight and out of mind until a colony mysteriously dies at which point the mishap is often blamed on weather, wax moths or Small Hive Beetles when the truth is often (usually even) that mites brought disease into the colony weeks or months before it died.

If you don’t measure mite loads, you can’t know when you need to take action, or if your treatments were effective.  “I treated and my bees died anyway…”  Did you treat before the hive was so infested that it was too late?  Did your treatment work?  If you don’t do mite counts you simply can not answer these questions.  You are only guessing.

And another video showing an alcohol wash…

The following video shows a brood frame with symptoms of Parasitic Mite Syndrome caused by a severe infestation of Varroa…

How to Make a Simple Robber Screen

 

This article has been previously published but contains seasonally relevant information.

As the nectar flows taper off at this time of year robbing sets in.   If you only have one hive and you know that there are no others nearby then you don’t need to worry about robbing – but the rest of us do.  Robbing is especially a problem when you have strong hives near small, weak or queenless hives – such as splits or mating nucs.  Especially if you are feeding those weaker hives.  There are lots of ways to manage robbing, but in my opinion, except for robber screens they all just nibble around the edges of the problem.  Robber screens work when nothing else will.  Even so, robber screens work much better if deployed before robbing sets in, so don’t wait.  BTW, if you want to you can leave robber screens on all year long – they won’t hinder a strong hive from making a honey crop, and they make excellent mouse guards in winter.

You may not realize that when nectar forage gets scarce robbing goes on all the time – it is stealthy and at a low level most of the time.  It only turns into the classic robbing frenzy under certain conditions – but even the stealth robbing that is much harder to spot can starve a nuc to death and add unnecessary stress to any hive.  I am convinced that it is a much bigger issue than most people think it is – and often why one hive does so well (expert thieves) and another fails to thrive (docile victims) – and is almost inevitable if you have Italian bees (notorious for robbing) in the same yard as Carniolians (famously docile.)

Robber screens work by separating the entrance to the hive from the smell which comes out of it – and since robbers find the entrance by homing in on the smell they go to the wrong place and are kept out by the screen, even though they can smell it.  The home bees will always be confused when you first add a robber screen (unless you do it when you first establish a hive in a new location) but they will figure it out if you give them about a week.  For a few days they will look pretty pathetic, so just try not to look.

Get Started Building a Robber Screen

As woodworking projects go they don’t get much easier than this – almost anyone should be able to build a robber screen like this with a bare minimum of tools.  A hammer and nails, any kind of saw, and a stapler are really all you need.

You can use pretty much any kind of scrap lumber for robber screens, but if you only have hand tools 1×2 furring strips ($3.14 / 8′)  from Lowe’s are really easy to work with.

A robber screen only has 2 critical dimensions – the width…

A robber screen needs to fit fairly tight between the sides of the bottom board – in this example that is about 12 5/16″ but yours will almost certainly differ.

and the height…

A robber screen needs to be lower than the bottom edge of the lid on a single box hive – or the hand hold cleat on a homemade hive body. In this example 5 -5 1/4″ would be about right.
Robber screens can be fitted to any size hive. In this picture the actual entrance is a round hole, and the home bees go in and out over the top of the screen. The bees on the outside of the screen near the entrance hole are robbers.

You don’t even need a tape measure you can just hold your material up to a hive and mark it…

These dimensions will vary depending on what size equipment you have.  Cut two sticks to your width, and 2 sticks the height that you want your screen to be.  You want to be able to use your screen on a single hive body – and don’t forget to take into account cleats that may be on home made hive bodies – your bees will go in and out over the top of the screen so give them enough room for that.  In other words, make them at least 1/2″ short of the lid or cleats when used with a single hive body.

Now that you have your sticks cut to length you will need a piece of screen – I am using aluminum screen wire for this example because it is easy to get and easy to cut with plain old scissors.  Hardware cloth or any kind of mesh will work as long as bees can’t go through it.  Cut your screen a little bit smaller than the finished size of your robber screen.

Staple the screen to one of the long sticks…

Use the side sticks to get the other long stick in position and staple the screen to it.  Now attach the sides.  A dab of exterior grade wood glue will make it more durable, but is not at all required…

Drive only one nail in each corner, and then check the frame for square…

Then finish nailing the corners and stapling the screen.  I suggest that you go ahead and drill two holes (if you have a drill) in the sides so that you can attach your screen with screws if needed…

And that is all there is to it.  Now you can get all the way through until winter without worrying about robbing.