I got the first smell of the ivy in flower last week. It is such a distinctive scent and triggers all sorts of memories as smells tend to do. Let’s hope for some nice weather so the bees can get maximum benefit from this last available food source of the year.
It was a good season for the bees and many have got a lot of honey. A friend nearby tells me she has ‘honey everywhere’. My bees never really recovered adequately to produce a good crop though they did give me a super each and I was able to leave them adequate stores for the winter as well.
The honey is now carefully stored out of reach of wasps and humans. I don’t extract honey as I found the whole process laborious and sticky. I prefer honey in the comb honey and many other don’t so it lasts longer. The disadvantage of this method of honey production is that I have no drawn comb ready for next spring and also the production of wax uses a substantial quantity of honey.
If we take much of the bees stores of honey then we need to replace it. I have left my bees with enough supplies to get them through the winter and the ivy flow should provide a further top up if such is needed.
Whatever ones feelings about feeding bees we will probably need to feed bees at some stage to avoid losing a colony through starvation. What is the best food? The natural food for bees is from plants -pollen and nectar. Plants produce sugars by photosynthesis – the initial sugar is glucose – a simple sugar.The main sugar used in plants is sucrose (our common table sugar) which is made up of fructose and glucose. Nectar contains sucrose plus small amounts of other sugars.
Bees like other animals do not use sucrose for their body functions – they use glucose. In order to get glucose they have to break down sucrose to glucose and fructose using an enzyme called sucrase. Foraging bees begin this process of converting sucrose when they collect nectar and house bees continue the process adding more sucrase. So bees are able to use sucrose as food. If you give them dry sugar they need to add water to dissolve it and their digestive juices can being to convert it to glucose and fructose. Water is also need to dissolve honey that has crystallised in the comb such as ivy honey.
For winter stores feed the bees with a mix of sugar and water in the ratio of two parts sugar to one part water. Spill a little syrup over the feed hole to enable the bees to find the sugar more quickly. They need to reduce the water content of the mixture to the consistency of honey. Therefore the sooner they get the sugar syrup after the removal of the honey crop the better chance they have of making it ready for storing.
Some people use fondant to feed their bees. I cam across this recipe developed by Kent Williams for an emergency winter feed.
One part 1:1 sugar syrup
6 parts granulated sugar
Mix and add pollen substitute about two parts
Mix to a dough like consistency and form into patty (size of a hamburger) place on wax proof paper and put on top bars.
NB: Brown sugar should not be used as bee food as they contain molasses which is toxic to bees. Molasses is not a natural food for bees it is the by product of refining sugar.
In these days when bees are scarce and very expensive to buy it is worth considering putting out Bait Hives – now is the time to consider making them for the swarming season ahead. To be successful you need the right design of box put in the right place at the right time of they year! You can use old hives to make them.
Research recommends the following:
1. Cavity volume – between 20 and 40 litres. A 10 frame Langstroth hive is 42 litres.
2. Cavity shape is not important.
3. Entrance area – 10 to 15 cams – shape not important.
4. Entrance position should be near floor.
5. Entrance direction – facing south or southwest but other directions will work too.
6. Dryness important.
7. Odour – the odour of beeswax is attractive but fresh wood may not be. Include drawn frames.
8. Height – about 5 metres from the ground – on your roof!
9. Well shaded but visible – they avoid ones in direct sunlight.
10. Place at least 100 metres from your apiary.
A bait hive that holds 6 frames (Volume 25 litres) has the advantage of being easier to set up, take down and to transport. It is best to attach the floor board to the rest of the hive as it is easier to move about. Bait hives need to be in position a couple of weeks before swarming to maximise the chances of bees finding them. A swarm will send out scouts to search for a prospective home several days before it swarms.
You can be fooled into thinking that a swarm has arrived when you see lots of scouts around the entrance. Don’t move your bait hive until you see pollen bearing bees entering the hive. This is a sign that the full colony has arrived and set up home. Nest site scouts do not carry pollen. The pattern of bee flight around the entrance can also be a give away- scouts move in and out of the entrance repeatedly. Most foragers leave the entrance in a hurry or stand at the entrance, groom themselves and then fly off. It is best to move the bait hive in the evening.
At the end of the season it is good to be thankful to our bees. They give me so much pleasure and more importantly scientists reckon say that one in every three mouthfuls of our food depends on them. They are certainly the unpaid workers in our complex web of food production. In the USA it is claimed that they add more than €15 billion in value to farming each year.