Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Emergency Feeding

Every honey bee colony is different from each other colony. Even if managed in a similar manner, each colony will perform differently. The performance of a colony is determined by a number of factors. Among the factors are the genetic make-up of the bees, the age of the queen, how well the queen was mated, the quality of drones in the area, the health of the bees, the physical condition of the hive, the location of the bee yard, the amount of forage available, the weather, the amount of honey that is harvested, pests that are attacking the colony, and other stresses that the beekeeper places upon the bees. To measure the performance of the different colonies, at Peace Bee Farm we continuously evaluate the bees. In great part, we are evaluating the quality of the queen; as her characteristics greatly affect the entire colony. We make this evaluation by carrying a clipboard into the bee yard and scoring each colony in a number of categories. The first of these is the colony’s success in surviving the winter.

Each measure of the colony is actually an after-the-fact evaluation of how the colony responds to a number of situations. Over-winter survival is determined in part on the genetic traits of the colony. Was the colony healthy the previous fall? Did the queen produce brood into the fall? Was the colony prone to tracheal mites? Does the colony exhibit hygienic behavior? Over-winter survival is also determined by at least as many factors that are the result of the beekeeper’s efforts. Did the beekeeper help control Varroa mites? Did he provide ventilation of the hive? Did he leave adequate stores of honey? Was the stored honey in the proper location within the hive? Did the beekeeper take steps to control Nosema disease? Did the beekeeper provide emergency feeding if necessary? Today’s picture shows Big Dan Newton’s bees breaking from their winter cluster to feed on dry sugar, used as an emergency feeding.


  1. Richard. I, unfortunately, lost a hive to starvation last week. I have feeling there were also other things going on in the hive. I suspect that my queen was dead as I saw so sign of her, brood or eggs. This post also raises other questions I had not thought of. Thanks, once again, for the excellent information.

  2. Lynn,
    Right now the United States is experiencing a loss of about one third of all managed hives each winter. While it is quite unpleasant to lose a colony, it is fortunate that you found it quickly. Without bees to protect the hive, scavengers, wax moths and small hive beetles, destroy the comb. If you protect the frames and the honeycomb, you will be able to start the hive again in the spring with a new package of bees or a colony division. The starvation of one colony does not make the hive and frames unfit for reuse.

    Beekeepers are rebuilding most of the numbers of hives lost each year, but at a great cost in time, effort, and expense. I do believe that there have been some positive improvements, though. I feel like some pests, like tracheal mites, are declining. Maybe the colonies that were genetically the most prone to this deadly parasite have died out. The surviving bees are stronger.

    I enjoy seeing the beautiful mountains of Western North Carolina and following your beekeeping activity in your Walter-Bee blog. After the snows are long melted, let your other colony produce an extra queen cell; and then you can make a division and re-populate your hive. Best wishes.