Even though honey bee pests and pathogens draw beekeepers’ attention, the greatest killer of honey bee colonies has always been starvation. American foulbrood is dreaded because the bacterial brood disease is so easily spread, and its reproductive spores are extremely resilient. Parasitic mites have a history of decimating honey bee colonies since their arrival in the mid-1980s. The Varroa mite adds to the weakening of colonies by vectoring numerous honey bee viruses. The most recent strain of Nosema disease also weakens colonies, particularly when combined with other pathogens. Chemicals used inside bee hives to fight honey bee diseases and parasitic mites as well as environmental pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides combine with deadly toxic effects on honey bees.
A mild winter may, surprisingly, bring more honey bee colony losses than a cold winter. More managed honey bee colonies are lost each year to starvation than to any honey bee disease. It’s the middle of the winter, but the Mid-South has not experienced exceptionally cold weather. The mild temperatures have actually placed a considerable strain on honey bee food stores. On a number of days the weather has been warm enough for the bees to fly from their hives. The bees expended more energy searching for food than they would have consumed had they remained clustered in the hive under colder conditions. Any feeding of honey bees in the winter is considered emergency feeding. At this time of the year, feeding dry sugar is usually preferred. Granulated sugar can be placed on a sheet of newspaper atop the top bars of hive frames holding the winter cluster of bees. Sprinkling the sugar with a very small amount of water holds the sugar in place. Another simple method of applying emergency food involves pouring granulated sugar atop the hive’s inner cover as in today’s photo. The bees access the sugar through the center hole in the inner cover when the hive is warm enough for bees to break out of their winter cluster.--Richard