Saturday, December 12, 2009

Winter Feeding

Honey bees gather nectar and pollen and make their own food. There are times, though, that the colonies need some extra food to ensure their health or to prevent starvation. Colonies of honey bees spend the spring, summer, and fall gathering food to feed the colony. They also store honey to feed the colony over winter when flowering plants are not blooming and no food is available. This hoarding behavior marks a difference between honey bees of temperate regions, like the Arkansas Delta, and honey bees of the tropics. The bees that live in tropical climates do not need to store honey for a winter’s dearth, since there is an abundance of food available throughout the year. The annual life cycle of tropical honey bees follows the changes in rainy seasons, while the annual life cycle of temperate honey bees follows the blooming of flowering plants. For these reasons, it is thought that Africanized Honey Bees, which originated in tropical climates, may not be able to thrive in cooler regions. The Africanized colonies would simply starve over winter, because they don’t put up large stores of honey.

In the early fall, we weighed all of our bee hives to check for the amount of honey available for the bees. This was done by simply lifting the back of the hive. If the hives seemed to be light in weight, we placed a feeder atop the hive and gave the bees some supplemental feeding of sugar syrup. For winter feeding, we use a heavy syrup of two parts sugar to one part water. The feeder is the varnished wood box. To be effective, the feeding must be accomplished early enough for the bees to have time to convert the sugar syrup into honey and place it in cells near the cluster of bees. Notice in the photo that the hives are tilted forward with a stick under the bottom board to prevent condensation from dripping onto the bee cluster.

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