Feeding the bees? Don't the bees find what they need in the environment? Well, yes and no. It depends on the season. In our mild winters, on days above 56 degrees F, the bees will forage to see what is blooming nearby. In my garden I have Edgeworthia chrysantha opening in late January and blooming through mid-March. See the pollen sacs on the bee's hind legs? Note the color.
I have had some Edgeworthia blooming already in past years, but this year nary an open bloom.
Also blooming in my garden during the winter months is the Flowering Apricot, Prunus mume 'Hokkai Bungo'. Today I thought that maybe I should buy and plant a couple more of these beauties. I love the dark pink blooms and the fragrance is cinnamon! When most of the tree is in bloom the fragrance is carried a good distance on the breeze.
As spring arrives more trees bloom. We have a lot of maples in the woods that bud early and the bees love them. A favorite tree is Tulip Poplar, Liriodendron tulipifera. I usually find these spent blooms on the ground as the trees are so tall. Over the growing season we have lots of flowering plants for the bees to enjoy.
Eryngium planum 'Blue Glitter' is a favorite for many pollinators. It reseeds a bit so I have it sprinkled throughout the garden.
Agastache 'Blue Boa' is always visited.
The photo above is a native plant that I have welcomed into the garden. Pluchea camphorata has the scent of camphor when the leaves are crushed. I leave it to spread through the garden as it is a good deer deterrent. Note the color of the pollen - not the bright yellow as in the photo below!
Look at all the bees with their pollen sacs full of bright yellow pollen.
In addition to nectar and pollen, the bees need fresh water. We have a lake behind the house, so filling watering stations isn't an urgent issue. Bees use water in various ways. They use it to help cool the hive by putting a thin film of water across the brood and fanning it with their wings. They also use it to control the humidity of the hive. Water aides in the digestion of their food. Clean water is important to a healthy hive. There is a birdbath in our front yard that the bees frequent.
But what about the times of year where there isn't anything blooming? A drought? A summer dearth? Many folks rely on the stores of honey that the bees have already put up. We didn't have a lot last year or the year before that because our bee population was still growing and the honey stores weren't that full. There are a few feeders that you can use to supplement food for the bees. The one that we have settled on is in the photo below. Charlie makes the solution with water and white cane sugar, similar to hummingbird food. The ratio for bees is 1:1, different than the hummingbird ratio of 4:1. The center of this feeder is open and the bees crawl up and over the center ridge, inside the screening. They are able to collect the sugar water and return to the boxes below.
This is a good way to make sure the bees don't starve in the summer, but what about the winter? In the best case scenario the bees have honey stores to keep them through the winter. The first year we didn't collect any honey so there was a start of food for them over the winter. The second year we only collected four or five frames of honey so there were some frames of honey. More on collecting honey in a later post.
To supplement in the winter we don't use the sugar water as it could freeze. We make sugar cakes or sugar fondant. It isn't like bakery fondant, recipe below. We put it in the hive and check every few weeks to see that there is still some sugar cake in the box. Making sure there is water in the winter is important as the bees use it to liquify the sugar cake in order to use it. In the photo below you see an orange plug in the wooden frame. The wooden frame with the plug is a spacer. You need to create a bit of space for the sugar cake so the lid fits snug on the hives.
I know there are folks who don't feed their bees and the bees do fine. We don't want our bees to starve so making sure there is supplemental food available is easy enough for us to do. Ask five beekeepers what they do to feed their bees and you will get five answers. None are wrong as long as the bees don't die.
Bee Fondant Sugar Cake1part water to 4 parts sugar1/4 tsp. vinegar for each pound of sugar1/4 tsp. saltBring to a boil and boil for three minutes covered. Remove lid and bring up to 234 degrees. Take off heat and let it cool to 200 degrees. Once it has reached 200 use a whisk or immersion blender until it turns cloudy white. Pour it on parchment paper in a pie plate or other heat proof container to cool. Once cool it can be placed on the hive. If you are not going to use it right away, a plastic bag in the freezer will keep it in good shape until you are ready for it.
Stay tuned for more bee posts.