Sunday, March 16, 2008

Communal Feeding

About two weeks ago I set up a feeder for my bees so they could have an easily accessible source of artificial nectar before the honey flow. This time of year the sugar syrup can trick the bees into thinking that they are having a honey flow and they will begin to raise more brood than they normally in order to catch up and have a large enough population to benefit from the nectar flow. This is a great way to get your bees to increase their population before the honey flow so you can benefit from it with a larger than normal honey harvest. This is also a great way to make the colonies strong enough to split or make nucs from a little earlier than you could otherwise. This is why I am feeding them stimulatively. Feeding pollen patties with the proper nutrients along with feeding sugar syrup for artificial nectar will increase the strength of your colonies and may cause some early swarms if you don't implement proper swarm prevention techniques. Another drawback is that putting the syrup out in the open can attract other insects or other people's bees. Your neighbor's bees may benefit more from the syrup if his colonies are stronger and have more foragers. I don't have any other beekeepers near me and if other bees feed here they are probably from a swarm which has escaped me in the past.

For communal feeding you can use High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) or choose to make some invert sugar syrup. I made up 10 gallons of invert syrup and need to make more. The bees can go through a lot of syrup when they are raising brood. I decided to use five gallon buckets for feeders this year in an effort to avoid having to continually fill smaller inverted jars. However I will also be using jars to give an extra place for the bees to feed.

I added some spearmint oil, lemongrass oil, and some mineral salt to the syrup. These essential oils are reported to beneficial to the health of the honey bee. The salt is also something that is beneficial to the bees. I have read that the calcium helps the bees grow a stronger exoskeleton during the pupal stage of development. Mineral salt can easily bee found at hardware or feed stores in the form of a salt lick for cattle. I added about one pound of salt to the five gallon mixture and about 30 drops of each types of oil mentioned above. The mixture tasted good to me and the bees seem to enjoy it too.

After making the syrup I had to drill some holes in the lid. If you drill too many holes the bucket can not hold its vacuum to keep the syrup from leaking out. Through some trial and error I found that a lid with 24 holes worked rather well.

Here is a picture of a lid which had about twice as many holes. It acted more like a sieve than a feeder when the bucket was turned upside down. Something to consider when making your own bucket feeder is that you want to start with an airtight container. You can see the rubber gasket around the inside rim if the lid. It's a good thing I have a limitless supply of these old pickle buckets because I did go through a few lids until I made one that worked well.

After finally making a lid that worked well I need a way to suspend the bucket to allow a passage for the bees to access the feeder. I used 3/8" thick pieces of scrap wood and a piece of plywood roughly cut to the same shape of the lid. The plywood is 5/8" thick and gives the bees a space of about 3/8" to feed within.

When you flip the bucket some of the syrup will leak out until there is enough pressure to create the vacuum. The bees don't mind and will clean up what they can. Just be sure that the feeder does not leak or you could drown some of your bees.

I also used some entrance feeders to give the bees a few additional places to feed from. It wasn't the warmest of days when I put these feeders out but when it does get warm enough for some nice flying weather the bees really convene at the feeding station.

Having a close source of fresh water for your bees is also important. Your bees can become stressed and agitated easily when they don't have enough water or if they have to fly too far to obtain it. I have a creek that is constantly flowing nearby. Last summer it got really dry here during the drought so I used one of those plastic swimming pools for small children as a watering station. It's important to place some kind of object in the water that the bees can rest on while retrieving water for the colony. Here is a small scale example of bees collecting water from atop a bucket.

Communal feeding of dry pollen substitute or supplement is also easily done. Dry feeding pollen sub will stimulate your bees to forage for pollen. I dry feed pollen sub simply by placing a few pounds on the underside of a telescoping outer cover. It's like a big serving tray for the bees and makes it easy for you to take the tray indoors during inclement weather. I had some pictures of dry feeding pollen sub but I can not seem to locate them at this moment. When I find them I'll be sure to add them so you can get the full visual effect.

1 comment:

Cooper said...

LOVE this idea! one question.. what size holes did you drill? also you should make a video. thanks! Cooper