Feeding the bees

Since we’re now on our third jar of sugar syrup, I should take a minute and talk about how we feed our little ladies. As a new beekeeper, I had virtually no plan for how I should feed my package bees when they arrived. Thankfully, a kind friend from the Oly bee club took pity on me and recommended a Boardman feeder, and even offered to lend me one until I could get my own. I gratefully accepted, although my Master Beekeeper of Washington book strongly discourages the use of Boardman feeders.

There seems to be some controversy over the Boardman feeder. Other types of feeders include top feeders, in-hive feeders that take the place of a few frames, candy board, mock candy, dry sugar, drawn comb, and probably other things I have never heard of. (There’s a pretty good summary of bee feeders here.)I have probably read more things against the Boardman-style feeder than in support of it, but it seems to be the favored type of feeder among the bee people in my area. (They say if you ask 10 beekeepers how to do something, you will get at least 12 different answers.) Fortunately, my bee class teacher was there when I picked up the bees, and I asked him about it. “The book you teach us from says not to use the Boardman feeders, but here we are picking up packages and everyone is saying to use the Boardman feeder. Any insight?” He said that the the Boardman feeder is bad for winter feeding, and bad for places where it gets so cold that it freezes at night, and maybe it’s bad for some other things but in the springtime in western washington, it’s really the best option. And everyone seemed to hate the in-hive feeders. They are really good at drowning bees.

So I brought home my borrowed boardman feeder, and I punched some tiny holes in the lid of a mason jar. I mixed up a sugar solution of 1:1 parts organic, non-gmo evaporated cane sugar and hot water. I mixed it until it was clear, screwed on the lid, and waited until it cooled to room temp. Then, I dropped it neatly into place on the feeder.

The bees seem happy with it. They got their third jar of sugar syrup tonight. This is their fifth night in the hive. The queen cage was empty after 48 hours, and we have to wait a week to check and make sure they are drawing comb and the queen is laying eggs. In the meantime, we watch the bees come and go. We call this activity Bee TV, and it’s much better than cable.



Filed under bees, spring, urban farming

6 responses to “Feeding the bees

  1. msjacks

    I love how the bees are crawling out to get their lunch. It’s the cutest thing ever. I eagerly await more exciting bee news from you! XO

  2. Krista & Jess,

    Thanks so much for the link to my site. That was kind of you.

    Also, I have a question. Why does your syrup appear so dark? I’m just curious, because mine is much, much lighter–almost colorless. Mine is not organic, but plain granulated white cane sugar. I’m interested to know why they are so different.

    • Hi Rusty,

      Thanks for writing a site worth linking to!

      I decided to buy sugar at the local food coop at least partially out of laziness, since it’s the closest grocery with sugar in bulk. The sugar they had in the bulk bins was evaporated cane sugar. Normal sugar is refined to make crystals. This stuff is evaporated and then milled down to make crystals, so it retains more of the sugar cane coloring. This batch may have been especially dark b/c I may have mixed it with a heavy “beginners” hand. I can’t find any information about feeding bees evaporated sugar instead of unrefined sugar, but I haven’t seen any adverse affects so I guess it’s okay? I’m new to this, obviously.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Trina

    Hi! I know this posting is almost three years old to the day, but I have a question for you based on it. How did the evaporated sugar cane end up working out? I decided to buy non-GMO unrefined cane sugar for my brand new bees (I just installed them on Sunday!). I learned that the solids in such sugar can give the bees dysentery. Did your bees ever have any trouble with this type of syrup? I’m torn between letting them finish off this syrup and dumping it. I don’t want to hurt my new colony… Thanks! :)

    • Funny how these things go in annual cycles, eh? I ended up feeding them the end of the expensive cane sugar (I didn’t buy a LOT to begin with) and then switching to the cheap, non-organic sugar. I never saw any signs of dysentery but I decided to err on the side of caution. I could never find anything that confirmed that they would be OK if I kept feeding them the organic evaporated cane sugar and they are promiscuous foragers when left to their own devices.

      • Trina

        Hi Jess! Thanks so much for your quick reply. I think I will follow the same path on this that you did; I’d thought of doing this anyway, but to find that another beekeeper did it as well solidified my decision. I just kept reading that unrefined sugars aren’t good for them since they seem not to be able to digest the solids. So, I will switch to good (and least for the bees…) old white sugar. I don’t think they’ll need the feed for long…

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