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White Sugar
Feeding your precious Bees


Hungry BeeUK weather is constantly changing and traditionally, feeding bees was a Spring and Autumn affair. However, as we are all already aware, a 'Flaming June' is sadly no longer guaranteed which affects us all, especially our precious bees. In June, after the spring flowers and before the summer hopefully yields, we have in the UK what is known as the June gap. This is a period when colonies can starve either because of the lack of nectar (confined to hives because of bad weather) and/or because swarming has reduced the stores and the number of flying bees to critical levels.

Weak colonies with barely any food stores will in these conditions require our help in order to survive. A Hive containing dead bees with their heads in empty food cells is a sad sight, don't let it happen to you! The following is a guide as to what you can do to help and prevent this happening. Please feel free to send us your own suggestions to add to this page.

Feeding bees with common white cane Sugar surup as a substitute for Nectar works well. This is Sucrose which the bees can convert to the same levulose and dextrose they derive from Nectar. The recipe used is adjusted according to the time of year and weather conditions. Generally - Spring and Summer mix use Brown Sugar1:1 and Autumn and Winter use 2:1 ratio. NB. Whatever you do, DO NOT use Raw sugar, Brown sugar or Molasses. You may think that you are being kind and maybe giving the bees a better product but these contain impurities that may harm the bees and cause Dysentery leading to Nosema which could wipe them out, as well as affecting neighbouring colonies!

Recipe1:1 Syrup - 1 part (by weight) sugar plus 1 part (by weight) water. Method: Stir sugar into hot water (not boiling) until dissolved.
2:1 Syrup - 2 parts (by weight) sugar plus 1 part (by weight) water.
Dissolve the sugar into near boiling water. (Do not allow to boil as this will cause some sugar to caramelize) You don't want Candy!
The sugar must be completely dissolved, otherwise it will block the feed holes, if you are using a contact feeder. Make sure that both the above mixtures are cold before feeding the bees and do this in the evening otherwise you may cause robbing. Remember, bees have a very good sense of smell!

Tip: As an emergency measure when there is hardly any honey in the brood chamber, remove one of the drawn-out frames and fill the cells on one side with sugar syrup and replace. This will be consumed quicker than when using a 'slow' contact feeder. This method can also be used with a freshly hived Swarm.

FeederThere are many different feeders on the market, the bucket type illustrated being a contactTop feeder feeder. You can of course save money by buying a 1Ltr container of Icecream. Try to get one with a depression in the lid for the bees to congregate. After eating the Icecream and of course washing it out, fill the container with the prepared sugar syrup, leaving just a small gap at the top. (Pierce a dozen or so small holes in the center of the lid and replace the lid firmly. Gently turn the now full container upside down; a few drops will escape before a vacuum forms, then gently place over the feed hole in your cover board.

NB. Be careful with other feeders where there is a chance of bees drowning. To prevent this happening, use mesh or hessian sacking to allow the bees to climb away from the syrup. Remember, every one counts!

FondantA quicker method rather than using sugar syrup is to purchase white 'Bakers Fondant'. Empty, used and washed rice containers from your local Curry Restaurant make ideal receptacles. Fill to the brim (no gap or bees will Fondantsuffocate and get squashed) with Fondant and place directly over the feed hole, without the lid. Make sure the Fondant is fresh and has not gone solid, otherwise they will have difficulty processing it.
If you prefer, you may like to purchase a box of clean containers from your friendly Curry Restaurant. A jar of Honey as a sweetener sometimes works wonders!
I have tried making my own Fondant but its hard work and there is risk of ending up with wasted sugar syrup. However, if you wish to try making your own, there are many recipes available on line and a good example can be found here.

Remember, feeding starving bees is a very wise investment; as well as saving them, they will surely reward you with surplus honey at a later date.

Wishing you the best of luck with feeding your bees. Please feel free to email me with any tips which can of course if you wish be added to 'your' web site.
Jeff Davies - June 2011