The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Feeding the bees in the spring

Honeybee on hazelSpring can't come early enough if you're a honeybee, eating through winter stores and itching for more pollen to feed your new brood.  This is the first year our hybrid hazel has really bloomed (albeit only male flowers so far), and the honeybees are definitely enjoying the early pollen source.  Previously, crocuses have provided the first bit of protein for our bees, so I'm thrilled to have hazels filling in the gap during such a late spring.

Of course, bees need more than pollen --- they need nectar too.  Many beekeepers feed sugar water at this time of year to simulate an early nectar flow, thus prompting the queen to lay more eggs sooner, bulking the hive up fast so they're ready to take advantage of the tree flowers that will open in a few weeks.

Previously, I've tried to only feed our bees in the fall and only then if they didn't look like they had enough honey to make it through the winter, but I'm relaxing my standards this spring.  We only have one hive left (the barn swarm having finally bit the dust during one of those subzero spells), and I want to be able to split it this spring.  Plus, I'd really like to be able to harvest honey --- it seems crazy that we've been raising honeybees for so long and have still been buying (or trading for) nearly all of our honey for the last few years.  Fancy techniques for raising honeybees only make sense if you get some yield along with the bees.

Empty Warre hive boxOur movie-star neighbor (aka my beekeeping mentor) recommends spring feeding only if you commit to keep feeding until there are lots of flowers around.  The idea is that you don't want to get the hive bulked up, then have a large colony starve because you stop feeding and the spring flowers aren't open yet.  To that end, I've kept a feeder on the bees full time over the last two weeks, although they've only eaten about 1.5 quarts so far.

As you can see from the photo above, our hive has a completely empty box below their main brood chamber to expand into.  We removed the bottom board last week, so now I'll be able to keep an eye on the colony's expansion and will report back about how the feeding campaign impacts their spring bulk up.  Only time will tell whether the spring feeding is a good or a bad call, but I'll keep you posted either way.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I have enjoyed reading your blog the last few weeks. You do a great job on a large variety of topics. Reading about your bees reminded me of several crowded hives I once had in spite of nearly empty bottom boxes. An old timer told me that bees nearly always move up as they build hive and that queens would rarely move across incomplete comb/brood chamber to continue laying. I switched the two bottom boxes so the empty one was on top and the workers had it filled out and moved the queen up quickly. I have always since started the year with the queen in the bottom box. I don't know if this always holds up but it has worked well for me.

Comment by Nick Yarde Wed Mar 12 20:02:41 2014

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