Spring has sprung and the rain won’t let the bees come out to play. Have you ever done your first hive inspection in the spring, only to discover that your bees needed food; like yesterday?
Beehives can get dangerously low on food stores and possibly starve when the weather does not allow for early spring forage. Here’s the best way to get your bees some food fast, with the least amount of work involved.
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Here is a sneak peak at how efficiently this rainproof, open feeder works.
Open feeding is a quick way to help your beehives gain some weight fast. And what’s great about open feeding in the spring is that they’re not getting ‘robby’ yet. But open feeding the way I’m showing you today is excellent for spring feeding.
I use large black totes with matching lid. I also get them for free! These totes used to have molasses in them. It’s what cattle farmers use to supplement their herds’ diet with. If you know any cattle farmers near you, and who doesn’t, they’re everywhere, I recommend asking if they could save some of these totes aside for you. If you don’t know any cattle farmers then maybe you could introduce yourself to one.
The other alternative is to take what you learn here today and modify it to the resources that you do have on hand. Now I’m going to show you how to make an open feeder.
The cows mostly clean the totes out for you. You just need some warm water, some soap and a good rinse to finish the job.
Open feeder modification
The next step is to take a hole-saw and drill some holes around the top of the tote, just below the top rim. The hole sizes shown here in the pictures range from an inch and a half to two inches in diameter. Any drill will work but I use this Black & Decker Matrix because of it’s ability to swap out various tools on the same drill base.
I like to be somewhat symmetrical and orderly about this part of the job, so I drill two holes side-by-side on all four sides. Then I drill one hole between each of these for a total of twelve holes. This gives the bees plenty of room to come and go very quickly. The tote is now ready.
Gathering the ingredients
I buy granulated sugar in my area for $7.60 per 25lb bag. That comes to 30 cents per pound which is very good. Sugar can be as high as 60 cents per pound which is NOT good. I use granulated sugar that I buy at Walmart as an alternative to high fructose corn syrup which I used while apprenticing. High fructose corn syrup contains pesticides and I will never use it again on my bees.
Since it’s spring, I use a 1:1 ratio mix of sugar syrup. This means that I mix one pound of water for each pound of sugar.
I put the water in first because it makes it much easier to mix the sugar. Since each gallon of water weighs 8 lbs/3.78 liters, and I’m using 75 lbs/34 kgs of sugar, I pour 10 gallons/37.8 liters of water in each tote. Then I start ripping sugar bags open and pouring them in until each tote has 75 lbs/34 kgs of sugar.
Also, I never heat my sugar syrup. The reason is two-fold:
- The sugar will granulate much more quickly. (You don’t want this to happen).
- And because heating sugar syrup creates a toxin. I learned about that from a beekeeping blogger named Rusty, at HoneyBeeSuite.com
So at this point we have 75 lbs/34 kgs of sugar and 10 gallons/37.8 kgs of water in our open feeder and it’s time to stir. There’s one more secret ingredient that you can put into this mix for improving the gut health of your honey bees and I’ll share that at the end of this post as an extra.
Mix it up
I use a five foot 1×3 board to stir the sugar and water but you can also use a drill with a paint stir attachment. Mix this really well until you no longer feel resistance from sugar sitting on the bottom of the tote. I like to stir for several minutes, stop and give undissolved sugar a chance to settle, and then stir again until I’m satisfied.
The last step is easy. You need something that will float on top of the syrup to give your bees a place to work and you need some brush for them to climb out on which also helps to prevent drowning. As you can see, I like to use an old Styrofoam lid from a cooler with long leaf pine needles packed around it. Place the lid on top and you’re done! If you have high wind and the lid doesn’t snap on securely then you can simply place a cinder block on top.
Given the right circumstances, and enough bees, they could empty one of these totes in two days. That’s 150 lbs/68 kgs of feed roughly divided among how ever many hives you have. The stronger hives will always get more and the less populated ones will get less. Of course, if will be slightly less after the bees have finished evaporating the moisture down to 17-19%, but now they have a much better chance of survival till something starts to bloom.
Fortunately, maple grows in many different climates and is one of the first things to bloom. My bees finally had the chance to forage Maple Pollen after weeks of rain. Pollen is essential for hive growth. It is the primary food source for developing brood and young nurse bees 5-10 days old.
Many of our beehives rely on maple pollen when spring starts to bloom. Maple offers more pollen than nectar. Watch closely and you will see the pollen coming in from maple.
Now for the secret ingredient: gut health
Okay, now for the secret ingredient to help improve your honey bees’ gut health. This will be something that you add to your totes of sugar syrup during the mixing process. It’s something that helps to prevent Nosema, a gut disease that leads to over-consumption of honey stores and eventual death-by-diarrhea. You may also learn more about this in my post: Tired of losing your beehives?Put the ‘Keep’ back into beekeeping: Nosema.
Secret Spring Blend of Goodness
You will need the following: (click on each item to be redirected to Amazon.com)
- A Blender
- 32 ounce glass bottle; preferably dark glass for preservation purposes
- Tea Tree essential oil
- Spearmint essential oil
- Lemongrass essential oil
- Glass dropper (comes with oil bottle)
Instructions: You’re going to mix all ingredients straight into the blender and the end result is going to be our concentrate. Fill your blender with 32 ounces of water/80 drops of each of the three essential oils (total of 240)/and literally two pinches of lecithin. The lecithin helps to emulsify the oils and water together.
Blend these together on a low setting for 5 minutes. Afterwards, pour the concentrate into your dark glass, 32 ounce bottle. I use 1 cup (8 ounces/236.5 mL) for each tote of feed. And remember that each tote is equal to 75 lbs/34 kg of sugar plus 10 gallons/37.8 liters of water. This comes to a total of 150 lbs/68 kg of feed.
Your bees will probably pick up the scent of the lemongrass before you’re even finished mixing. Together, these essential oils fight against things like bacteria, fungus, virus, and other pathogens. It’s my favorite way to help prevent Nosema in the fall and the spring.
What have you come up with?
So go ahead and try it for yourself. If you have any questions then leave them in the comments below. I will answer your inquiries quickly. And if you have an ingenious modification on this that you would like to share then please share. Beekeepers are some of the most creative inventors ever.
Until next time remember,
~Weeds are Wildflowers, let them Bee~
Jonathan Hargus/Beekeeper Extraordinaire