In an ideal beekeeping world each hive would have access to nectar flows that last well into fall and store plenty of honey in the bottom boxes of the hive to survive the winter. Honey is the best food for bees. Unfortunately, some hives, for multiple reasons, don’t store enough honey to make it through the winter. Feeding your hives becomes necessary for their survival.
There are many choices when it comes to feeding your hives; from the type of feed to the style of feeders. I have found that in-hive feeders work best for my operation. I move my hives an average of five times a year and worry that a top or front feeder would get in the way. I leave my feeders in all year round which makes it convenient to feed at a moments notice. I once experimented with top feeders in one of bee yards and found it’s an effective way to feed, but required extra time and equipment that I didn’t feel was best for my operation.
All through the 80’s and 90’s we usually fed high fructose corn syrup to our hives. It was cheap and could be stored for months at time. I started noticing problems with the syrup about seven years ago and after additional research on HFCS I decided to stop feeding it to my hives. I had suspicions it was making my bees sick. My recommendation to beekeepers who want to continue using HFCS is to make sure it is freshly made from a reliable source. Old HFCS stored improperly can put off a byproduct that is toxic to bees.
My current choice of feed is either frames of granulated honey or syrup made from table sugar and hot water. I mix my syrup in a 55 gallon drum. I fill the barrel up the the first ring (1/3 full) with hot water. I then add eight or nine bags of sugar (25 lbs bags) which fills the barrel up to the second ring (2/3 full). I add two cups of Pro-Health and stir the syrup with a wooden paddle. This will be enough to feed approximately forty hives if you are using one gallon feeders. If I have a lot of hives to feed I will fill a custom made syrup tank that mounts to the back of my truck. If I only need to feed a smaller number I will transport the syrup in a barrel with a lid that has a Syracuse valve installed. I also strap onto the truck a barrel mover which will be needed to tilt the barrel to drain the syrup out. I use a couple of metal watering cans to fill the in-hive feeders.
Some cautions when feeding your bees. I don’t recommend using a syrup trough unless it’s used in conjunction with in-hive or top feeders. The strong hives that least need the feed are usually the hives that collect most of the syrup from the trough. Take the time to feed each hive individually. Lastly, don’t use syrup troupes during the summer months. There was a situation this august where a beekeeper started feeding his hives a red syrup made from scrapped peppermint candy in a trough feeder. Some bees from a neighboring apiary collected the red syrup and started filling their honey suppers with it. It ruined the neighboring beekeepers honey crop.