We just moved to a largish suburban lot, and got our first ever bees, and we are really loving it! It is really my wife's project, which is great, because this permie thing has been mostly mine til now. We bought a package of bees locally, and the Bee Thinking horiz top bar hive, with the matching two jar feeder.
I gather feeding at all is controversial, but after reading multiple, conflicting opinions on the Internet, and having local friends whose bees left, we have put the two jar feeder in the hive from day one. So, its about 3 weeks, and they seem to be building comb on 6 bars or so, and are pretty happy as far as I can tell. We are feeding plain sugar water, and the empty the feeder every 2-3 days! We are amazed at this!
Question is: when/how to stop feeding? Unlike what I expected, this suburban area looks like a food-desert for bees to my eye. There are grass yards, oak trees, and too-many-horses-trodden pasture within the nearest few miles. Even our yard isn't doing much yet, as we just moved here and it was all to grass before. So, should we wait until we humans think there is bee food, then remove the feeder? Or until we are growing some in our own yard? Or wait until outdoor temps are stabilized? Should we wean them off somehow?
Also, do we know they will not swarm until next spring? If they swarm next year, we hope to try a second, probably Warre, hive.
Thanks for humoring a newbie bee family!
PS We are in north Texas--Zone 7b probably. The temp 2 days ago was 80F (27C) but yesterday morning a cold front came through and temps dropped to 45F (7C) for most of the day, and 37F (3C) last night. Further freezing nights not likely this season.
Honey is far superior to sugar water in every way. Thus, I only feed if I absolutely have to. In my case, this is when I catch a VERY late swarm -- July onward. If I catch a swarm of bees from April-June, I generally don't feed anything. Since I have a lot of hives, I usually have enough stores in neighboring hives that I can supplement my weak hives. If you only have one, you either use honey from elsewhere, or sugar water.
Since you started with a package, however, you had to feed. In cooler areas than Texas (where I think you are), the packages arrive when it's still 30 degrees F out (or lower!). Feeding is essential in this situation. In yours, with just one colony, there are probably enough nectar sources within a couple miles for your bees to be successful if you stop feeding now -- even if you don't see them with your own eyes. You can monitor them and see how they do without the feed -- watch their stores and see if they are depleting them after you pull the feeder.
I prefer swarms as they are natural, and come to me full of honey upon which they've gorged prior to leaving the hive.
Kerry, I'm in north TX as well, Dallas actually, and just started my first hive on Tuesday. I'm feeding because it's been so cold this week, but after reading Matt's reply I'll likely stop once the feeder is empty. Thanks for asking the question. My father likes to nurse and fiddle with his hive, but since I already have a yard full of chickens, ducks, and little boys I'm hoping to be a little more hands off. Go Texas bees!
My policy on feeding a new colony is to feed if the weather turns unsuitable for foraging soon after hiving. As nearly all my colonies start from natural swarms, they come with a fuel supply for 2-3 days but could starve if they cannot forage beyond that.
I feed honey from my own hives as syrup (2 parts honey 1 part water by weight) in a small contact feeder (honey jar with holes punched in the lid). Honey from another beekeeper is a bit risky unless you can be sure that his colonies are foulbrood free. If you are just starting, sugar syrup would be safer.
I stop feeding when there is a nectar flow and the bees can build up their own stores. Once there is a flow, this happens surprisingly quickly if the colony has started from a good swarm (2 kg). Smaller swarms, e.g. casts (secondary swarms or afterswarms), which are usually later in the season when there is less time left to build up before winter may need a lot more feeding.
If you are working with nature, as permaculture does, then new colonies are being started from swarms at a time when the plant phenology in the locality is generally in the bees favour. Of course, they cannot plan for adverse weather conditions after a swarm has issued, so this is where the beekeeper can intervene to help survival.
The type of contact feeder I use is shown on this page:
Thanks so much for the reply. Not being intentionally dense, but could you please spell out what you mean by "when there is a nectar flow", in the context of suburbs? I think I would know what it meant in a natural setting--there would be wildflowers, clover, etc in sunny meadows. But where I am, there's little of that left. I don't see bees foraging around the area, like I did when I was a child. The only things blooming right now are bearded irises in people's front gardens. Oak, pecan, and walnut trees are about finished. I have recently planted clover seeds in the yard, but that will take some time.
Location: North Texas, Dallas area suburbs, US zone 8
Thanks Matt for the reply. We love your hive and the bees. Having a kit allowed us to start this bee project while moving to a different house, instead of waiting for next year.
Dane, thanks for introducing yourself. We lived in Dallas until Feb, and ironically, there was much more (visible) bee forage in our urban, tiny-house neighborhood there than we see now in the 'burbs, 30 miles NW. The only two swarms I've ever seen (in person) were at that house in the M Streets--at the next-door-neighbor's house, unfortunately. Those established in hollows of trees, and in both cases we watched them up close for a month or two, until the owner noticed them and called the exterminator. He said they were africanized and aggressive and chased him, but we had been up close several times with no problems. I even lifted my kids up to look nose-into the tree hole once! Best wishes for your bees, chickens, ducks, and little boys!
posted 6 years ago
Kerry Rodgers wrote:Hi David...
....could you please spell out what you mean by "when there is a nectar flow", in the context of suburbs?
Lots of bees on plants is only one indication, and then you need to be sure they are nectar foragers, not just pollen foragers. But the clearest indication is: on a warm (10C upwards) sunny day bees are pouring into the hive entrance in good numbers. They are a mix of scouts and foragers for water, nectar, pollen and propolis. 30 altogether a minute is not very impressive, perhaps only 15 are nectar foragers. But 120 a minute is more like it. One person can just about count 120 a minute. But when there is a really good flow it can be as much as 240 a minute. This is hard for one person to count accurately. I count 20 returners. If I reach 20 before 5 seconds pass on my watch, thats over 240/min. The Aebis, father and son, used to divide the hive entrance with a white card and each take a side. They used forager traffic to determine their supering strategy. They were and perhaps still are in the Guinness book of records for the record harvest from one hive. However, in permaculture and natural beekeeping we are of course not in the business of pushing production to the limit.
Other indications are a smell of nectar being dried off when one puts ones nose to the hive entrance. If your hive has windows you would eventually see new white comb extending down the windows. Before that, assuming it's a good swarm, the comb is usually not visible as it is completely covered with bees.
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