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How to feed syrup in winter

The following method of feeding syrup in winter was sent to me by Wayne Davidson of St Charles, Idaho. Although his climate is cold and the winters long, Wayne has been using this method successfully for three years.

The reason it works, I believe, is that the syrup is kept in an insulated compartment right above the cluster. The syrup is surrounded by wood chip insulation on three sides and foam insulation above. We know from experimentation (and logic) that the warmest part of the hive (aside from the cluster itself) is the area just above the cluster. The insulation traps the heat from the cluster and keeps the syrup warm enough for the bees to drink.

Here is a description of Wayne’s set-up in his own words:

  • I tried to capitalize on everything I could since our winters are long. First, I moved the hives to the south side of the house and set them close to benefit from radiant heat when the sun shines. I got this idea from the dog; he always napped here even in the winter months.

  • Some years we can have nighttime temps in the teens clear until April 21, and nothing growing until late May. So I wanted to feed the bees without causing stress. That’s when I started putting the top feeder on in the fall at the last inspection. It serves as a nice lid with a ventilation opening. I added wood chips/shavings, the type you get at the feed store for livestock, for a little insulation, but also to catch whatever moisture might be in the box.

  • I filled the pan with syrup and put the inner cover on followed by the foam insulation, and then the outer cover.

  • I fully realize that I am leaving a pan of water on top of the hive. My reasoning is, “So what if it freezes?” it can’t break anything, and when it thaws out it’s still there. Second, the bees don’t have to mess with it until it’s warm enough to explore.

  • Moisture was a worry at first, but not any more. If water evaporates it has a way out though the hole in the foam, and out the outer cover. I went to the pitched roof for the telescoping cover just for this reason. It provides an attic space that is always venting, winter and summer. (When I tried this set up with flat tops, they didn’t vent as well and some mold formed on the underside of the inner cover. Still, if any water condensed it would be on the inner cover and right above the pan or the shavings, and any drips still won’t fall on the bees.)

The results

  • The syrup never appeared to freeze. I admit I only checked the feeders on sunny days when the ambient temperature could be 10-15 F, but next to the house considerably warmer. If the syrup froze in the night it was thawed when I checked. Still opening the lid had little effect on the bees since they never were exposed directly to the cold air.

  • Last year I fed every two or three weeks weather permitting. While some colonies ate everything I gave them, and were often begging for more when I opened the lid, some didn’t touch it until spring when they started laying again.

  • While there was some mold on the inner covers that didn’t vent well as I mentioned, I saw no evidence of mold, or dampness of any kind in the hive just below the feeder in the spring on the first inspection.

  • In the photos you will notice something different in the pan. This year I thought I would warm some honey that had crystallized and feed it in the feeder. Well this colony didn’t eat it very fast and now it is setting up again. When I took this picture the honey was soft enough I could easily scoop it with my finger, but it wouldn’t flow. I will go back to just syrup in the pans.

  • This is my third winter doing this and I still like the results. I have used a commercial top feeder, but I only fill half of it since they are so big and then fill the other half with shavings.

For years I’ve said you can’t feed syrup in winter, but now I see that is not entirely true. Wayne’s system takes advantage of a number of factors: he uses good in-hive insulation, he positions the hives in the sun with a wind break, and he sets the syrup directly above the bees.

Good job. Thank you, Wayne.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Top-feeder-001-Davidson
Wayne’s hives are on the sunny side of the house, which provides warmth and a wind break. © Wayne Davidson.
Top-feeder-002-Davidson
The feeder is in the purple box below the inner cover. © Wayne Davidson.
Top-feeder-003-Davidson
A thick layer of foam insulation is placed above the inner cover. © Wayne Davidson.
Top-feeder-004-Davidson
The gabled roof provided the best ventilation. I love that the vent closure is hinged. © Wayne Davidson.
Top-feeder-005-Davidson
The feeder tray is surrounded by wood chips which trap warm air and absorb excess moisture. In this photo, partially crystallized honey is in the tray. © Wayne Davidson.
Top-feeder-006-Davidson
The feeder can be refilled without chilling the bees: just pour in the syrup and replace the top pieces. © Wayne Davidson.

Comments

Jan Brett
Reply

I could not really see in the photo how the bees are getting to the syrup. Is the small screened area open below? If they land in the syrup, they will drown.

Emily
Reply

I thought that syrup wasn’t the best food in winter, not just due to the difficulty in keeping it warm but because food high in water will make the bees need to poop more often. Could it potentially lead to dysentery if the bees get stuck in the hive during a cold snap?

It does seem to be working for Wayne though, so hats off to him for coming up with the insulation idea. Perhaps the syrup is useful for diluting honey stores. I saw lots of bees out recently collecting water from grass in very chilly temperatures, they would have been safer if they’d been able to collect it inside their hive.

Rusty
Reply

Emily,

The cause of honey bee dysentery is too many solids in the food. Much of the water the bees ingest is lost through respiration. Although, if they already have a lot of solids in their gut and then they drink a lot, well, that could get messy.

Emily
Reply

“Although, if they already have a lot of solids in their gut and then they drink a lot, well, that could get messy.”

I went to a bee biology talk at which we were told the rectum can expand to fill almost the whole abdomen during winter, so that there’s room to store all the waste that they can’t defecate in cold weather. But perhaps the bees will hold back on the syrup if they’ve run out of room and are bursting to go!

Lindy
Reply

Hallo Rusty and Wayne,

Will you please show a picture of all sides of this feeder tray. It is not like anything I’ve seen in The Netherlands. From the photo’s it isn’t clear to me how the bees get the syrup without it all dripping down onto the combs. Obviously this is not the case but I would like to know how they do get to eat/drink it.

Afme. : 24,7 * 18,5 * 8,3 cmThank you.Afmetingen: 24,7 * 18.

Lindy
Reply

Hallo Rusty, I tried to send you a picture of the usual feeding containers used here. Only the metric measurement came out properly but the picture didn’t. Will you please leave off my last sentence then in the previous post. Thank you.

Rusty
Reply

Done.

Miriam Valere
Reply

Maybe I’m not understanding this clearly…but how are the bees accessing the syrup once it’s all in place? Are they coming up from behind that screened area? Or is there an access point under the feeder container?

boyd young
Reply

I really like the idea. My experience in putting on sugar cakes (a lot of sugar mixed with a small bit of water and allowed to harden) is that the bees never used it. One spring I sat and watched them haul bits of the sugar cake out the front door and drop it on the ground. When I used dry granulated sugar, all but one hive ignored it and one hive used it up in a hurry. So I added more only to find in the spring they had hauled it down and dropped it on the bottom board. My best guess is they ignore the sugar because they still had 20 – 30 pounds of honey come spring.

My only suggestion may be to replace the inner cover and foam with a quilt. I would like to see the results of that experiment. Good post thank you.

boyd

Marie
Reply

What ratio is the syrup you use? How do the bees access the syrup?

Vince
Reply

Made grease patties with 2:1 sugar water. Added some honey also. Placed in fridge overnight and then they went into three of my 5 hives. Will do other 2 soon. The patties never did get hard but still made a good patty. They were pink from the salt. 2 rabbit salt wheels in a package were 6 oz and I had a white wheel that I measured out to get 8 oz. I think adding the honey made the patties softer. I placed 4 in a 1 gal ziploc bag. The blueberries look like they could open in two weeks. I know the bees will bee ready.

Mark Luterra
Reply

How do the bees get at the syrup? Are there tiny holes in the bottom of the pan?

Mark Luterra
Reply

Ah I see now that there is a bee “ladder” up from below on the left side…

Rusty
Reply

Wayne,

Could you clarify for everyone how the bees access the sugar? Thanks.

Wayne
Reply

Okay, the bees access the syrup from a hole on bottom of the box against the wall. As they climb into the hole they reach the bee ladder.The ladder is shaped in sort of an inverted L. The outside edges of the ladder are wood and the wire forms to the L shaped wood. The whole thing is held together with the thinner wood strip at the top and against the box side. I started building these feeders because almost no bees drown it’s the best I have found.

I learned this from Youtube watching a man named Don Kuchenmeister., he calls himself the Fat Bee Man, and has some interesting ideas. This one works. A video showing how this works is

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