The minimalist guide to winter feeding
In the past, I have cooked for my winter bees. I have made fondant, slurry, semi-hard sugar cakes, hard as rock sugar cakes, candy boards, and pollen-laced patties. I have stood over a witches’ cauldron of bubbling, boiling syrup, stirring and measuring and timing. I have used thermometers and cool water tests. I have added Honey-B-Healthy, essential oils, vinegar, lemon juice, and pollen substitutes.
I have burned myself, created massive stickiness throughout the kitchen, ruined pans, bent spoons, and smelled up the house with all manner of strange oils. But not any more. Not on your life.
Every year I’ve made it simpler and simpler, and every year the bees thrive on it. So far, this has been the simplest year ever.
Now, if I absolutely need to feed my bees, I take a bag of sugar and place it on the top brood box. I slice it open with a knife. I surround it with an empty super and cover it with a moisture quilt and lid. I’m done. It’s quick; it’s easy; it doesn’t chill the bees and they like it just fine.
Oh, yes, I hear lots of opposition:
Objection: The bees will cart it out like trash.
Truth: Not in the winter and not when they need it. I’ve seen bees remove granulated sugar when they have other food choices, but you wouldn’t be feeding if they had other choices.
Objection: They need pollen substitute in addition to plain sugar.
Truth: If they need pollen substitute, you can sprinkle it on top of the sugar after you slit the bag.
Objection: They need moisture to dissolve the sugar.
Truth: There is plenty of moisture in a winter hive. Moisture from the bees’ respiration will collect and be used to dissolve the sugar.
Objection: Granulated sugar is too big for the bees to dissolve easily.
Truth: You can buy fine-granulated baker’s sugar which is designed to dissolve quickly and easily. I’ve tried it, but I didn’t see much difference in how fast it gets eaten. Now I just use regular granulated.
Objection: Bees can’t find granulated sugar because they can’t smell it (or because it smells bad).
Truth: Sprinkle the outside of the bag with a few drops of essential oil, if you want, and the bees will investigate.
Objection: “You are just plain lazy.”
Truth: By embracing a quick and easy method, I am more apt to get the job done on time instead of putting it off. Granulated sugar on time will save a lot more bees than designer sugar cakes a day late.
The longer I keep bees, the more important simplicity has become. I certainly can’t fault anyone for going through all the stages of complexity—I certainly did—but there is a lot to be said for the KISS method of beekeeping and even more to be said for doing things on time.