Are we over-feeding our bees?
Based on a straw poll I did with some of our local beekeepers recently I suspect the answer may be ‘yes’. Most folk were over-wintering their bees on a brood and a half, and some were even on double-brood. That’s a lot of ‘honey’.
I write ‘honey’ because whilst some did indeed leave a full super of honey on the hive, most had fed their bees sugar syrup in the autumn. Even more surprising was that some beekeepers were already feeding fondant to their bees – and it was only the first week of January!
On querying why their hives were chockablock with winter stores the answer was invariably the same; fear of colony starvation. Sugar syrup and fondant is cheap and bees are expensive, so it seems like sensible insurance.
And so it is. Bees over-winter equally well on ‘honey’ and honey. The problem comes in the spring. All that ‘honey’ congests the brood nest so it needs to be removed to give the queen room to lay and the bees space to store pollen. Leave it too late and colony expansion will be held back; too soon, and a sudden cold snap could result in starving bees.
If all goes well you are still left with the question of what to do with all those spare frames loaded with ‘honey’. A few frames of stores for emergencies makes sense, but most of it will have to be destroyed.
It seems wasteful. With a weather-eye and regular assessments of stores it is easy to bring bees through winter in southern England on a single brood box. Could over-feeding just be a ruse to conceal laziness or inadequate beekeeping skills?
Not that it matters. I’ve never seen a fat bee!