Bee Tea – To Feed or Not to Feed

photo 2 As a nature girl, it has  been drilled into me since childhood that you don’t feed the wildlife because it makes them dependant on you, leaving them vulnerable in times of natural shortages. So, when I was faced with the decision to continue to feed the bees that had just arrived or not, I was confused.

All bees come in a package with sugar food to keep them going when they can’t go out an forage.  That makes perfect sense.  But what to do when they have bee released and could, in theory, find yummy things in the so called urban wilds around my house?

Even good, organic beekeepers say that you should feed a new package to get them going , and in my neck of the woods, that means feeding them until blackberry flowers come on, or about 2 months from their arrival. But this went fundamentally against what I knew to be true about wild things (although I have often cheated and fed a squirrel or grey jay).  And, I was also able to find plenty of “purest” top bar/organic beekeepers who support that  position and say don’t ever feed them, even if it means a severe die-off.

I didn’t know what to do.

Both my local apiary store (the Langstroth guys) and the guy I took a top bar class from, said to feed them. Even baring (hahaha, beekeeping pun!) our differences in approaches, they were basing their information on available food sources in the area at the time of the new hive’s establishment.  But to make matters more confusing, as I left the bee store one day, I ran into another top bar guy who said his first hive did so well unfed  that they grew to unsustainable numbers and swarmed a month and half after they started.  Mind you, he had not touched them at all in that time (preferring the extreme in hands off), but still.  That went against everything I had read or been told.

In the end, I had to go with my gut, which was observing a significant below normal drop in local temperatures the week I established my hive. The next week was going to be cool, windy and rainy – all conditions that make humans and bees stay indoors, not prone to foraging.  It seemed my bees were going to need my help, at least for a little while.

After much research I decided to make some “tea” for my little sisters – a 1:1 ratio of organic, unprocessed cane sugar with chamomile and lemon balm from my garden for flavor and nourishment.  I imagine I will mix it up and feed them pepermint and lavender as well. It  is the closest I can get to feeding them from nature.

I poured the tea into a container, poked holes in the lid  and upended it all over a couple of pieces of scrap top bar wood that served as a platform.  A vacuum formed in the container so it didn’t pour out, and the bees were able to slurp up the droplets.    

They are happy.

While I still remain confused about how my ideology fits with reality, I have learned over the years that a dogmatic approach to anything rarely serves – beekeeping included.

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