There are almost an infinite number of ways to feed your bees. You can feed them inside or outside of the hive using a wide array of commercial or homemade feeders. Here I will go over just a very small number of feeders and their uses. There is no “best” choice. There are pros and cons to each and it is all in what works best for you. Some hold more syrup and don’t need to be filled as often, while others are easier to fill or to keep clean. One constant over all ways to feed you bees is that feeding inside the hive ensures that particular hive gets the nutrition and is less likely to attract robbers, pests, and bees from other hives which also means it is less likely to spread disease than community feeders outside the hive.
There are two forms that pollen or pollen supplement/substitutes can take. One is a dry powder and the other is a moist, doughy pollen patty that has the pollen part mixed with sugar syrup. Typically, the patties are fed on top of the frames inside a hive and the powder is fed in a feeder outside the hive. One drawback to feeding the patties inside the hive is that they can attract pests like small hive beetles. One drawback to feeding the powder outside the hive is that you will need to purchase or make a feeder and it will attract pests and bees from other colonies outside of your apiary.
Sugar syrup can be fed from either an open or closed container. For example, frame feeders go right in the hive in place of a comb frame and have no lid. One drawback to them is that the bees may drown if you do not have something floating on top of the syrup. Also, since they are open, they can get dirty with debris, mold, etc. Top feeders are similar in that they are open feeders inside the hive, only these are larger and go between the top box and the inner cover. Again, the main disadvantage of a top feeder is bees drowning, but most commercial top feeders have designs to prevent this. Mason jars with very small holes poked in the lids are by far the most common feeding method for hobby beeks for sugar syrup. These can be placed inside the hive or outside the hive. Commercial beekeepers typically fill 5 gallon buckets with holes in the lids with sugar syrup and either place these over the hole in the inner cover or on stands outside the hives.
More Information: https://www.honeybeesuite.com/what-type-of-honey-bee-feeder-is-best/
As a beekeeper, it is often said that you also have to become a botanist and a meteorologist so that you not only know what is blooming in your immediate area and when it is blooming, but also to know your local weather patterns so that you are aware of situations that may prevent your bees from accessing what is in bloom. Both the plants available for your bees and weather conditions during the year are hyper localized based on a number of factors including geography and whether you are in an urban, suburban, or rural area. What is blooming in your area in early May is likely very different from what is blooming just a few miles down the road. It is important to keep this in mind to know when your colonies need to be fed.
Honey bees get all of their nutrition from flowers, so when there are no plants in bloom, bees must rely on either their food stores or the beekeeper to survive. When there are no nutritional resources available in the environment, this is called a dearth. Typical times for a dearth in MI are the winter, late summer, and late fall, but there can also be a kind of dearth in the spring if the weather is too cold and wet for bees to access the blooming trees, shrubs, and plants.
The 2 nutritional sources for bees are pollen and nectar. Beekeepers may need to feed either pollen, pollen substitute (a protein rich fake pollen), or pollen supplement (a protein rich substance containing some real pollen) in times when pollen is scarce but the bees are rearing a lot of brood, like in the springtime. Some beekeepers will also feed 1:1 sugar syrup as a nectar substitute in the spring until the bees stop taking it which indicates they are getting adequate nectar from the environment. Typically, 2:1 sugar syrup is fed if there is a fall dearth to help bulk up winter honey stores. Since bees will not take sugar syrup in the winter, many beekeepers put dry sugar or fondant in their hives over the winter to ensure their bees won’t starve. NOTE: Never feed sugar syrup with honey supers on. This will lead to sugar syrup “honey.”
More Information: https://pollinators.msu.edu/resources/beekeepers/feeding-honey-bees/
Apitherapy is using the products of a honey bee colony for therapeutic purposes. Humans have been doing this for thousands of years, and some apitherapy, like the use of honey to heal wounds and burns and soothe sore throats, has been scientifically proven effective. Also, the use of bee venom in immunotherapy to protect people allergic to bee stings from having an anaphylactic reaction when stung is a medically sound therapy and invaluable to bee sting allergic beekeepers. Beeswax is also used in many protective skin products like lip balm and lotion.
Other components of a honey bee hive that have been used to prevent or treat ailments do not have many peer-reviewed clinical studies to support their claims. Though many people anecdotally report a wide variety of health benefits from the ingestion or topical use of pollen, propolis, bee bread, and royal jelly. Caution should be exercised in use of these products, particularly in those people with pollen or bee venom/sting allergies.
The most controversial form of apitherapy is bee sting therapy or bee venom therapy used not in the context of bee allergy immunotherapy. Bee sting therapy has been reported to treat a variety of diseases including arthritis, Lyme disease, multiple sclerosis, lupus, Parkinson’s Disease, and possibly some forms of cancer, but reliable scientific backing of these claims is sparse. In fact, bee sting therapy has been shown to actually cause autoimmune disease symptoms in some individuals. Because not all of the components of bee venom are well studied or even known, and because each bee’s venom sac contains a slightly different amount and mixture of these components, there are serious risks to bee sting therapy. These risks include, but are not limited to, organ failure and death. Bee sting apitherapy should not be attempted lightly, by anyone who is not a trained professional, without access to an Epipen, or without immediate access to proper medical intervention should a severe reaction occur.
More Information: https://www.bbc.com/news/health-43513817
No matter what you read on the internet, the simple truth is bee stings are dangerous. Even if you are not allergic, even if you have been stung many times before, even if you have gentle bees, every sting is an opportunity for an anaphylactic reaction. Again, even if you are not allergic to bee stings, you can spontaneously develop an allergy and have a systemic overreaction by your body that can cause fever, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, headache, convulsions, throat swelling, trouble breathing, loss of consciousness, shock, and in some cases, death. While multiple stings at the same time are more likely to cause a severe reaction, these serious symptoms can be caused by a single sting. ALL BEEKEEPERS should carry epinephrine auto injectors (i.e. Epipens) with them when working their hives, especially hives that are remote or when doing inspections alone. Also, as a beekeeper, you will get stung. There is no way to not get stung, only to minimize the amount and severity of the stings. That being said, even if you are or become allergic to bees, with proper immunotherapy and precautions, you can still continue beekeeping (I am a bee sting allergic beekeeper).
Most honey bee stings cause a local reaction at the sting site. This reaction typically includes: pain, swelling, redness, heat, itchiness, and tenderness that can last a few hours to a few days based on the individual and any topical or systemic treatment applied or taken. Topical treatments include ice, meat tenderizer, antihistamine (i.e. Benadryl) spray, cream, or ointment, and steroid (i.e. cortisone) spray, cream, or ointment. Some people also experience a more moderate reaction with hives that appear on other parts of the body and/or more generalized swelling of the entire area (like the entire hand for example) that worsens over time. Sometimes these more moderate symptoms can be controlled with oral antihistamines (i.e. Benadryl), though oral steroids like Prednisone are sometimes needed. Any reaction that is more than local inflammation at the site of the sting is cause to see a doctor.
What is a stinger? What happens when a honey bee stings you? Only female bees have stingers because they are a modified ovipositor. The stingers of the worker bees are barbed and have two parts which allows them to work their way deeper into the flesh. The stingers are attached to venom sacks which continue to pump venom into the body of the victim minutes after it has pulled away from the bee itself, eviscerating and killing the bee in the process. Not unlike snake venom, honey bee venom is a witch’s brew of peptides and other substances meant to injure the thing that is stung. The main component of bee venom is a peptide called Melittin which causes pain and cell death.
More Information: https://www.beeawareallergy.com/resources/beekeepers/high-risk-allergy/
There are many specialized pieces of equipment like frame holders to keep frames off the ground when inspecting your hives, and fume boards to force bees out of honey supers you want to remove and harvest. Some beekeepers choose instead to brush bees off their frames with a bee brush, while others feel this tool can injure the bees too easily. There are also the green plastic drone boards we talked about in the section on Varroa control that are also sometimes used be queen breeders to help saturate an area with drones carrying specific genetic traits. Before buying any piece of beekeeping equipment, thoroughly research what it is for and if you truly need it for your apiary.
Other pieces of equipment have a time and a place, but are often not necessary. For example, some beekeepers use a metal or plastic grate called a queen excluder to keep their queen down in the brood chamber and out of the honey supers while others do not. Most beekeepers use a block of wood with slits cut into it, an entrance reducer, in the entrance of smaller or weak hives to prevent pests and robbing, but anything partially blocking the entrance (even grass) will do in a pinch. There are also special robbing screens that go over the entrance of the hive which some beekeepers use during a nectar dearth to prevent robbing. There are both pros and cons of wearing gloves and the type of gloves you choose to wear. Thick leather gloves may prevent stings, but make you clumsy and prone to crushing bees, while nitrile gloves or bare hands are easier to keep clean and maintain dexterity, but stings on your hands can lead to swollen fingers and painful knuckles.
Three required pieces of equipment for a new beekeeper are a smoker, a veil, and a hive tool. No matter what you see on YouTube, you should always at least wear a veil when working your bees. Getting stung in the face is no laughing matter and bees are drawn to the dark circles that make up a face as well as the CO2 you expel from your nose and mouth. Personally, I recommend beeks wear a full bee suit until they are comfortable working with bees (an early sting may increase your anxiety around bees and they can sense it). A new beek should also always light a smoker when working their bees even if the bees are calm and its use turns out smoking them is not necessary, as lighting a smoker when the bees are already agitated guarantees you will have trouble or it will go out. Hopefully the need for a hive tool to pry the lid off the hive and the boxes and frames apart is self-explanatory.
More Information: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HaIidPJMJus
Jen Haeger is a new master beekeeper and board member of A2B2.