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Beginner Lessons in Feeding Hives Sugar Syrup

We have been blessed this spring with our hive count having increased by 900%. We began this year with essentially one hive when our second one didn’t make it through winter. That hive split into two and swarmed once. The swarm got away. Each of the splits each swarmed once. We caught them. Two random swarms showed up at the house. We boxed them. We installed 1 package at the beginning of spring as well. We then purchased a queen from a fellow beekeeper at the NCSBA Summer Meeting who won it as a door prize. We’re up to nine hives now. Completely amazing! This is exactly what we wanted. We want to get our hive count up to around 20-25. Thank the Lord.

The original hive has been struggling. After all the splits and swarms, I believe they went queenless for a while. They raised another and she was beginning to lay. The package hive and one of the splits from the original hive were the strongest.

The Beeks in our local club were aware that most of our hives were new and weak. The advice we kept getting was feed, feed, and feed. We were reluctant to feed. We wanted to see if they could make it own their own. But, early in the spring here in NC we had heavy rains that have really messed with the pollen and nectar flows. So on Saturday July 11th, 2009 I decided to feed the bees. I fed five of the weakest hives. It was about 5:30 PM and HOT! We had to promptly leave town for a family cookout. The next day, Sunday afternoon, I looked out the window towards the hives as I do so often. I saw bees all over the place. I went outside quickly and there were bees all over 2 of the hives I had fed the day before. It kind of looked like when they’re swarming or a very busy orientation flight. I looked closer and saw lots of fighting. They were being robbed! I had no idea how to stop it. I suited up and put entrance reducers on all the hives. I called a more experienced beekeeper and explained my plight. He headed right over. He took a look at everything and laughed a little. He said, “I’ve been where you are. In 5 years from now, if you’re lucky, you’ll get a call from someone asking for your help.” Ultimately, he took the strongest of the weak hives with him. It happened to be the ones that were being robbed out the most. He also told me that putting the entrance reducers on was the right thing to do. Our first hive that was struggling so hard to recover got frustrated and swarmed to an Oak branch nearby.

The robbing didn’t stop after he left. The robbers proceeded to the other hives with feeders. I was still at a loss for what to do. We were scheduled to leave town for a break that day as well. Finally I decided to pull the feeders from two of the other hives that were being robbed. That taken care of we packed up and took our new queen along with some frames of brood, pollen, and honey from a very productive hive to a new location for installation. Don’t forget there is still a swarm from a weak hive hanging out on a branch. But we left town, anyway, frustrated and somewhat defeated. We figured we would just let nature take it’s course.

Vacation was nice and I didn’t think about the bees much at all. On the way home we checked on the new queen. They had freed her but we are not sure if she lived or not. More to follow on that in a later post. After we arrived home and unpacked I took a walk around the property to check everything out. To my surprise the swarm was still hanging out on the Oak. I picked up a nuc and was able to retrieve them. The next day I moved the two strongest hives that were doing all the robbing to a new location in a different county. This would allow us to continue to feed all the weak hives with little fear of a repeat robbing event. We’re also not taking any honey off this year due to the low flow and the fact that are hives are weak. We want them to have as much food as possible going into the winter. With any help we’ll make it through to spring with what we have now. In which case the idea is to split them and we’ll be roughly around our desired 20 hives. That’s the plan anyway.

The lessons here were this. Be careful when feeding weak hives in the presence of strong hives. As the experienced beekeeper said, “Feed as close to dark as possible.” We have really had an awesome spring in only our second year of keeping bees. What happened that Sunday was a real shame and was so discouraging I was ready to throw in the towel. But with the help of an experienced beekeeper and some understanding family that have allowed our apiary to expand onto their properties we’re sticking with it. Always remember that bees are insects. They behave the way that God programmed them to behave. They are not malicious to the beekeeper. If there is a supply of weakly guarded food they will exhaust it till it’s gone and stored up in their hive. At first I was upset with the two stronger hives. But, honestly, that is what I want from a hive. Survivors. Strength. Growth. Population. They looked good. But I can’t have them here with so many weak colonies. It can be frustrating sometimes. But for me, working through it and finding the lesson is the reward. I love to learn. That is why I got into beekeeping. I wanted to learn something new. There is one more lesson. All the advice we received about feeding from all the other beekeepers should have had a disclaimer that we didn’t find out about until it was too late. Feed as close to dusk as possible.

With the two strong hives gone we have begun feeding the weak hives again and I’m happy to report minimal to no robbing. There’s a little fighting but no more than normal. I filled the feeders at dusk and was careful not to spill any. So far so good. We’ll see in a few months if it’ll all pay off or not.

If you’re a new beek also, or have a story you’d like to share please leave us a comment. We’d love to hear from you.

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