by National Bee Unit
With the continued poor weather looking to persist through to the end of March, colonies may be starting to run out of food (if they haven’t already). It would be advisable to check the food levels by opening the hive and making a very quick observation on their store levels. Key points to remember are:
• The colony may still have stores available which are at the other end of the brood chamber to the cluster of bees. If there are ‘empty’ frames between the two then the bees could still starve, despite food being in the chamber. Move the frames of food directly next to the outer frame where the cluster resides, ensuring that you score each frame of food (not excessively, but enough to stimulate feeding). Be sure not to knock or roll the bees when doing this and to be as quick as possible.
• If the colony has little or no frames of food then give them a block of candy or fondant. You want to aim for about 2.5 kg per hive and although this may seem to be a great expense, it is far less than the money you will have wasted should the bees die.
• Mini plastic bags that are used to store loose fruit in from the supermarket are perfectly acceptable for holding the fondant and cost nothing. Pack the candy in the bag and then pierce holes in the appropriate place once you get to the hive. If the bag seems fragile then you can double bag it (just be sure to pierce both bags).
• At this time of the year we would usually start feeding sugar syrup but with these temperatures it is still too cold. Place the fondant directly above the bees, turning the crownboard if necessary so that one of the porter bee escape holes is above the cluster.
Please be aware that this should be done as quickly and carefully as possible and although it may seem too cold to open the hive now, it is far better to do so knowing the bees are ok than not to and find later that they have died.
For more information please refer to Best Practice Guideline Number 7 – ‘Emergency Feeding’ (https://secure.fera.defra.gov.uk/beebase/downloadNews.cfm?id=121).