As the days get longer, the weather becomes milder, and the air begins to sweeten with hints of the first spring blossoms, my thoughts turn increasingly to my bees. I’ve spied them scouting out the first dandelions and daffodils for nectar and bringing the pollen back to their hives which tells me that the queen is gearing up for spring and laying lots of eggs. This is a time of year when it is crucial for beekeepers to pay attention to what’s going on in each of their beehives.
It’s tempting to feel like nectar flow is around the corner and your bees are in the clear but don’t count your bees before they hatch! As spring approaches, there are more eggs, larva and brood but less food stores than there have been all winter. This is actually the time of year that hives are most likely to fail due to starvation. If an unseasonably warm day comes along, I like to quickly peek in on my little buddies and see if they have an adequate supply of food to get them through to nectar flow but opening the hive is really not necessary. You can tell by lifting one side of your hive if your bees need feeding. This takes some experience to gauge with my top bar and warre hives but I was taught by experienced beekeepers that if you can lift the side of a Langstroth hive with two fingers your bees are in danger of starving.
One of the best ways to insure a healthy colony come spring is to never harvest too much honey from your hive; then you won’t have to feed them at all. If in doubt, leave extra for them. You’ll have that much more to harvest next year. I’m not a big fan of feeding my bees sugar syrup but I will if the alternative means starvation for them. It’s pretty much common sense that sugar syrup has no comparison to nectar in terms of what is more nutritious for bees (after all, nectar and pollen is nature’s perfect food for them) but it beats letting them starve. There is some good news though; There are few things you can add to your syrup to make it more nutritious and a little easier on the bees' digestive systems.
So, with all of that in mind I’d like to share a recipe for sugar syrup I have had good luck with in times of crisis.
2 quarts (8 cups) of white sugar (do not use brown sugar or other substitute)
3 cups of almost boiling water
1 cup of chamomile tea (can use chamomile flowers or tea bags)
2 tablespoons of your own honey
½ teaspoon of fresh squeezed lemon juice
a healthy pinch of sea salt
3-4 drops of lemongrass essential oil
1 teaspoon vegetable glycerine
Mix sugar and water until all sugar is dissolved.
Mix in the chamomile tea, honey, lemon juice and sea salt until well combined.
Mix the lemongrass oil into the glycerine, then add to the syrup.
Cover and let cool to room temperature before feeding your bees.