I truly hate messing with syrup, especially now that I have so many bees. It's not so bad mixing up syrup for 1 colony now and then, but 8 thirsty colonies drink a lot of syrup. Each one can easily suck down a gallon overnight, and I have a feeling they'd take more if they could get it.
Making up gallons and gallons of the sweet stuff is a pain because:
- It's expensive. I go through at least 100 lbs of sugar every week (approximately $19 for a 50 lb bag at Costco). I don't even feed everyday. If I did, I'd need closer to 300-400 lbs. Of course, sugar is still cheaper than new bees, so I feed.
- It's time-consuming. Mixing up syrup, bottling it, and feeding -- that's a huge time investment. Just opening the hives and swapping out feeders takes about 40 minutes.
- It's inconvenient. As a working mom, I'm busy all day, but the real craziness starts when the kids get home -- there's so much to do -- homework, snacks, dinner activities, baths... However, because I like to feed inside the hives, I have wait until about an hour before sundown to feed in order to avoid setting off robbing. Unfortunately, that's also the same time of day that at least one of the little people in my house requires Mom's Chauffeur Services.
- It's a pain. Literally. The bees are not particularly happy this time of year, and they're not shy about making their feelings known. They also act like crackheads when I lug all that syrup out to the beeyard, which again, is not always fun.
On the other hand, I've found a great tool to help out with feedings -- my DH's beer brewing pot. It holds 4 gallons, which is awesome because it cuts down the mess in my kitchen & time spent making syrup considerably. Before, I'd make 2 batches of syrup in 2 large pots (4 pots total). Now, I only need 1 pot (though I still make 2 batches.) I'd love to try his bottle filling siphon to fill up all my jugs with syrup, but I have a feeling that it might not clean up well, so if you've ever done that, please, let me know!
Another reason why I don't like feeding is that sugar really isn't that great for bees. Bees raised on/fed sugar syrup don't live as long as bees that get honey. I suppose this is sort of ironic when you think about it -- the autumn bees are the ones that need to live a good long time so that the colony can survive until spring, but they're the ones that get the syrup. Additionally, my understanding is that bees that are fed syrup are more susceptible to diseases. It's like living on Twinkies. You can do it, but you're going to have a lot of health issues.
Even though I follow a treatment-free beekeeping philosophy, I have a gray area when it comes to feeding. Although I don't use supplements or essential oils, I do use bee tea as the base for my syrup in order to add some extra nutrients. I also add a pinch of sea salt for the same reason. It's probably like adding nuts and cherries to your ice cream sundae -- The nuts and cherry are alright, but you're still eating a sundae.
Anyway, on a whim, this year, I started adding seaweeds like wakame and kombu to my bee tea. In Korea, seaweed soup is one of those essential foods for nursing moms because it's supposed to provide lots of nutrition and help increase milk production. Ok, I'm not planning to milk any bees, but the micronutrients can't hurt, so into the pot they go.
After making the first pot of syrup with some seaweed, I figured I should at least see if there was any research on bees and seaweed. Wouldn't you know it, but the company that makes ApiVar also sells a supplement called HiveAlive that contains seaweed?! (I supposed I would've known this years ago if I shopped for mite treatments.) Although I'm not intending to purchase HiveAlive, I did find out what I wanted to know -- a little bit of seaweed's not going to kill my bees and may even be beneficial. So I'll probably continue adding some seaweed to the bee tea from now on. (BTW, if you want to try adding seaweed to your syrup, you can usually find it at Whole Foods or a health food store, but a tiny bag of the stuff is kind of pricey. Instead, if you have a good Asian grocery nearby, you can usually find huge bags of the stuff quite inexpensively.)
Until last week, the weather was staying steady in the 60s. We even had a few days in the upper 70's. This week, temperatures have plunged into the 50's, so the window of opportunity for bulking up the hives is quickly closing.
P.S. I'm not shilling for HiveAlive. I've never tried it and don't even plan on trying it. However, if you're curious, the American Bee Journal Aug 2016 edition ran a short (though not particularly informative) blurb about it. You can also read about the study performed with HiveAlive in The Journal of Apiculture Research vol 54, 2015, Issue 5.