Due to a mention from BeverlyBees last week I suspect that some new people may visit this site. Before I become known as the “cruel guy that doesn’t feed his bees”, I want to make some declarations and explain WHY I conduct my operation in this way.
There was a time that I did feed. When I started beekeeping I read a lot of what everyone does, American Bee Journal, Bee Culture along with several books on the subject. I took the same message from all of them, whether that was their objective or not. They instructed me as the backyard beekeeper in the same methods used by large beekeepers. One of the things common in large beekeeping operations is feeding. In fact it is common in both of those journals to see readers being instructed to feed their bees when any of a number of problems arise. I read and re-read them each month, sometime writhing as I do so.
What all of these publications fail to mention is that losses are still a reality whether beekeepers feed or not. I liken it to the old saying about when your only tool is a hammer everything you work on looks like a nail. If this is wrong – feed, if that is wrong – feed, catch a swarm – feed, make a split – feed, on and on and on it goes. If feeding truly was the answer to all of the problems faced by bees and beekeepers why are people still losing bees?
I began to think about what I might be doing when feeding sugar syrup to bees. Sugar syrup does not equal nectar, a HUGE portion of bees natural forage and nutrition. Bees will eat sugar syrup just like my daughter will eat Snicker bars. It seems odd to me, if I were to only feed my child snickers bars for weeks at a time people would say I was a horrible parent. They would be right! Yet the current standard of practice in beekeeping is to feed bees this unnatural forage for extended periods of time.
We live in a world where sugar is ridiculously cheap. This has not always been the case and as a result feeding wasn’t the easy fix for beekeepers that it is today. They lived, some died and life went on. Many people are going into beekeeping today and that is a GREAT THING!!! The world would be a better place if every person had a couple hives. For many it is their first go-round with any form of animal husbandry. When you have animal life around you must be prepared to experience losses from time to time. It doesn’t make you a failure. As long as you use it to learn and become a better beekeeper things will be just fine.
If you really want to feed your bees become an evangelist for weeds and diverse landscapes. Try to have your bees in locations where they can find good varied forage throughout the course of the year. That is the only true way to FEED your bees and be giving them what they really need. I have seen many estimates, but according to Wikipedia a source I am not afraid to quote…..
The first Apis bees appear in the fossil record at the Eocene–Oligocene (23-56 Mya) boundary, in European deposits. The origin of these prehistoric honey bees does not necessarily indicate that Europe is where the genus originated, only that it occurred there at that time.
They are amazing resourceful creatures that have found ways to cope and survive for a long time. They can make it without us providing sugar syrup.
If you only want to have a hive or two GREAT do so. Also look into building a swarm trap or two to replace any loses you may experience. Sourcing your bees locally, whether they are truly feral or just swarms from other local beekeepers will keep you in the game. I will do everything I can to assist you along the way. Living in a Northern latitude and having bees from Georgia will pose many problems just as keeping an Emperor Penguin as a pet living in Florida. Humans as highly mobile creatures sometimes forget that other forms of life have trouble adapting as easily as we do. Bees can do it, just not with the rapidity of humans.
As I have explained to others I am not a bee sadist. My reporting is honest (SEE HIVE OBITUARIES). Since I have quit feeding AND TREATING losses as a percentage of total hives have decreased. I still lose a hive every once in a while. From time to time a person you know will also pass away. Everything that is living eventually dies. Before I am classified as a crazy person, or persecuted for being “mean” remember how the first persons were threatened for proposing that the Earth was round, or that the Earth went around the sun. I am not proposing that I am the first to question feeding and treating, or that I am right and everyone else is wrong. All that I am saying is that I will never find out if I don’t try something different.
Have a nice weekend and leave a comment. I am planning to be using a bee-vac this weekend so come back next week for some pictures and hopefully a good story.