When checking inside my horizontal top bar hive the other day I found this, an empty comb. Not sure what was going on, I showed the comb to my neighbor, an experienced beekeeper. In his opinion, this showed that the bees seemed to be chowing down on their own honey, and that they probably could do with a feeding of some sugar syrup.
It has been quite dry here lately (and record heat for September), and the natural sources of nectar may be as depressed as we have been to have 100 degree temps this late in the year.
He let me borrow a feeder stand and I cooked up a batch of 1:1 sugar and water and placed it in the hive.
I’ll be back in to check on the feeder and the combs soon.
All this makes me a little uncertain about how I feel about feeding bees. The “natural” ways of beekeeping recommend refraining from supplementing with sugar except during times of stress such as when establishing a new hive and times like this when the bees seem unable to find sufficient nectar and pollen because of conditions outside of our control, like the weather.
One way they avoid the need to feed is by taking the main honey harvest in the spring after the bees have made it through the barren season and the remaining honey is shown to be in excess of what they needed to overwinter. Indeed, honey produced largely as a result of sugar feeding is considered almost fraudulent, and not suited for sale.
I once attended a beekeepers association meeting where a curiosity being passed around was a jar of blue honey. The explanation was that a supply of syrup had been contaminated by blue dye (I believe it was “food grade” dye–I hope so, anyway), and the bees had somehow gotten into it by mistake. It highlighted to me the direct relationship between what bees are fed and what makes it into the honey itself. I had so much rather my honey direct from the flower, not from the sugar factory via a short trip through the honeybee.
I hope my interference is only giving the bees a temporary leg up during a lean period and not upsetting their apple cart in a significant way. Nature is so overwhelmingly better off without our best efforts to intervene the majority of the time and our ways of propping them up to offset our other bad choices often have all the finesse of a bull in a china shop.