Beekeepers cannot assume that their bees have sufficient stores to last until the first nectar flows begin.

Last autumn, beekeepers had taken the hard earned stores of honey from their bees and replaced it with a feed of sugar syrup.

There are always exceptions to this, where some beekeepers will leave a certain quantity of honey with them.

Honey is the most appropriate and complete food for bees. We have to get bees through the winter and early spring, at which point they will be availing of a good nectar flow from dandelion.

During regular apiary checks, the beekeeper will heft each hive to assess its weight.

Those that are deemed light will require supplementary feeding. This is basically an emergency measure to prevent starvation of the colony.

The cluster is a tightly bound body of bees, designed to retain heat, supported across brood frames within the brood chamber, yet remaining in contact with their food stores. For this reason, fondant is the food of choice for winter feeding in these circumstances. It is easily applied above the bees without any disturbance to them. So, when placing fondant in the hive, it is important to place it as close to the bees as possible. Sugar syrup cannot be given at this time of year as bees are unable to process it.

Winter clusters

Winter clusters may vary with prevailing temperatures. It was long assumed that brood was not produced in the heart of winter but, there is now evidence of some taking place. Ideally, the cluster should be tight, with no brood rearing, but the climate must be changing sufficiently to permit this.

The impact of this is, a demand on food stores as bees move about more, consuming food to maintain energy, not to mention supporting any brood.

Beehives should not be opened during the winter because of the risk of breaking the winter cluster and chilling bees.

Where bees have a void above them, they may fill it during the late summer and autumn with honey. They will produce the honeycomb in beautiful wavy lines, which of themselves are works of art. No doubt, they conform to what they themselves deem is right, and not the straight lines expected by the beekeeper.

Where bees have died out, leaving behind some honey in the hive, it can be very tempting for the beekeeper to use this for supplementary or emergency feeding in hives.

There are a couple of serious diseases, which affect bees, and may be present in this honey.

Unless the beekeeper is sure that the bees did not die from such, then it is possible to use this honey after it has been treated for lesser diseases, by appropriate beekeeping methods.

There is always a risk of transmitting disease to healthy colonies by feeding honey from other colonies.

The best insurance policy is to feed fondant and keep any frames of honey for feeding nuclei next summer. At least, this way the beekeeper can monitor the nucleus and isolate it should the need arise.

Starvation in beehives should never occur. Dead bees don’t pollinate flowers or produce honey.

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