Can anyone tell me if it is wise to feed bees throughout the winter? I live in central Texas where our winters can be mild. For example, my bees have been active during the past week. When I checked my two hives in late fall to get them ready for winter, one (new in 2002) only filled about half a brood chamber. We had a very dry spring, and I suspect not much honey flow. My other hive that produced 100 pounds of honey in 2001, produced nothing in 2002. I thought I'd try feeding the smaller hive through the winter just to see if they grow. For the past couple weeks I've actually been feeding both hives (sugar water). The smaller hive (All Americans) consumes a quart per day. The larger hive (Italians) consumes a quart in five days. Any comments?
I'm sure this is all very climate specific, so perhaps my experiences in the northern climates are irrelevant. But here are the issues and principles with feeding.
If you feed sugar syrup, it has a tendancy to cause the bees to think it's the spring flow and raise brood. Especially if it's fairly watery and since sugar is sucrose the same as nectar is and especially if the weather is warm.
More brood means more bees which means they need more food. If your timing is off you end up with a lot of starved bees. If your timing is good you end up with a very strong hive. It just depends on the climate, and with the climate changing now, it may just depend on the climate THIS WINTER.
Anyway, these are the trade offs.
Feeding honey has less of a chance of inciting them to raise brood but you take more risk of spreading things like AFB (American Foul Brood). I don't feel it's a lot of risk to feed my bees my honey from my healthy hives, but it's possible I missed seeing foul brood in a hive and then I spread it.
Personally I only feed them honey in the fall and only if I think they are short on stores. It does me no good to feed them during the winter most winters because they are not active enough to take enough feed to matter.
I feed them sugar syrup in the spring to stimulate brood rearing. I also put wintergreen mixed with honey in the syrup for the mites in the spring. I start the stimulation between March and April depending on the weather. If it warms up enough in late March for them to be flying I might feed them that early, but if it doesn't look like it's going to stay warm most of the time I wait until April. That's here in Nebraska. Everthing will be different there in relationship to the timing and the weather, but the concepts are the same.
I suppose I should also point out that I always feed a new swarm so they have something to draw comb with. But this probably isn't related to the question of feeding them through the winter.
Can anyone tell me if it is wise to feed bees throughout the winter?
If they need food yes.
When I checked my two hives in late fall to get them ready for winter, one (new in 2002) only filled about half a brood chamber. We had a very dry spring, and I suspect not much honey flow. My other hive that produced 100 pounds of honey in 2001, produced nothing in 2002.
You checked in late fall? By mid season some action should be taken. Whether feeding or equalizing or both. It is the task of the beekeeper to provide for the bees knowing a poor season is on to make sure they are ready by winter. Don't judge a hive by the following season especially on production. Have you ever done robinhood with your hives? Taking honey from one to provide another. What is your hive configuration singles, doubles, triples, one and 1/2 ?
I thought I'd try feeding the smaller hive through the winter just to see if they grow. For the past couple weeks I've actually been feeding both hives (sugar water).
This can be risky(depending on the timeing). There are two ways to feed for winter. One is is to stimulate and one does not stimulate. It is best to stimulate well provided hives and not those that are light. But it seems you have started to stimulate so you should continue. It seems the one thing you are overlooking is pollen. This is the most important thing if you want the colonies to brood. No pollen, no brood. Have you ever tried the honey packet method for non-stimulative feeding?
Is there any bloom in TX at this time? When should there be if not?
Dougn, I'm in the same situation as far as being in North central Texas, and we have had several nice warm days lately, with freezing temps in between. The bees do seem to fly frequently and there's not much for nectar from what I can see. I have been supplementing feeding with 2 parts sugar to one part water, and though they do take it fairly slowly, they are managing to use it up. The thinner solution is to stimulate brood rearing, but based on what I've read and been told, you can supplement during Winter with honey, corn syrup, or 2:1 sugar water.