September is a month of great change in Sussex County, and also in the beehives. The autumnal equinox served as a signal to the queen to change her egg laying habits in preparation for a generation of healthy winter bees. If there is insufficient food in the hive, the queen will shut down her egg laying in advance of hard times ahead, which will make spring recovery that much more difficult.
I’ve watched my fields change from the verdant lushness of spring to the wild rioting blooms of summer to the now ever-increasing crunchy brownness of fall. As the food supply dies off this season I’ve watched the habits of my forager bees change as well – they appear to now be spending their time collecting the leftover pollen from dead flowers and returning it to the hive. It, most likely, will be mixed with uncapped honey and used as “bee bread” for the rearing of the coming cold season’s winter bees. (continued below photo)
This is a signal to me, as well. As a beekeeper I am now inexorably tied in and tuned in to the Apis circle of life. I will happily and willingly play my part as Feeder of the Realm. I bring a bucket of syrup up to the farm with me every Sunday to top off the feeders I’ve placed atop each hive. The moment I start to pour fresh syrup into the feeder, the bees eagerly rush at it to start feeding. I can only explain this moment as pure, unadulterated bee glee!
Here’s the math:
Right now I am making 2:1 syrup, which means 2 lbs. of sugar for every 1 lb. of water (less water is used in the fall because the bees have less time to dry it down before capping – honey is 15-18% water). The calculation is that for every gallon of 2:1 syrup the bees take, they will store 7 lbs. of it in the frames. My goal is to make sure there are roughly 60 lbs. of food stored in every hive – meaning that, if every hive was absolutely devoid of honey, each would need to take in almost 9 gallons of syrup. One 25-lb bag of sugar makes 4 gallons of 2:1 syrup – times six hives, that means I will be buying (14) 25-lb bags of sugar, at $13.00 per bag that’s…. ouch. $182! Thankfully, the hives were not completely empty at the beginning of this exercise.
The bees will store this simple syrup in the honeycomb for use as food in the dead of winter. The more stores the hive sets aside, the better will be their chances of survival. The more food there is in the hive, the more willing the queen is to lay those eggs that will become winter bees.
I guess I should go to BJ’s tonight and buy a few more 25-lb. bags of sugar!