Eat, drink, and bee merry

In Virginia, we have six to eight weeks of summer dearth followed by an unreliable fall, so the best nectar the bees see is in spring and early summer. Last year, in my first year of beekeeping, another beekeeper told me to feed my hives in August and September. Otherwise they will eat much of their stores and not have enough for winter. Well, it turns out he was correct.

Giving bees sugar and water feels like giving a child a coke. They drink it down with a smile, yet you know it is not the healthiest food. The variety of amino acids, minerals, and nutrients from natural nectar is surely better for bees than sugar and water. Especially during the cold winter when they are huddled in the hive.

So, while I did feed some of my hives this year, I was reluctant to do so.


Which brings us to Ganymede, my most aggressive hive this year. She is just never happy to see me. My top bar hives, Venus and Saturn, are always happy to see me. Who wants to visit a friend who is always grumpy? So I have avoided Ganymede in recent months.

I looked at my notes, and it turns out I hadn’t checked Ganymede since the end of August. I had high mite levels then and treated with apiguard. She was packed full of honey at the time, so I knew she was good.

After listening to Dr. Milbrath earlier in the week, I felt a little guilty for not confirming that the mite levels in Ganymede were now okay. So this past Thursday found me in the bee yard doing a sugar shake on Ganymede. The good news: no mites out of 300 bees. The bad news, almost no food either. I found one fully capped deep frame they were saving for a winter day, and a scattering of honey and nectar throughout the rest of the hive. No brood either, though that is typical for Russian bees this time of year (so I hope the queen is present!). I really should have checked this hive in early September.


It is a bit late in the year to be feeding bees. Fortunately, Virginia still has some warm weather left, so that evening I fed Ganymede 10 pounds of sugar as 2:1 syrup (two parts sugar to one part water) in a top feeder. I add a bit of vinegar to keep it from fermenting, and a bit of sea salt to provide some minerals.

I didn’t really want to feed my bees. You have to buy sugar, mix it up, and haul it to hives. It appears I should have, though, as now my hives are in danger of starving and freezing in the next few months. Friday found me purchasing 40 pounds of sugar (37.5 cents a pound at Wegmans!) and fed both Jupiter and Venus about a gallon as well. My other two hives, Saturn and Mars, I knew to be in better shape. I didn’t have enough feeders in any case, so they were on their own.

Last night the syrup in Gany was gone, so I knew she at least appreciated the food. This morning, with strong winds and 50 F (10 C) temperatures, I went out to feed her some more. I expected the feeder to be empty and the bees to be clustered down in the hive. I had a veil over my face but no suit or gloves, something I don’t usually do.

Sure enough, the bees were all over the feeder, and were not at all happy to have their hive opened in cool blustery weather. I closed it up quick and fetched my suit and gloves from the house. Feeling secure, I added over a gallon of syrup to Gany’s feeder, and received two stings on my elbow for my efforts (right through the suit!). Ah, Ganymede, whatever shall I do with you. I topped off Jupiter’s feeder as well, and she was calm and peaceful.

The apiary on Friday after feeding the bees. You can see the top feeders on Jupiter and Ganymede (the unpainted wood). © Erik Brown

The apiary on Friday after feeding the hives. The top feeders are the unpainted wooden boxes on top of Jupiter and Ganymede (the two center hives). © Erik Brown

I will probably need to mix up some sugar blocks for the winter, especially for Ganymede. These solid blocks are placed on top of the hive as supplemental food during the winter months.

Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die

Our proverb of the day comes from a favorite book of mine: The Facts on File Dictionary of Proverbs. Live life to the fullest in each moment, for you never know what tomorrow may bring. I think the “be merry” part is especially important.

This phrase is based on the Christian Bible, as various forms appear in Ecclesiastes 8:15, Isaiah 22:13, Luke 12:19, and 1 Corinthians 15:32. The closest match is probably in Isaiah 22:13, which includes “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we may die.”

For my bees, the quote is quite fitting, as I’m suddenly not certain how they will fare over winter. I could consider combining Ganymede with another hive, but I’m not sure I have another hive strong enough to absorb so many new bees. So I will feed them while I can and hope they pull through into spring. Eat, drink, and be merry indeed.


5 thoughts on “Eat, drink, and bee merry

    • Thanks, Emily. I was quite surprised to find a mostly empty box when I opened up Ganymede. I have never tried fondant, isn’t heating the sugar not as good for the bees? I’ll have to look into it.


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