The Sourwood trees (nectar source) and Devil’s Walking Stick (pollen and nectar source) are on the cusp of flowering, and last week bees were not interested in pollen substitute or sugar syrup, but now they are ravenous waiting for late summer blooms to start. We’ve noticed a recent decline in resources stored in hives and queens have slowed down laying brood, so they and we knew the dearth was coming.
We’ve had a lot of success with Bee Pro pollen the last two years. I have four pollen feeders out around the farm and each needs to be refilled at least once a day. Two feeders are covered, and I only use the uncovered trays in times of high demand as the bees don’t like it as much once it turns to mud during our afternoon thunderstorms! As you can see from the above picture, I need to refill feeders before foragers are out and about and estimate how much they’ll consume before the rains come. There’s no way I’m getting between them and what’s on the tray without a bee suit, and there would have to be a better reason than that to suit up in 100 degree heat! However, despite the recent weather forecasts, the rain hasn’t even moved the rain gauge even though thunder has sent us indoors the last few days, so little pollen substitute has gone to waste.
We’ve moving away from open feeding syrup as we only want to feed our bees and not every nectar-sipping insect in a 5-mile radius. Hubby is setting up the tank for first time use: as it is set up in the picture, the pump will cycle syrup to keep the sugar and water well mixed , and it will also pump syrup through the red hose into a smaller tank that sits on the ATV or golf cart. The smaller tank has its own pump, so we’ll be able to easily refill internal feeders or feeder pails. That will be a big improvement over loading up gallon milk jugs and liter soda bottles with syrup in the kitchen and driving them around to hives we are already feeding. For one thing, it will keep me from spilling sugar all over the kitchen floor!
We’ve had some robbing problems when internal feeding late summer in the past, so we’ll have to keep hives strong enough to fend off invaders when using division board feeders. We have some entrance feeders to use with weaker hives, but we don’t want to block entrances completely in this heat. As with everything else, supplemental feeding is a balancing act and I’m glad that I’m home during much of summer to keep an eye on things. We merged a couple of weak, queenless NUCs into other hives this week rather than risk them dying while trying to defend a feeder.
Hubby has also been researching beneficial sunflowers as another July pollen and nectar source. We placed some hives on a neighbor’s sunflower field a couple of years ago, and the hives came back with no resources and sick bees. Apparently it’s good to know what kind of sunflowers you’re looking at. Bee Culture reports that sunflower pollen is beneficial for bee health, but other sources report that some sunflowers produce a sticky substance in which bees can become stuck which reduces the number of field bees. As the aforementioned hives had surprisingly few foragers, we’re guessing our neighbor plants sticky sunflowers! We’re going to plant some Lemon Queen sunflowers as articles consistently recommend them for bees. We may even try to plant some this year….. or maybe not as another thunderstorm just moved through without leaving a drop of rain.
As always, natural food sources are the best and supplemental feeding means we won’t pull any honey even if we think it was stored while nectar was still flowing.
All this thinking about feeding bees has made me hungry, so I guess it’s time to head into the kitchen and prepare something for us. We were both so tired after planting 30+ shrubs and trees yesterday that we didn’t eat a real supper, but more about that another day.