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Directions For Feeding Bees

Few things in the practical department of the Apiary, are more important
and yet more shamefully neglected, or grossly mismanaged, than the
feeding of bees. In order to make this subject as clear as possible, I
shall begin with the Spring examination of the hives, and furnish
suitable directions for feeding during the whole season in which it
ought to be attempted. In the movable comb hives, the exact condition of
the bees with regard to stores, may be easily ascertained as soon as the
weather is warm enough to lift out the frames. In the common hives, this
can sometimes be ascertained from the glass sides; but often no reliable
information can be obtained. Even if the weight of the hive is known,
this will be no sure criterion of the quantity of honey it contains. The
comb in old hives, is often very thick, and of course, unusually heavy;
while vast stores of useless bee-bread have frequently been accumulated,
which entirely deceive the Apiarian, who attempts to judge of the
resources of a hive from its weight alone. On my system of bee-culture,
such an injurious surplus of bee-bread, is easily prevented; (See p.

If the bee-keeper ascertains or even suspects, in the Spring, that his
bees have not sufficient food, he must at once supply them with what
they need. Bees, at this season of the year, consume a very large
quantity of honey: they are stimulated to great activity by the
returning warmth, and are therefore compelled to eat much more than when
they were almost dormant among their combs. In addition to this extra
demand, they are now engaged in rearing thousands of young, and all
these require a liberal supply of food. Owing to the inexcusable neglect
of many bee-keepers, thousands of swarms perish annually after the
Spring has opened, and when they might have been saved, with but little
trouble or expense. Such abominable neglect is incomparably more cruel
than the old method of taking up the bees with sulphur; and those who
are guilty of it, are either too ignorant or too careless, to have any
thing to do with the management of bees. What would be thought of a
farmer's skill in his business, who should neglect to provide for the
wants of his cattle, and allow them to drop down lifeless in their
stalls, or in his barn-yard, when the fields, in a few weeks, will be
clothed again with the green mantle of delightful Spring! If any farmer
should do this, when food might easily be purchased, and should then,
while engaged in the work of skinning the skeleton carcasses of his
neglected herd, pretend that he could not afford to furnish, for a few
weeks, the food which would have kept them alive, he would not be a whit
more stupid than the bee-keeper attempting to justify himself on the
score of economy, while engaged in melting down the combs of a hive,
starved to death, after the Spring has fairly opened! Let such a person
blush at the pretence that he could not afford to feed his bees, the few
pounds of sugar or honey, which would have saved their lives, and
enabled them to repay him tenfold for his prudent care.

I always feed my bees a little, even if I know that they have enough and
to spare. There seems to be an intimate connection between the getting
of honey, and the rapid increase of breeding, in a hive; and the taste
of something sweet, however small, to be added to their hoards, exerts a
very stimulating effect upon the bees; a few spoonsfull a day, will be
gratefully received, and will be worth much more to a stock of bees in
the Spring, than at any other time.

By judicious early feeding, a whole Apiary may be not only encouraged to
breed much faster than they otherwise would have done; but they will be
inspired with unusual vigor and enterprise, and will afterwards increase
their stores with unusual rapidity. Great caution must be exercised in
supplying bees at this time with food, both to prevent them from being
tempted to rob each other, or to fill up with honey, the cells which
ought to be supplied with brood. Only a small allowance should be given
to them, and this from time to time, unless they are destitute of
supplies; and as soon as they begin to gather from the fields, the
feeding should be discontinued. Feeding, intended merely to encourage
the bees, and to promote early breeding, may be done in the open air. No
greater mistake can be made than to feed largely at this season of the
year. The bees take, to be sure, all that they can, and stow it up in
their cells, but what is the consequence? The honey which has been fed
to them, fills up their brood combs, and the increase of population is
most seriously interfered with; so that often when stocks which have not
been over-fed, are prepared not only to fill all the store combs in
their main hive, but to take speedy possession of the spare honey boxes,
a colony imprudently fed, is too small in numbers, to gather even as
much as the one which was not fed at all! The inexperienced Apiarian has
thus often made a worse use of his honey than he would have done, if he
had actually thrown it away! while all the time, he is deluding himself
with the vain expectation of reaping some wonderful profits, from what
he considers an improved mode of managing bees.

Such conduct in its results, appears to me very much like the noxious
influences under which too many of the children of the rich are so
fatally reared. With every want gratified, pampered and fed to the very
full, how often do we see them disappoint all the fond expectations of
parents and friends, their money proving only a curse, while not
unfrequently beggared in purse, and bankrupt in character, they
prematurely sink to an ignoble or dishonored grave. Think of it, ye who
are slaving in the service of Mammon, that ye may leave to your sons,
the overgrown wealth which usually proves a legacy of withering curses,
while you neglect to train them up in those habits of stern morality and
steady industry, and noble self-reliance, without which the wealth of
Croesus would be but a despicable portion! Think of it, as you
contrast its results in the bitter experience of thousands, with the
happier influences under which so many of our noblest men in Church and
State, have been nurtured and developed, and then pursue your sordid
policy, if you can. "There is that withholdeth" from good objects, "more
than is meet, and it tendeth to poverty:" yes, to poverty of Christian
virtue and manliness, and of those "treasures" which we are all
entreated by God himself, to "lay up" in the store-house of Heaven. Call
your narrow-mindedness and gross deficiencies in Christian liberality,
nothing more than a natural love of your children, and an earnest desire
to provide for your own household. Little fear there may be that _you_
will ever incur the charge of being "worse than an infidel" on this
point; but lay not on this account, any flattering unction to your
souls; look within, and see if the base idolatry of gold has not more to
do with your whole course of thinking and acting, than any love of wife
or children, relatives or friends!

Another _sermon_! does some one exclaim? Would then that it might be to
some of my readers a sermon indeed; "a word fitly spoken," "like apples
of gold in pictures of silver."

The prudent Apiarian will always regard the feeding of bees, except the
little, given to them by way of encouragement, as an evil to be
submitted to, only when absolutely necessary; and will very much prefer
to obtain his supplies from what Shakspeare has so beautifully termed
the "merry pillage" of the blooming fields, than from the more costly
stores of the neighboring grocery. If not engaged in the rapid increase
of stocks, he will seldom see a season so unfavorable as to be obliged
to purchase any food for his bees, unless he chooses to buy a cheaper
article, to replace the choice honey of which he has deprived them. Just
as soon as the Apiarian begins to multiply his stocks with very great
rapidity, he must calculate upon feeding great quantities of honey to
his bees. Before he attempts this on a large scale, let me once more
give him a friendly caution, and if possible, persuade him to try very
rapid multiplication with only a few of his stocks. In this way, he may
experiment to his heart's content, without running the risk of seriously
injuring his whole Apiary, and he may not only gain the skill and
experience which will enable him subsequently to conduct a rapid
increase, on a large scale, but may learn whether he is so situated that
he can profitably devote to it the time and money which it will
inevitably require.

Before giving directions for feeding bees when a rapid increase of
colonies is aimed at, I shall first show in what manner the bee-keeper
may feed his weak swarms in the Spring. If they are in the common hives,
a small quantity of liquid honey may, at once be poured among the combs
in which the bees are clustered: this may be done by pouring it into the
holes leading to the spare honey boxes, but a much better way is to
invert the hives, and pour in about a tea-cup full at once. The Apiarian
can then see just where to pour it; he need not fear that the bees will
be hurt by it; any more than a child will be either hurt or displeased
by the sweets which adhere to its hands and face, as it feasts upon a
generous allowance of the best sugar candy! When the bees have taken up
all that has been poured upon them, the hive may be replaced, and the
operation repeated in a few days: the oftener it is done, the better it
will suit them. If the weather is sufficiently warm to allow the bees to
fly without being chilled, the food may be put in some old combs, or in
a feeder, and set in a sunny place, a rod or more from their hives. If
placed too near, the bees may be tempted to rob each other. With my
hives, I can pour the honey into some empty comb, and then put the frame
containing it, directly into the hive; or I can set the feeder or honey
in the comb, in the hive near the frames which contain the bees. I have
already stated, (see p. 225,) that unless a colony can be supplied with
a sufficient number of bees, it cannot be aided by giving it food. If
the bees are not numerous enough to take charge of the eggs which the
queen can lay, or at least, of a large number of them, they can seldom,
unless they have a tropical season before them, increase rapidly enough
to be of any value. If they are numerous enough to raise a great many
young bees, but too few to build new comb, they must be fed very
moderately, or they will be sure to fill up their brood comb with honey,
instead of devoting themselves to the rapid increase of their numbers.
If the Apiarian has plenty of empty worker comb which he can give them,
he ought to supply them quite sparingly with honey, even when they are
considerably numerous, in order to have them breed as fast as possible;
not so sparingly however, as to prevent them from storing up any honey
in sealed cells; or they will not be encouraged to breed as fast as they
otherwise would. If he has no spare comb, and the hive is populous
enough to build new comb, it must be supplied moderately, and by all
means, _regularly_ with the means of doing this; the object being to
have comb building and breeding go together, so as mutually to aid each
other. If the feeding is not regular, so as to resemble the natural
supplies when honey is obtained from the blossoms, the bees will not use
the food given to them, in building new comb, but chiefly in filling up
all the cells previously built. If honey can be obtained regularly, and
in sufficient quantities from the blossoms, the small colonies or nuclei
will need no feeding until the failure of the natural supplies.

In all these operations, the main object should be to make every thing
bend to the most rapid production of _brood_; give me the bees, and I
can easily show how they may be fed, so as to make strong and prosperous
stocks; whereas if the bees are wanting, every thing else will be in
vain: just as a land where there are many stout hands and courageous
hearts, although comparatively barren, will in due time, be made to "bud
and blossom as the rose," while a second Eden, if inhabited by a scanty
and discouraged population, must speedily be overgrown with briars and

If strong stocks are deprived of a portion of their combs, so that they
cannot from natural sources, at once begin to refill all vacancies, they
too must be fed.

I have probably said enough to show the inexperienced that the rapid
multiplication of colonies is not a very simple matter, and that they
will do well not to attempt it on a large scale. By the time the honey
harvest ordinarily closes, all the colonies in the Apiaries of all
except the skillful, ought to be both strong in numbers and in stores;
at least the _aggregate_ resources of the colonies should be such that
when an equal division is made among them, there will be enough for them
all. This may ordinarily be effected, and yet the number of the colonies
be tripled in one season; and in situations where buckwheat is
extensively cultivated, a considerable quantity of surplus honey may
even then be frequently obtained from the bees. Early in the month of
September, or better still, by the middle of August, if the colonies are
sufficiently strong in numbers, I advise that if feeding is necessary to
winter the bees, it should be thoroughly attended to. If delayed later
than this, in the latitude of our Northern States, the bees may not have
sufficient time to seal over the honey fed to them, and will be almost
sure to suffer from dysentery, during the ensuing Winter. Unsealed
honey, almost always, in cool weather, attracts moisture, and sours in
the combs, and if the bees are compelled to feed upon it, they are very
liable to become diseased. This is the reason why bees when fed with
liquid honey, late in the Fall, or during the Winter, are almost sure to
suffer from disease. A very interesting fact confirming these views as
to the danger resulting from the use of sour food, has come under my
notice this Spring. A colony of bees were fed for some time with
suitable food, and appeared to be in perfect health, flying in and out
with great animation. Their owner, on one occasion, before leaving for
the day, gave them some molasses which was so _sour_, that it could not
be used in the family. On returning, at evening, he was informed that
the bees had been dropping their filth over every thing in the vicinity
of the hive. On examining them, next day, they were all found dead on
the bottom-board and among the combs! The acid food had acted upon them
as a violent cathartic, and had brought on a complaint of which they
all died in less than 24 hours: the hive was found to contain an ample
allowance of honey and bee-bread.

If the Apiarian, on examining the condition of his stocks, finds that
some have more than they need, and others not enough, his most prudent
course will be to make an equitable division of the honey, among his
different stocks. This may seem to be a very Agrarian sort of procedure,
and yet it will answer perfectly well in the management of bees. Those
that were helped, will not spend the next season in idleness, relying
upon the same sort of aid; nor will those that were relieved of their
surplus stores, remember the deprivation, and limit the extent of their
gatherings to a bare competency. With men, most unquestionably, such an
annual division, unless they were perfect, would derange the whole
course of affairs, and speedily impoverish any community in which it
might be attempted. I always prefer to take away a considerable quantity
of honey from my stocks, which have too generous a supply, and to
replace it with empty combs suitable for the rearing of workers; as I
find that when bees have too much honey in the Fall, they do not
ordinarily breed as fast in the ensuing Spring, as they otherwise would.
A portion of this honey should be carefully put away in the frames, and
kept in a close box, safe against all intruders, and where it will not
be exposed to frost; so that if any colonies in the Spring, are found to
be in want of food, they may easily be supplied.

In the Spring examination, if any colonies have too much honey, a
portion of it ought by all means to be taken away. Such a deprivation,
if judiciously performed, will always stimulate them to increased
activity. Every strong stock, as soon as it can gather enough honey to
construct comb, ought to have one or two combs which contain no brood
removed, and their places supplied with empty frames, in order that they
may be induced to exert themselves to the utmost. An empty frame
inserted between full ones, will be replenished with comb very speedily,
and often the combs removed will be so much clear gain. If at any time
there is a sudden supply of honey, and the bees are reluctant to enter
the boxes, or it is not probable that the supply will continue long
enough to enable them to fill them, the removal of some of the combs
from the main hive so as to have empty ones filled, will often be highly

If in the Fall of the year, the bee-keeper finds that some of his
colonies need feeding, and if they are not populous enough to make good
stock hives in the ensuing Spring, then instead of wasting time and
money on them, he should at once, break them up; (See p. 322.) They will
seldom pay for the labor bestowed on them, and the bees will be much
more serviceable, if added to other stocks. The Apiarian cannot be too
deeply impressed with the important truth, that his profits in
bee-keeping will all come from his _strong_ stocks, and that if he
cannot manage so as to have such colonies early, he had better let
bee-keeping alone.

If liquid honey is fed to bees, it should always, (see p. 322,) be given
to them seasonably, so that they may seal it over before the approach of
cold weather. West India honey has for many years, been used to very
good advantage, as a bee-feed. It should never be used in its raw state,
as it is often filled with impurities, and is very liable to sour or
candy in the cells, but should be mixed with about two parts of good
white sugar, to three of honey and one of water, and brought to the
boiling point; as soon as it begins to boil, it should be set to cool,
and all the impurities will rise to the top, and may be skimmed off. If
it is found to be too thick, a little more water may be added to it; it
ought however, never to be made thinner than the natural consistence of
good honey. Such a mixture will cost for a small quantity, about seven
cents a pound, and will probably be found the cheapest liquid food,
which can be given to bees. Brown sugar may be used with the honey, but
the food will not be so good.

If one of my hives is used, the bee-keeper may feed his bees at the
proper season, without using any feeder at all, or rather he may use the
_bottom-board_ of the hive as a feeder. On this plan, the bees should be
fed at evening; so as to run no risk of their robbing each other. The
hive which is to be fed, should have the front edge of its bottom-board
elevated on a block, so as to slant _backwards_, and the honey should be
poured into a small tin gutter inserted at the entrance; one such will
answer for a whole Apiary, and may be made by bending up the edges of
any old piece of tin. As the frames in my hive are kept about half an
inch above the bottom-board, which is water-tight, the honey runs under
them, and is as safe as in a dish, while the bees stand on the bottom of
the frames, and help themselves. The quantity poured in, should of
course, depend upon the size and necessities of the colony; no more
ought to be given at one time than the bees can take up during the
night, and the entrance to the hive ought always to be kept very small
during the process of feeding, to prevent robber bees from getting in; a
good colony will easily take up a quart. It is desirable to get through
the feeding as rapidly as possible, as the bees are excited during the
whole process, and consume more than they otherwise would; to say
nothing of the demand made upon the time of the Apiarian, by feeding in
small quantities. If the bees cannot, in favorable weather, dispose of
at least a pint at one time, the colony must be too small to make it
worth while to feed them, if they are in hives by which they can be
readily united to stronger stocks.

If the bees have not a good allowance of comb, it will not, as a general
rule, pay to feed them. This will be obvious to any one who reflects
that at least 20 pounds of honey are required to elaborate one pound of
wax. I know that this estimate may to some, appear enormous; but it is
given as the result of very accurate experiments, instituted on a large
scale, to determine this very point. The Country Curate says, "Having
driven the population of four stocks, on the 5th of August, and united
them together, I fed them with about 50 pounds of a mixture of sugar,
honey, salt and beer, for about five weeks. At that time, the box was
only 16 pounds heavier than when the bees were put into it." He then
makes an estimate that at least 25 pounds of the mixture were consumed
in making about half a pound of wax!! No one who has ever tried it, will
undertake to feed bees for profit, when they are destitute of both comb
and honey.

If the weather is cool when bees are fed, it will generally be necessary
to resort to top feeding. For this, my hive is admirably adapted: a
feeder may be put over one of the holes in the honey-board directly over
the mass of the bees, into which the heat of the hive naturally arises,
and where the bees can get at their food without any risk of being
chilled. This is _always_ the best place for a feeder, as the smell of
the food is not so likely to attract the notice of robbing bees.

I shall here describe the way in which a feeder can at small expense, be
made to answer admirably every purpose. Take any wooden box which will
hold, say, at least one quart; make it honey-tight, by pouring into the
joints the melted mixture, (see p. 99,) and brush the whole interior
with the mixture, so that the honey may not soak into the wood. Make a
float of thin wood, filled with quarter inch holes, with clamps nailed
on the lower sides to prevent warping, and to keep the float from
settling to the bottom of the box, so as to stick fast: it should have
ample play, so that it may settle, as fast as the bees consume the
honey. Tacks on the clamps will always be sure to prevent sticking.
Before you waste any time in making small holes, for fear the bees will
be drowned in the large ones, try a float made as directed. In one
corner of the box, fasten with the melted mixture, a thin strip of wood,
about one inch wide; let it project above the top of the box about an
inch, and be kept about half an inch from the bottom; this answers as a
spout for pouring the honey into the feeder, and when not in use, it
should be stopped up. Have for the lid of the box, a piece of glass with
the corner cut off next the spout, so as to cover the feeder and keep
the bees in, and at the same time allow the bee-keeper to see when they
have consumed all their food. The feeder is now complete, with one
important exception; it has, as yet no way of admitting the bees. On the
outside corners of one of the ends, glue or tack two strips, inch and a
half wide, extending down to the bottom of the box, and half an inch
from the top; fasten over them a piece of thin board, (paste-board will
answer.) You have now a shallow passage without top or bottom, outside
of your feeder; give it a top of any kind; cut out just below the level
of this top, a passage into the feeder for the bees. It is now complete,
and when properly placed over any hole on the top of the hive, will
admit the bees from the hive, into the shallow passage which has no
bottom, and through this into the feeder. Such a feeder will not only be
cheap, but it might almost be made by a child, and yet it will answer
every purpose most admirably. If you have no wooden box that will
answer, a feeder may be made of pasteboard, and if brushed with the
melted mixture it will be honey-tight. By packing cotton or wool around
it, it might be used in most hives, even in the dead of Winter. Bees
however, ought never to need feeding in Winter, and if they do, it will
always be unsafe at this season to feed them with liquid honey.

I ought here to speak of the importance of _water_ to the bees. It is
absolutely indispensable when they are building comb, or raising brood.
In the early Spring, they take advantage of the first warm weather, to
bring it to their hives, and they may be seen busily drinking around
pumps, drains, and other moist places. As they are not noticed
frequenting such spots much, except in the early part of the season,
many suppose that they need water only at this period. This is a great
mistake, for they need it, and must have it, during the whole breeding
season. But as soon as the grass starts, and the trees are covered with
leaves, they prefer to sip the dew from them. If a few cold days come
on, after the bees have commenced breeding, so as to prevent them from
going abroad for water, a very serious check will be given to their
operations. Even when it is not so cold as to prevent their leaving the
hive, many become so chilled in their search for water, that they are
not able to return.

Every wise bee-keeper will see that his bees have an abundant supply of
water. If he has not some warm and sunny spot where they can safely
obtain it, he will furnish them with shallow wooden troughs or vessels
filled with pebbles, from which they can drink, without any risk of
drowning, and where they will be sheltered from cold winds, and warmed
by the genial rays of the sun. I believe that the reason why bees very
much prefer the impure water of barn-yards and drains, is not because
they find any medicinal quality in it, but because as it is _near_ their
hives and _warm_, they can fill themselves without being fatally

I have used water feeders of the same construction with my honey
feeders, with great success. The bees are able to enter them at all
times, as they are filled with the warm air of the hive, and thus
breeding goes on, without interruption, and the lives of many bees are

The same end may be obtained, by pouring daily, a few table spoonsfull
of water into the hive, through one of the holes leading to the spare
honey boxes. As soon as the weather becomes warm, and the bees can
supply themselves from the dew on the grass and leaves, it will not be
worth while to give them water in their hives.

When supplied with water in their hives, I advise that enough honey or
sugar be added to it, to make it tolerably sweet. They will take it with
greater relish, and it will stimulate them more powerfully to the
raising of brood.

I come now to mention a substitute for liquid honey, the value of which
has been extensively and thoroughly tested in Germany, and which I have
used with great advantage. It was not discovered by Dzierzon, although
he speaks of its excellence, in the most decided terms. The article to
which I refer, is _plain sugar candy_, or as it is often called, barley
candy. It has been ascertained that about four pounds of this, will
sustain a colony during the Winter, when they have scarcely any honey in
their hive! If it is placed where they can get access to it without
being chilled, they will cluster upon it, and gradually eat it up. It
not only goes further than double the quantity of liquid honey which
could be bought for the same money, but is found to agree with the bees
perfectly; while the liquid honey is almost sure to sour in the unsealed
cells, and expose them to dangerous, and often fatal attacks of
dysentery. I have sometimes, in the old-fashioned box hives, pushed
sticks of candy between the ranges of comb, and have found it even then
to answer a good purpose. In any hive which has surplus honey boxes, the
candy may be put into a small box, which after being covered thoroughly
with cotton or wool, may have another box put over it, the outside of
which may be also covered. Unless great precautions are used, the boxes
will be so cold, that the bees will not be able to enter them in Winter,
and may thus perish in close proximity to abundant stores.

In my hives, the candy may be laid on the top of the frames, in the
shallow chamber between the frames and the honey-board; it will here, if
the honey-board is covered with straw, be always accessible to the bees,
even in the coldest weather. I sometimes put it directly into a frame,
and confine it with a piece of twine, or fine wire.

I have made a very convenient use of sugar candy, as a bee-feed in the
Summer, when I wished to give small colonies a little food, and yet not
to be at the trouble to use a feeder, or incur the risk of their being
robbed by putting it where strange bees might be attracted by the scent.
A small stick of candy, slid in on the bottom-board, under the frames,
answers admirably for such a purpose. If a little liquid food must be
used in warm weather, I advise that it be the best white sugar,
dissolved in water; this makes an admirable food; costs but little more
than brown sugar, and has no smell to tempt robbers to try to gain an
entrance into the hive.

If the Apiarian is skillful, and attends to his bees, at the proper
time, they will rarely need much feeding; if he manages them in such a
manner that this is frequently and extensively needed, I can assure him,
if he has not already found it out to his sorrow, that his bees will be
nothing but a bill of cost and vexation.

The question how much honey a colony of bees needs, in order to carry
them safely through the perils of Winter, is one to which it is
impossible to give an answer which will be definite, under all
circumstances. Very much will depend upon the hive in which they are
kept, and the forwardness of the ensuing Spring; (see Chapter on
Protection.) It is often absolutely impossible in the common hives, to
form any reliable estimate, as to the quantity of honey which they
contain, for the combs are often so heavy with bee-bread, as entirely to
deceive even the most experienced bee-keeper.

I should always wish to leave at least 20 lbs. of honey in a hive; and
as I can examine each comb, I am never at a loss to know how much a
colony has. If I have the least apprehension that their supplies may
fail, I prefer to put a few pounds of sugar candy where they can easily
get access to it, in case of need. In my hive, the careful bee-keeper
may not only know the exact extent of the resources of each hive, in the
Fall, but he may, very early in the Spring, ascertain precisely how much
honey is still on hand, and whether his bees need feeding, in order to
preserve their lives. It is a shameful fact that a large number of
colonies perish after they have begun to fly out, and when, they might
easily have been saved, in any kind of hive.

Next: Feeding To Make A Profit By Selling The Honey Stored Up By The Bees

Previous: Robbing

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