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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

ees 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.