With the bees arriving tomorrow I needed to prepare food for them so they would have something to keep them going until they could get some comb built and start foraging. I’ve read many different opinions on what, when, and how to feed them. Most of what I find recommends syrup in some kind of feeder. Most of the feeders are meant for Langstroth hives, though it would be possible to convert some of them to use in a top bar hive. The syrup itself is nothing but sugar water, heated to dissolve the sugar in the water and to make it slightly thicker than water. I’ve also heard people recommend simply feeding them plain sugar, or taking the syrup a step further and actually cooking it until it becomes hard candy.
I’ve also read in places that you may want to give them more than sugar, that the bees need protein and other nutrients and you should feed them some kind of pollen or pollen substitute to provide more sustenance than just sugar. I also came across a couple of posts from people that combine the two, and mix pollen or pollen substitute into the sugar solution and cook it into a candy board. I decided that this sounded like a good approach. It would provide the bees with food and nutrition, and be less messy than trying to feed liquid syrup in the hive. My plan was to pour the solution over some strong twine in a baking sheet that would basically form sheets of hard candy I could hang in the hive.
I’ve made a hard candy called Yellowman a couple of times, so I didn’t figure this would be much different. I mixed a 1:1 sugar/water solution (maybe a bit more sugar than water). I stirred this continuously until it reached the hard crack stage (just over 300 F). The I stirred in the pollen and pollen substitute. This was a mistake because it obviously changed the characteristics of the solution which immediately foamed up. I poured it out and it cooled into a hard crumbly mess which couldn’t really hang from the twine.
I tasted it, and it didn’t taste burnt or scorched. It looked and tasted a lot like crystalized honey, so I figured it would be good to go. If the weather is too cold there is some concern that you must have the food close, preferably directly above the cluster of bees. Since it is spring now and the weather should only be getting warmer I think simply placing the hive candy on the floor of the hive will be ok. The bees shouldn’t freeze trying to get to it.
(Update: If you happen to have severe hay fever as I do, ingesting something containing raw pollen is a very bad idea. I’ve broken out in hives all over and ended up having to get a steroid dose pack after the hives continued to spread for ten days without letting up.)