Jeremy Quinlan

Last month I advised everyone to get ready for the end of the beekeeping year in early August, and now we are there. Unless you go to the heather, when everything has to be delayed, you need to treat for Varroa close to the middle of the month and check that every full colony has at least 20kg of stores and, if they do not, to feed so they do. This can be difficult as many treatment manufacturers advise against treating and feeding at the same time. The timing of the treatment is most important.

Before starting feeding, go through your colonies and assess what weight of stores each has. A National brood frame of fully capped honey will weigh about 2kg, a full super frame about 1kg. Add the weights together and subtract that from 20; that is the amount of additional stores needed. Do not trickle it in, try to feed the whole amount in one go as tiny feeders are a mistake.

‘Stores’ means the honey equivalent and honey is approximately 20% water. Find the honey equivalent by dividing the weight of sugar to buy by 0.8, so 1kg sugar is the equivalent of 1.25kg honey. What will you feed? David Evans, ‘The Apiarist’, likes fondant and says while it costs twice as much, he has no mixing to do, needs no feeders and it never goes mouldy. A 12.5kg block is about 78% sugar so contains about 9.75kg sugar, the equivalent of 12kg honey. While fructose syrup (73% sugar) is also available, it must be bought in bulk to be as cheap as white sugar which, dissolved in water, is what most people use.

Some talk of ‘2:1’ but do not explain which units they are using. What is meant is 2 lb sugar in 1 pint of water (imperial units). In metric units ‘2:1’ is very different. And since sugar is packed in kilos, imperial units are best avoided. The equivalent of 2:1 (imperial) is 1kg: 0.63L (metric).

White sugar is cheap, and wholly suitable for feeding bees but, if you feed late or if they are slow to take it down and cap it, it all too readily goes mouldy. Prevent that by adding thymol, a natural substance, which is also used to attack Varroa. The original formula was 1oz thymol crystals in ¼ pint surgical spirit. I use 20g in 100ml of isopropyl alcohol, also known as propanol; 10ml of this protects 25kg sugar in syrup. A small bottle of the mix lasts for years.

I used to see bees and wasps clustering around the corner joints of my old wooden feeders; clear evidence that they were not watertight. I caulked them with fibreglass resin. A Yorkshireman tells me any leaks were sealed with a lighted paraffin candle; the use of a beeswax one for this is regarded as extravagance.

A method of measuring that is often advocated is to pour the sugar required into a vessel, mark the level of the sugar and then add boiling water and stir so that the resulting syrup is up to the mark. My experiments show that this technique results in a syrup that is effectively 2kg of sugar to 1 litre of water. The advocates of this method often advise filling to a little way above the mark, and this will result in a syrup that is of slightly lower concentration. Too high a concentration and the sugar will granulate in the feeder.

A straightforward way to make syrup to this recommended strength is to put 4kg sugar into a 20-litre bucket, the type normally used to store honey, and pour on 2.5 litres of boiling water. If the sugar is in 1kg or 2 kg bags, then weighing out the required amount is just a matter of counting bags. For larger amounts of sugar, 25kg sacks usually work out cheaper per kg of sugar, but are a bit harder to manage without spilling sugar and weighing is needed. A large polythene kitchen jug can be used to measure out the boiling water. The average kitchen kettle heats less than 2 litres at a time, so either a second kettle or an alternative source of boiling water, such as a pan on a stove, is required.  I find a straightforward 1kg of white sugar in 1 litre of water, although providing a thinner syrup, works for every circumstance of feeding.

The books tell us that the bees raise new queens under three impulses: swarming, emergency and supersedure. In my experience, this last is rare. When the first swarm cells are built, there is a hope that it is supersedure and there will soon be a new queen laying with her mother and all that tiresome swarm prevention will be unnecessary. Sadly, this is not often the case. When it is supersedure, it may often be seen in August and perhaps in September. Remember, the new queen needs to mate, and in most colonies, the bees are busy ejecting all the drones.



  2. Mike Rowbottom. The Apiarist, the newsletter of the Harrogate and Ripon Beekeepers’ Association, August 2018.

Photos:  Jeremy Quinlan