Here in Oxfordshire we’ve had an extraordinarily mild winter so far. It’s December 27th and the bees are still flying a bit, on sunny days, because the temperature is up to 10C outside. There are also a few wasps raiding weak hives. This normally all stops in November!
All this activity eats up stores, so you may have to feed your bees. This post discusses how to feed a colony in a Warré hive.
The picture to the right shows what you want to see in a colony. For those unfamiliar with Warré hives, note the thick insulating walls – the window covers are visible resting on top of the hive: the white insulator attached to them is 20mm thick expanded polyurethane. You can also see how the cluster is connected across several combs by gaps the bees have made in the comb – this is how the cluster shuffles along without breaking up and freezing when the stores in one comb are exhausted.
I have a weak colony which never reached the critical mass to build up enough stores this summer. (I was interested in preserving its genetics, as it had proven tough the previous year, but it had a queen failure and by the time they raised a new queen, the main nectar flow was over and its numbers were way down. On the plus side, this reduced its varroa load to almost nil.)
So I dug out a mini Ashforth feeder described in this post and packed it with fondant. I have tried fondant in Top Bar Hives and it was ignored, because I couldn’t put it above the cluster. The bees can’t get to a feeder if they have to cross a gap below about 8 degrees C, so you have to put the fondant above the cluster to keep it warm, and give them a safe route to it.
(Why fondant rather than syrup? Because in winter, the temperature is too low for the bees to evaporate syrup to a strength where it can’t ferment. You can also use dry sugar, but fondant contains a bit of water which probably makes it easier to digest.)
Here’s the feeder, packed with fondant. I added a drop of Jasmine, Lemongrass and Bergamot essential oils towards the rear of the fondant to give the bees a cue that there was something up there worth breaking cluster to check out.
Finally, I packed more wool round the feeder and on top of it.