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Winter feeding for top bar hives

 
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kathyd
House Bee


Joined: 29 Jun 2015
Posts: 13
Location: France, Brittany,Rostrenen

PostPosted: Sat Aug 15, 2015 11:29 am    Post subject: Winter feeding for top bar hives Reply with quote

Hi. First year beekeeper, so please excuse if I'm repeating a question that's been asked hundreds of times already... I've read in various places that bees don't move horizontally to access feed in the winter, they move upwards, and they can't leave the cluster, so you have to put any feed above them. However, this isn't really possible in our tbh, and the only feeders I've seen for tbhs are ones that attach to the follower board or are upside down containers held in a frame at the end of the hive / combs (we currently use jars with holes in the lids). Our colony has had a rough year one way and another and still seems quite small, and they don't appear to have huge amounts of stores, so we're expecting to have to feed them over winter. Can anyone tell us the best way to do it please? Thx
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jumbleoak
Scout Bee


Joined: 03 Aug 2010
Posts: 295
Location: UK, England, Kent

PostPosted: Sat Aug 15, 2015 12:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

One way is this (but unfortunately you have to do it while there is still time for the bees to build comb:
- hold two top bars together in a vice, or clamps
- drill a 1" hole - same diameter as the entrance holes, so you can cork it when not in use - in the centre, so there is 1/2 a hole in each top bar.
- put those bars over/near the entrance holes.
- now you can feed with a tray feeder, and put fondant on in winter.
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kathyd
House Bee


Joined: 29 Jun 2015
Posts: 13
Location: France, Brittany,Rostrenen

PostPosted: Sat Aug 15, 2015 12:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks jumbleoak - I understand about how to make the holes in the top bars, but I'm not clear on the next bit, sorry... Our horizontal top bar hive has entrance holes at the bottom of the long side. I can't visualise how holes in the top bars will help? Are you anticipating we have entrances in a different place eg via the top of the hive? Unfortunately not... there's nothing above the top bars except the lid...
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Barbara
Site Admin


Joined: 27 Jul 2011
Posts: 1573
Location: England/Co.Durham/Ebchester

PostPosted: Sat Aug 15, 2015 2:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Kathyd

The cluster has no problem moving horizontally from one honey comb to the next in winter... it's a fallacy spread by conventional beekeepers who don't know what they are talking about . Problems can arise if you have centre entrances with honey storage on both sides. Once they have eaten all the honey in one direction, if it is very cold, they get stranded there starving because they cannot cross all the cold empty combs in between to get to honey at the other end, but moving from one comb to the next is not a problem.

If you have entrances near or on the end then should be fine. The bees usually set up a TBH with brood nearest the entrance (apart from the first bar) and stores in the back, furthest from the entrance. As the brood nest starts to contract at this time of year, the bees backfill it with honey so that they are left with a small amount of brood near the entrance at the beginning of winter and honey beyond. Slowly they start to consume the honey as the winter progresses and the cluster gradually moves towards the back of the hive as each comb of honey is depleted.

If your bees are low on stores then now is the time to start feeding them, not the middle of winter. Feeding 2:1 syrup now helps the bees to backfill the broodnest and store it where they need it and can get to it.... not where you or I think it might be best. I've never had to emergency feed in winter in 17 years of beekeeping and I've had some pretty weak colonies survive. I'm lucky to have very good late summer forage, so that the bees can set themselves up for winter but I am having to supplement a couple of hives this year that were slow to get going.

So, my recommendation would be to feed them 2:1 syrup now from your inverted jam jar in the back of the hive until they won't take any more or the temperature drops on a night time... but you should be ok to keep going till late Sept. Make sure you don't spill any as that will attract wasps and perhaps other bees to rob them and reduce the entrance right down to a single bee size hole (quarter of a cork). If you have a mesh floor, cover it, so that syrup can't drip out the bottom. Observe the hive regularly to ensure that they are not being robbed and refill the jam jar at night. They should get through a jam jar every couple of days if they are small.

Remember, figures quoted for stores that a colony needs to over winter on are for medium to large established colonies. Small colonies need considerably less. There are plenty of nucleus colonies that over winter on 4-5 frames.

Good luck with them

Barbara
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jumbleoak
Scout Bee


Joined: 03 Aug 2010
Posts: 295
Location: UK, England, Kent

PostPosted: Sat Aug 15, 2015 2:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

If you have an end entrance then the brood is going to be towards that end, so counting from the entance end the two bars with the hole might be bars 4 and 5.

If you imagine that, then you now have a hole above the brood area (once the bees have built comb on the 2 new bar) which you can put a feeder or fondant over. Even with a flat roof there should be enough space to do this.

However, with the hole being so close to the end you may not be able to actually fit a tray. (The entrances on mine are on the side, so that problem doesn't arise.)
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kathyd
House Bee


Joined: 29 Jun 2015
Posts: 13
Location: France, Brittany,Rostrenen

PostPosted: Sat Aug 15, 2015 3:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks both Smile.

Barbara - they raised a new queen quite recently so I'm hoping she'll continue to lay for a while to raise enough bees to overwinter.. We've been feeding about 1pt of 2:1 syrup every 2 or 3 days for the past week or so, and they've been taking it all. There's not much forage at the moment and we keep finding yellow cappings (I assume) under the hive, so presumably eating their stores? We're refilling the feeders today, although only fed yesterday - just don't want them to backfill everything if queenie still laying! We're putting a 'drip tray' below the jars to prevent syrup leaking out of the mesh. Had robbers earlier, lots of bees died and stores depleted (dearth due to drought). Got a few wasps at the moment but put trap out today, and entrance still covered from robbers with a mesh cover as well as reduced entrance holes to one instead of three. Our entrances are central so we'll keep an eye on where they're storing things... Ivy should be out soon, and I sowed phacelia hoping for a late 'crop' for them if the weather's kind, so hopefully they'll have chance to stock up a bit more then.

jumbleoak - seriously don't think there's enough space between bars and lid to put fondant, but then I don't know how big a block of fondant is! Maybe I'll try sticking something under the lid to see if I can find out Smile. However, if in fact bees can travel sideways then there shouldn't be a problem, fingers crossed.
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bbhb
Foraging Bee


Joined: 29 Jul 2008
Posts: 202
Location: USA, Colorado, Aurora

PostPosted: Sun Oct 11, 2015 6:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Barbara wrote:
The cluster has no problem moving horizontally from one honey comb to the next in winter...


A healthy sized cluster, yes, but what about a small one that you know will need feeding? Given a choice of emergency feed (let's just say fondant) hung next to the cluster or placed overhead (accessible in what way, I'm not sure) which do you think they would prefer? I'm inclined to think that a small cluster could more easily move up & down than over a comb. Isolation starvation is a repeat problem for me so I'd love to figure this one out. — Holly
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