Newbeek question 1 of 2: Bee slurping speed

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House Bee
Sep 5, 2009
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I'm a bit worried that my (recently arrived) bees aren't taking syrup from the rapid feeder I put in a few days ago. They aren't a big colony, there isn't much time left to feed them and I don't want to make a mistake that could cost a few weeks of feeding time when it's so crucial.

They have been flying around madly during the day, collecting stuff, so I know they are fairly happy, but until today, they hadn't touched the 'rapid' feeder. I dribbled some syrup down the inner surface yesterday to encourage them a bit but when I checked this evening, there didn't seem to be any less in there.

While I waited, a bee came up the inner tube, stuck its head over the top lip and into the syrup, took it straight back out again, walked round the top a bit and then went back down.

Shortly afterwards, another bee (or maybe the same one, I can't recognise them individually yet) came up, seemed to stop when it touched the goo, walked around a bit, went back down.

Now it takes me a good number of hours to get a skinfull of glorious Gloucestershire Ale - Goff's Black Knight is a favourite; it takes a full-sized German Shepherd about a minute to drink its fill from a water bowl.

How long does it take for a bee to drink syrup? Is my feeder working, or not?

I was imagining 10 bees (with a queue behind them) all glugging it like their plane was going down - is this 'one at a time in a really picky way' thing normal?

Any help appreciated.
They will take it when they need it. They may be working something they prefer. :cheers2:
Don't worry too much - if they are flying and collecting nectar/pollen, then all is well. As they are a small colony their rate of intake is alot slower than a full sized colony. They'll take it when they need it, just keep topping up.

Make sure the feeder is next to/above the brood comb the queen is laying on.
Firegazer, Somerfords assessment feels right to me, the size of your colony is an important factor. Wld suggest you monitor the volume of syrup taken over a 24h period rather than observed feeding visits. If they have no where to store it they may not take it so you may want to stimulate with a lighter syrup to start (have read that stimulates comb building better). A small colony needs less stores to get through winter - but may need your help with side wall and roof insulation to compensate for ther small size.

What feeder are you using?
What syrup strength and are there any visual crystals?
What sugar source?

You can tell to an extent what forrage your bees are taking by the pollen colour and whether the bees are dusted in the stuff. Ivy (golden yellow) may be out in your area [ also old mans beard (olive green); Heather (light tan) ]and you may have some evening primrose (acid yellow) still hanging on.

Good luck with it, post how you are doing. R
Re GS......

A Single brood box strong Langstroth with an empty brood box can shift three to four gallons of heavy syrup, (2lb per pint) over night, say between three pm to 11 am.

it's 2 kg sugar in 2 litres of water. No crystals that I can see.

There does seem to be lots of yellow pollen coming in, plus other non-pollen bees (presumably nectar?).

I put Apiguard on the frames below the cover board a few days ago, which may be putting them off a bit?

Maybe there's too much 'real' stuff out there to bother with my psuedo-nectar?
The apiguard is the most likely reason they are not taking the syrup,you also need to be feeding thick syrup now,2 to 1.
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Hivemaker has given you your answer (but for sake of completeness I would have said the same).
A small colony needs less stores to get through winter

Don't bank on it. Pro rata, a larger colony will probably consume less per bee. There is probably a cross-over point if graphs are produced. All to do with surface area to volume ratios and heat loss.

If the box is not full by the end of the season, I would replace empty frames with insulated dividers (rather than dummies), each side of the cluster if necessary, to retain warmth in as small a volume as possible. But, I would also have adequate bottom ventilation to prevent condensation - damp is worse than cold for bee survival.

Regards, RAB
I started feeding at the same time as I put on the Apiguard. Two hives removed the Apiguard and totally left the syrup and the other two took all the syrup and the Apiguard was untouched.


The response to bees when presented with Apiguard varies between colonies. They can either remove it off the tray or leave it well alone. This is nothing to be worried about.

I have never fed syrup when treating with Apiguard so cannot comment on your observations. What I can say is if I remove any residual Apiguard and feed, the bees hoover up the syrup.

If your rapid feeder is above a crownboard then a small colony may be more reluctant to take down syrup, especially at the tail end of the season. If the weather is warm(ish) they will cope but as the season comes to a close the presence of a crownboard seems to act as a barrier.

If you have concerns, one option is to remove the crownboard and put the feeder directly on top of the frames above the center of the broodnest. If you put a super on and then a crownboard, the feeder will be contained in the super with the crownboard on top. Heat from the bees underneath and the closeness of the feeder to the bees encourages them to go up into the feeder and drag down syrup.

You will have to remove the crownboard to top up the feeder, and the bees may build comb on the side of the feeder... but the syrup will go down which is the most important thing!

I have used this method over several years as I did not have enough feeders for all my hives and had to juggle them about. I have succesfully fed the bees untill the 3rd week in October and not had any problems.

The bees will have the syrup capped in about 2 weeks or so. Don't forget, in an emergency you can place fondant or even a soaked bag of sugar on top of the frames (above the bees) and the bees will cluster under it use this as a food source.
A small colony needs less stores to get through winter

Don't bank on it. Pro rata, a larger colony will probably consume less per bee. There is probably a cross-over point if graphs are produced. All to do with surface area to volume ratios and heat loss.

Quite correct, a small colony will consume more stores (pro rata) than a strong stock as in a smaller cluster the bees have to work harder to keep warm due to the higher rate of heat loss. I had a small colony that made so much noise keeping warm in frosty weather a nice woodpecker kicked in the front door to see what was going on .....

I think Bernhard Mobus pubished an article at the BIBBA Celle conference dealing with optimum winter cluster sizes.

I will have a rummage and see if I can find it...
Thanks for all the advice. I'll see what happens.

GWW and Widdershins (official Mentors to Firegazer and Mrs F :-O ) recommend using a contact feeder and some better goo than my sloppy stuff, but overall say the same as the consensus here: if they're flying about alot, and Apiguard is on under the feeder don't worry too much about whether they're feeding yet.

Good stuff. I'll take a completely unnecessary look at them (from a distance) before going to work - I'm sure it makes them feel wanted ;-)

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