Just How Much “Stuff” Do I Need? by BeeGeorge

[My proofreader, Mrs. BeeGeorgeHoney, wanted to make sure that everyone understands that I am really not complaining but just being my normal sarcastic tongue- in-cheek self].  

Come on, this is getting ridiculous.  How much beekeeping equipment do I really need?  Well, let’s talk about feeding because that’s all I’ve been doing lately.

I’ve always done fall feeding.  When I had just a few hives I used gallon pickle jars.  There used to be a wonderful Greek Pizza place in Takoma Park that offered several different types of pickles in gallon jars.  They were happy to hand over their empties.  How many pickle jars can a beekeeper store?  Plus, if you think about it, you really need two jars for each hive.  Otherwise you end up going into the hives to retrieve the empty jar, go back inside to mix the sugar water and do the return trip for feeding.  Once I was up to 20 jars, enough was enough, so I went looking for a better solution.

Like everyone else, I had a few frame feeders, but I never liked them.  Not only do lots of bees drown, but the real issue for me was refilling them.  I could never figure out how to refill without spilling all over the place.  Spilling sugar water on a cluster in cold weather would be a disaster.  I gave my frame feeders away.  I’ve never owned a Boardman feeder and can’t imagine what I would actually use one for.

Next, I tried styrofoam hive top feeders from Betterbee which happened to be on sale.  The price was right and I figured that they would be so light that shipping wouldn’t kill me.  HA!  The shipping cost more than the feeders.  That still burns me.  But, I digress.  The styrofoam feeders are light and reasonably durable.  They have two parts, the styrofoam feeder part; and a plastic insert part that keeps the bees from drowning.  I’ve only lost one of the plastic pieces over the years and all the feeder bodies are still functional.  I like these feeders because I can pour over three gallons of sugar water per visit.

As I expanded my hive numbers, I bought (and continue to buy) the Mann Lake hive top feeders.  Mann Lake has free shipping for most orders over $100.  Free is my favorite price.  Ignoring the couple of feeders that flew off my truck on the highway and the one I backed over, they’ve all held up well enough.  Again, I like them because I can pour about two and a half gallons of sugar water per visit.

I’ve got a lot of hive top feeders, one per hive.  When not in use, just hose them off and put them away wet in the shed.  They stack well and don’t mind rough treatment.  There is also no doubt that they take up lots of storage room.

I’ve never wanted to do spring feeding.  In fact, I rarely feed in the early spring.  I understand that simulative feeding is a good idea.  Yet, somehow I always found something better to do with my time.  During cold springs when bees needed feed, I futilely used my hive top feeders but they didn’t really work.  In cold weather, the feed was just too many inches away from the cluster.  I muddled by for many years without developing a real solution.

Last year, if you remember, we had a very cold spring that just didn’t warm up.  I watched my investment of early spring nucs starve.   I needed to do something, but didn’t have the right “stuff” to do much of anything.  In the end, I bought fondant and dropped a slab on top of each cluster.  I had to squish the hive top down.  This was far from ideal.  Too many bees got smashed and the ill-fitting tops allowed too much airflow.  I muddled by without my nucs surviving, but they were certainly setback from the experience.

I didn’t have any shims on hand which was the obvious solution.  I put together a bunch of shims this winter so that I’d have one per hive.  My shims are about an inch high.  I nail four stripes of wood together in the same rectangle and dimensions as a hive body.  The shim can be placed, in this case, between the top super and the hive cover.  They provide an inch for me to put something there, like fondant, without having to squish anything.

It was a good thing too as we are having another crazy cold spring.  I’m again forced to do emergency feeding with fondant.  The one inch space is perfect for gently laying fondant right on top of the cluster.  I’m not very experienced with fondant and am just learning how much a colony really needs.  I suspect that I could have feed them twice as much.  Maybe next year, if the weather is as rough, I’ll try bigger slabs.  I don’t like having to do emergency feedings.  I figure that I should have fed more in the fall.  But that’s all shoulda, whoulda, coulda.

Shims are light but they don’t stack well and are a pain to store.  I try to be neat and efficient but the stack gets bumped and collapses into a pile.  Maybe I’ll figure out some clever solution when I get time.  And I have more questions.  Does left over fondant store well?  Do you put it in the freezer or just leave it in a cool space?  I’d think that it would dry out pretty easily, but I don’t know.

I heard a talk from Mike Embry who has the cool title of University of Maryland Extension Apiculturalist.  He uses fondant to feed his nucs.  He’s got nuc sized shims with ½ inch wire mesh and little dowels to better contain the fondant.  I don’t know why they are better than an empty shim but it was interesting to see.  More stuff, more storage.

I’m new to fondant.  Maybe I don’t know the easy way to handle fondant, but fondant is kind of a pain to deal with.  I bought 50 pound blocks which I dump on my stainless steel utility sink.  With a hot knife, I shave off slabs that I layer on wax or parchment paper, one sheet of paper per hive.  My approach isn’t bad but it’s cumbersome.  Let me know the better faster easier method.

Fondant does have one advantage.  You can put it directly on top of the cluster, like an edible blanket for emergency feed.  For a starving colony, in really cold weather, fondant is the best solution I know of.  With hive top feeders for the fall and fondant for winter emergency feed, I didn’t have a solution for early spring stimulative feed.  I’ve never done stimulative feed.  Spring flowers were enough stimulation for me.  But this year, I’m rethinking my strategy.  Why not get the colonies going stronger and faster?

Now I am back to the production equivalent of my old pickle jars.  This spring I bought a mess of pail feeders.  So far they are pretty easy to manage, quick to fill, and light to move around.  I’m sure I’ll have to clean them well and am not sure where I will store them.  The tops are so small that I’m afraid I’ll lose them.  I hope that they will wear well, keep tight seals and whatnot.  I’ve no idea as I just bought them.  But now I’ve got another category of stuff.

With an inner cover, most beekeepers put the pail feeders directly over the hole of their inner covers.  An empty deep is used to enclose the feeder with the telescoping cover on top.  This works pretty well and makes swapping out empty pails smoke free and easy.

It’s probably better to use sticks or some cut up scrap wood as spacers to keep the feeder pail off the frames for easy bee access.  So now I have a 5 gallon bucket devoted to these spacers.  More and more stuff.

Did you notice that you need an empty deep for this operation?  I don’t have a bunch of unused empty deeps lying around.  All my equipment goes into production.  Enough is enough.  All my deeps have 9 frames of drawn comb sitting in them.  Where exactly am I going to put all that drawn comb while I “borrow” their deeps?  Frames do not stack well and are fragile to boot.  If you have a hundred hives, that means you are going to have a pile of 900 frames.  What a mess and potential disaster.  Does this mean that I need to keep an empty deep per hive?  Great, where am I going to keep that stuff?

This is just getting ridiculous.  It’s crazy.  Do I need an entire outbuilding just to house feeding solutions?  Where does this end?  And, we’re just talking about feeding solutions.  We are not discussing extracting, wax processing, supering, treating, or any of the other zillion beekeeping activities.  When, exactly, is enough going to be enough?

 

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