Oh mercy. You would not believe how sticky things have gotten around here, and it’s not even honey harvest time yet!
So, I learned the hard way that a hive can starve even when surrounded by beautiful blossoms. We lost one of our hives just a few days after we put the nucs in. The bees needed to draw honeycomb before they could store food and those in the hive were eating more than the forager bees could provide and the hive died. At least that’s what we think happened. So, after doing some research, we decided to feed our bees since they were small nucs to begin with and because they have to draw so much honeycomb before they can start to store much honey. If we make it that much easier for them to get the food they need, they will be making honey that much sooner. Typically, beekeepers feed in the spring and the fall to ensure their bees survive the winter. The feeding we are doing now is just to help them get established and then we will leave them to do their thing the natural way.
And here’s where things started to get sticky. I went to look at hive top feeders that hold a lot of sugar water so you don’t need to refill every couple of days. Many beekeepers use jar feeders at the entrance to their hives, but I would be driving all over Brant County every other day trying to keep those filled, so I was looking for something larger. With a price tag of $38, the hive top feeders were just too expensive for this operation, given that we have 22, er 21, hives. So an older, wiser beekeeper showed me his homemade system which involved a 10-litre bucket with holes drilled in along the upper rim. You fill the bucket with sugar water, put the lid on, and tip it over. It airlocks and the bees get what they need through the holes without drowning in an open container of syrup. This sounded great to me. I bought six buckets from him and set about retrofitting them. Russ brought home 32 kg of sugar for me. I mixed 30 kg of sugar into 30 l of water and stirred until my forearms were screaming for relief. Everything in that area of the basement was sticky. That was just the beginning.
I was worried about those holes and tried to seal them with duct tape for the journey. Russ loaded them into the back of my car, on a blanket – which in hindsight wasn’t the best idea since they were a bit wobbly. I was waiting for a break in the traffic so I could pull out of our parking lot when Russ, exasperated, finally yelled “GO NOW”. So I did. And then he began to yell even more because the buckets had clearly tipped over in the back. I pulled over at the corner and he hopped out and righted the buckets and then just stood there looking in the trunk and yelling. I got out and yelled too. Passersby were very amused. We were not. It was one of those marital moments. I wanted to give up right then and there, now that my trunk was sugar-coated and I did not feel like working together on anything. Russ said he would do the job alone and took the buckets and put them in his trunk. (Because it made sense to ensure that his trunk would now be covered in sugar too). I decided to go to the beeyards anyways, but there was no way I was going with him because I was too angry. So we went in our separate, sticky cars.
At the beeyards, things went from bad to worse. Russ now had a trunk full of sugar water as well. So there was that. And then the first time I took off the duct tape and turned over the bucket, it just began to glug and ooze out of those holes. It flowed in every direction and showed no sign of stopping. I finally turned it back upright, plunked it on the top of the ‘dead hive’ and told the bees to have at it. I warned them not to drown and drove off to our next spot. At the farm, it only took a few seconds for me to determine that this was definitely not going to work. That bucket was oozing everywhere and I no longer cared. I just left it. I figured if they didn’t like it, the rain would wash it away anyways. We didn’t even bother going to the third yard. When we got home, we tossed the rest of the buckets in the basement and spent the evening not talking to each other.
So it was back to the drawing board. I eventually came up with, what I think, was a pretty good plan. I found an inexpensive alternative to the hive top feeders by walking the aisles at Dollarama until I discovered items that could hold the syrup and provide a ladder for the bees to keep them from drowning. I purchases all six of the store’s salad spinners – a bowl for the syrup and a basket that sits in it and acts as a ladder. And then I purchased many simple basins and in them I placed colanders to act as ladders. Easy peasy lemon squeezy, for $3 per hive.
On Tuesday, Dad, Russ and I planned to go out and inspect the hives and install the feeders. Dad arrived with another 30 kg of sugar he’d picked up at a wholesaler. We stirred and stirred and stirred. We filled the holey buckets and tried to tape the holes again. Dad suggested that we take their SUV this time, so we left my sugary car at home in case Mom needed it to drive Henry somewhere. As Dad was loading the buckets into his trunk, I kept warning him that they would tip. He assured me that they wouldn’t. There was not going to be sugar in his trunk. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 43 years on this earth, it’s that I am not going to win an argument against my dad. He is always right. Well, like, 99% of the time.
Long story short, we got our beautiful new McGyvered hive top feeders installed in all three beeyards’ worth of hives. It was a hot afternoon and a lot of work, but we did it. We inspected the hives (they are doing just fine) and installed the feeders. And when we arrived home, we were very sweaty and very sticky. But at least we were all still talking to one another.
Saw my mom yesterday. She wondered what we had done to her trunk. She took a trip to the grocery store, grabbed her reusable bag from the trunk and at the checkout realized she was stuck to her wallet and her purse. Then her bank card. Then she stuck to the car keys, the door handle, the gear shift and the steering wheel. She’s not sure how the sugar ended up on her sandal, but everything stuck to her shoe. She left a trail of stickiness all the way home and it all started with the sticky grocery bag, in the trunk that most definitely did have its share of syrup spilled throughout.
Just another adventure in apiculture. As mom pointed out, this is nothing compared to how sticky things are going to get once we start to harvest that much honey!
Kari Raymer Bishop
Lover of Jesus, cheeses and tropical breezes... seeking balance in life, even as I embrace new challenges and chase new dreams. I am wife, mother, daughter and friend, as well as teacher, entrepreneur, activist, writer, beekeeper and hostess. Come along on the journey through my long-awaited midlife crisis!