|In the last ten years, most
successful commercial beekeepers in North America have learned the
importance of feeding protein patties in spring. The details
and reasons for feeding are covered in other articles accessible
from the feeding articles index page.
My point in writing this note is
to express my concern and disappointment that many -- if not
most -- beekeepers are not feeding enough protein for a long enough
period to obtain the maximum bang for their buck or to protect their
bees from wintering losses. Many beekeepers are only feeding a
patty or two, and some have decided not to feed at all. Some feed
A year or two back, some very good
beekeepers I know and who had fed patties for years quit feeding
patties because they figured they had enough -- or even too many --
bees and did not think they needed to stimulate the colonies.
Since they had been feeding patties for years, they had become used
to great wintering success and good spring build-up and got to
taking that for granted.
HOWEVER, this year, for
the first time in a while, they had late winter losses and bad
build-up that affected their honey crop very significantly.
Sad, but entirely predictable. The patty feeding had given
their bees an edge, but the charm wore off after they quit feeding.
Frankly, I feed as much as a
colony will take until mid-June at least, and for a very simple
reason. In my early beekeeping years, we had variable and
unpredictable wintering success, and also variable spring build-up.
When we began feeding patties, we immediately noticed that the bees
were more robust-looking, BUT the huge bonus was that our
wintering loss the following winters stabilized at around 12% - 15%,
meaning that 85% of the previous year's colony count was viable in
mid-April. (We don't cull in the fall. We just winter
everything that is alive) and the surviving colonies thrived better
in the spring.
We subsequently noticed this
consistently excellent survival rate over a period of many years.
Previous to feeding patties, we had had losses ranging up to 40%, or
even 50% on occasion. Small, predicable...
(Cont'd above right)
left column) ...losses
were a huge relief after the
catastrophic losses we formerly experienced and convinced us
that feeding patties was good, cheap insurance.
Packages are expensive. Feeding patties to your existing hives is the cheapest way to get
more bees, and also simplify hive management.
some years, the results of feeding are less obvious and it almost
seems that feeding was not necessary, if you look at only the
immediate results, BUT, if you consider the reduced
probability loss the next winter, the patties pay for themselves
many times over. Feeding is cheap insurance.
Losing even one hive means a cash
loss in the order of $100 or more. That $100 would feed 4
patties each to more than 20 hives and make some hives survive that
wouldn't, and make more hives splitable. Each extra surviving
overwintered hive, or additional split pays for many, many patties.
Plus, finding weak hives in spring means far more work, less honey
income and less pollination bonus.
What kind of patty is best?
I suppose it depends on your intent. If you want to feed lots
of patties and keep the hive loaded with patties, as they do in some
areas of the US, then fast consumption is desirable, and extra
pollen might be advisable, but many beekeepers just put on a patty
or two and that is it. In my opinion, they are not getting the
full benefit of feeding and maybe even doing some damage on
occasion. If they are only planning on feeding a patty or two,
it would be better if the patties were consumed more slowly, so the
cheaper, no-pollen patties would be my choice.
My advice? Feed as many
patties as the hive will consume during build-up and until the
weather is settled or the main flow is approaching. I think
you get a bigger bang for the buck from patties without pollen, or
maybe 4% at most. I realise that the higher pollen levels may
increase consumption and be a little more nutritious, but as far as
nutrition per dollar, I think the plain patties are the best deal.