Finding another blogger’s questions about feeding bees reminded us how differently we have fed our current bee packages from our previous one. Last year we were regularly if uselessly exchanging full jars of sugar syrup for empty ones until we had no bees to feed. We kept trying and failing to stimulate them into building comb and trusted the lore that said they would stop taking syrup when they no longer needed it. This year we started each hive with a gallon-sized baggie of syrup and watched. They drained it very slowly while building comb very quickly, indicating that the foragers were returning with ample nectar. We forgot about the feeder entirely and could not even be bothered to remove the empty bags.

Then on day thirty-seven we noted that busy Beatrix was being persistent in her refusal to build on the two most newly added top-bars and considered how long it had been since we had any decent precipitation. While bees can’t gather gather nectar in the rain, without adequate rainfall there will be no nectar for them to gather even though there may be blooms. With that in mind we finally removed the empty baggie from just behind the follower and replaced it with a quart-sized, syrup-filled one at the far end. The bees initially seemed most interested in cleaning up the sugar stain where the old baggie had been but soon found the new syrup bag in increasing numbers. Two days later the penultimate top-bar had new comb. Validation of our logic or coincidence?

Perhaps a little validation from this week’s Ann Arbor Backyard Beekeepers meeting where we heard that the usual July dearth was coming early this year and we may already be in the beginnings of it. A dearth in beekeeping is a spell of poor availability of nectar, such as typically occurs during the heat of a Michigan summer. Not much is blooming and whatever is in bloom has little nectar and yields it reluctantly. During such a time the bees will start consuming their stored honey. After the dearth is over they will resume gathering nectar to try to replace what they have consumed and save even more until the cold weather hits. But if the season is bad they may not be able to set aside enough honey to make it through winter. Certainly last year’s ample goldenrod was of less use to the local bees than in other years because of the lack of rain. The advice at the meeting was that it is prudent to feed through a dearth.

So we shall be monitoring Beatrix’s baggie and providing a new one for Annabelle.