The girls are bringing in some pale yellow pollen, which may be from goldenrod, and we have seen them collecting bright orange pollen from the cup plants. But even with the recent rain we are worried about their finding enough nectar. In the last few days they have begun sniffing around our hummingbird feeders to the annoyance of the avians. And should the rains continue and allow the goldenrod to provide its usual nectar flow there is still worry. At last Tuesday’s meeting of Ann Arbor Backyard Beekeepers we were warned that with everything blooming two to four weeks earlier than usual this year the goldenrod flow could end early as well and leave several lean weeks before the weather turns cool, causing the bees to dip into their stores and face winter with diminished resources. Feeding was encouraged.

The best thing to feed bees is their own honey but they already have all of that. We have taken none. Feeding them other honey, especially store-bought, is usually discouraged as possibly carrying pathogens to which our girls might be vulnerable even though harmless to us. While some claim these risks are exaggerated we are sufficiently frightened back to feeding sugar syrup as we have been, although we have recently started wondering if we might improve upon it.

There is a commercial preparation consisting of various essential oils, touted to be good for what ails bees when added to sugar syrup. There are also less expensive homebrewed versions. Reports indicate that it does make the syrup more palatable to the bees even to the point of encouraging robbing. We are less convinced that it actually improves their health for all that it has its proponents.

Some beeks also worry that the pH of sugar syrup, around six, is higher than the pH of honey, around four, or most nectar, ranging from three to six. The more acidic honey has been shown to discourage the reproduction of nearly every brood disease as well as nosema. Scientifically minded beeks can measure their syrup pH and add ascorbic acid (vitamin C) as needed. We have less fussily taken up an old practice of simply adding a teaspoon of lemon juice to each quart of sugar syrup. It won’t harm the bees and in the worst case, if it does nothing for them, the acidity will help preserve the syrup.

So yesterday morning we visited the hives and gave them new baggies of lemon-acidified syrup, four cups for hungry Beatrix and two for Annabelle, who still had a little old syrup left. Annabelle also still has small hive beetles although seemingly kept in check by the girls. None were seen in Beatrix.

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