It makes sense really, but like most folks I suspect, I had never really thought about it. A colony will have over 10'000 individuals and often many times that. Some are young and some are old, but they are all working and when there is no nectar or pollen to collect they need sustenance. In an established colony that would be the honey stores, but since my bees are newly established, they need assistance. When you're feeding bees, you feed them sugar in water either in a 1:1 or 2:1 ratio (cups of sugar to cups of water). While the days are warm, you can feed the 1:1 syrup, but as the temps drop you switch to the real juice, 2:1. The bees smell the syrup and go to it, craving the sugar like every other critter in nature.
I got these feeders from our bee keeping supply place, and filled them up last weekend. The feeders fit down in the hive, taking the place of one frame. They have little grooves in the sides for the bees to cling to, but on the advice of a bee keeping friend, I put window screen in there to help them climb up.The feeders each hold about 2 quarts of syrup, that's 8 cups sugar and water each for a 1:1 syrup or 16 cups sugar for a 2:1. To make a batch for both hives, I use 4 quarts water and 32 cups sugar.
Now came the surprise. I checked the hives tonight, and the stronger one had already drained their feeder. That less than four days! It's a good sign really, besides the sugar bill, because it means that they may have a better chance of surviving the winter. As I've said in other posts, the syrup will help them create wax and store honey.
I've also begun to notice quite a difference in the strength of the colonies. The one we vacuumed out of the eaves is very much stronger than the swarm we collected off the fence post. It's common for bee keepers to have strong hives and weaker ones and we certainly do. It is fitting with what I've heard several times, swarms can be awfully hard to establish. They leave a colony with an older qween and generally die if they are not captured. I'm not holding my breath, but we are ever hopeful. If we can get these colonies through the hard times a head, they should be ready to rock and roll come springtime. Until then, we may be buying a lot of sugar!