After the final honey harvest, I feed my bees with sugar water to give them better chances of surviving the Winter. Several reasons exist for feeding the bees. A good beekeeper should always leave the bees with enough honey to get them through the colder months. But if the weather hasn't cooperated (too dry, too wet), the bees may not be able to forage enough nectar to build up their stores in time for Winter. Also, if the beekeeper does take a portion of the honey for his/her own consumption, this should be compensated by providing sugar water.
Honey bees need about 18 kg of honey (if the hive is going to go into Winter with two brood boxes like mine) per hive. After the final honey harvest, I feed my bees at three different intervals 5 liters of sugar water per hive. In order to provide the bees with further nutrients, I make the following herbal sugar syrup:
Herbal Sugar Syrup (enough for one 5l mix)
4 kg white sugar (dark sugars contain too many minerals)
2.5 l organic chamomile tea (use 20 tsp. loose tea, brew for just two minutes)
2 pinches salt
5 tsp. lemon juice
spoonful of your own honey (if you don't have your own honey, skip this step)
Bring water to a boil. Remove from heat. Add chamomile. Let steep for two minutes. Strain liquid through a sieve into a large bucket. Add sugar. Stir until fully dissolved. Add salt. Mix thoroughly. Let cool and add honey. Add lemon juice. Mix.
According to Rudolf Steiner, chamomile moves the sugar toward honey, making it easier on the bees' digestive system. A small amount of your own honey provides enzymes to the syrup. Salt helps facilitate the distribution of nutrition throughout the bee's body. Since honey is more acidic than sugar, the bees have to work hard to digest the higher PH of sugar. The lemon juice lowers the PH balance, making it easier on the bees.
Several methods exist for feeding the bees. I chose to buy a feeder box which fits right on top of the hive. But be sure to seal the sides and corners so that the liquid does not seep through into the hive. I used beeswax to make my feeder boxes water tight.
I alternate the three feedings of 5l sugar water with the three formic acid treatments, starting with the first 5l feeding shortly after the honey harvest. The bees usually drink the 5l within two days. Be careful to not leave the syrup too long with the bees if they are not taking it, as fermented syrup can kill a colony. And also be extremely careful not to spill any of the sugar water. Even a few drops on the ground can cause robbing (when a beehive is attacked by invaders from another hive). The feeding should be completed by mid September.
And with that, I've done all I can do as a beekeeper to help ensure that my bees make it through the Winter.