Given the lack of “natural” forage in the desert since the end of the spring wildflower bloom (aside from a very brief rebloom after a surprise inch of rain fell in early autumn), I’ve been having to feed since early summer. For the first part of the summer 1:1 sugar water was the magic mix, then when the main heat of the season broke they abruptly stopped accepting it, which I figured was probably due to them having found the flowers in my neighbors’ irrigated gardens that had come out of heat-induced dormancy, so to help reduce the number of ants which were drawn to the sugar in the hive I pulled the feeder and the bees seemed to get on fine. With the onset of what passes for winter in the high desert (short overnight dips to as low as 20 F, highs in the 50’s – 60’s) I took the opportunity of a relatively warm day to check the colony and found it to be very low on stored food supplies (some real honey as well as concentrated sugar water).
I was going to be leaving on a business trip, so I reinstalled the top feeder with another batch of 1:1 mix, and for good measure tossed in a chunk of pollen substitute. While I was filling it, some bees came over to investigate so I put a few drops near them, and they greedily took to it. I was supposed to be gone a bit over a week, so I figured the feeder should last them most of that time. While I was away, my trip was extended and it was almost 3 weeks. I was convinced the bees were starving, and I seriously debated trying to have one of my non-beekeeping neighbors make up a batch of sugar water and put it in a bowl somewhere near the hive for me, but I ended up deciding that it would just end up being either a mess or a drowning trap for any bees that found it and opted to just let things go as they would.
As soon as I got home I went out and checked the feeder, and to my surprise it hadn’t been touched. What’s more, the chunk of pollen substitute had broken up and was supporting mold (never had had an issue before with the two items separate – lesson learned not to mix them), so I removed the feeder. Having not seen or heard a bee during the check and fearing the worst, I knocked on the side of the hive and was very happy to hear an answering hum. I closed it back up and headed inside to do some more research.
Based on the information I found, it sounds like the temperature has been just slightly too cold for the bees to want to take a sugar water solution, so I have opted to try a variation of the mountain camp feeding method. Rathar than using a sheet of newspaper over the tops of the frames, I re-installed my feeder support / access board and dumped some plain granulated sugar on it, intentionally letting some fall down the holes in hopes that the bees below might get the hint and come up to investigate.
We are currently in the midst of a cool and wet phase (1.5 inches of rain over the last 24 hours in a place that usually gets 5-6 inches total in a year, with most of that coming in the winter) so I’m waiting on another warm and dry day to go out for another check. Hopefully I’ll find the bees enjoying their sugar