As a rule, we advocate not feeding our bees unless 1) they are from a late swarm and need a hand, 2) it is a very wet spring, and the bees cannot get out to the fresh but soaked forage, or 3) some unforeseen catastrophe (bears, aliens? hurricanes?).
Research seems to indicate that bees do better when they make their own food. And yet we also realize each colony is a unique individual and we treat them that way: as special, precious, and mysterious.
This summer, I housed five new colonies in my yard. All were from swarms, mostly early ones, and all the hives but one are looking full and prepped for winter, save one: my Faith hive.
Faith is my largest skep, and she was the very first swarm of the season in my yard. She built up beautifully, and by mid-June was casting swarms of her own. After she sent out about three, I noticed her slowing down. During late June and through July, I kept my eye on her.
Occasionally, I would tilt up the edged of the skep and have a look inside. There were always a fair number of bees, but little honey and little-to-no brood. I determined that most likely, she had not requeened after last swarm, and I suspected she would perish come autumn.
But in mid-autumn, I got the “idea” to feed her. I have learned to trust these small mental nudges, because they often turn out to be guidance of a sort. So over the period of a week, I fed her balls of honey comb in the Mason feeder jar I have on the ecofloors of all my skeps.
It was like a miracle—Faith came alive! Suddenly, she was sending out orienting flights and bringing in pollen like crazy. Clearly, she had a fine queen, and I have to believe she was taking a long brood break for reasons that the bees understood and I didn’t.
Our forage has been good this year, as I can see in all my other hives. Why she chose to begin storing winter food so late is a mystery to me, but she has, and she is moving as quickly as her sturdy foragers can fly. Inside the hive, her numbers have doubled.
I plan to feed her into autumn and up to the first hard cold snaps. I am a woman who has allowed many hives to perish, and I am also a woman who steps in when my gut asks me to. I have no way to explain how I come to these decisions because they are not rational, but I believe my best bee tending comes from that wild, irrational Self of mine.
Let your bee tending come from that place. Tend those places inside of you that bubble up quiet messages that often seem fantastical or just plain wrong at the outset. Perhaps this is the voice of the hive, speaking to us across dimensions and time.