Honeybees collect multiple items and bring them back to the hive. They forage for water, nectar, pollen and propolis. In that process, honeybees bring beneficial bacteria and fungi back to the hive. The grand nurse bees consume pollen that is broken down by these beneficial bacteria to release protein and energy and feed the young larva.
Master Beekeepers Earl and Carol Hoffman believe the most important bee in the hive is the grand nurse bee because she feeds the young larva, which turns into the next generation of bees in the hive. This time of year, the next generation are the winter bees that will help the hive survive through spring. In addition, nurse bees become heater bees in the winter because of their greater fat bodies. When they have sufficient fat reserves, they can turn back into nurse bees in the spring to start feeding larva again.
In late summer and early fall, many local areas will have both nectar dearth and pollen dearth. This is a crucial time for beekeepers to monitor their hives. Providing great nutrition for honeybees is most critical in the early fall when the queen is laying her winter bees.
Following are top tips to consider for a strong healthy population of winter bees that will help the hive survive in winter and thrive in spring:
1. Carbohydrates as Bee Feed – Sugar water mixed in a 2:1 ratio with heavy syrup is advised to keep the hives from losing too much weight before winter.
2. Pollen Substitute – Feeding pollen substitute is critical for the creation of winter bees if pollen stores in the hive are low. Nurse bees need to consume protein to produce the larval food.
3. Pollen Substitute Powder – This can be fed dry from outside feeders during a pollen dearth. Pollen patties may be fed inside the hive.
4. Direct Fed Microbials – Direct fed microbials are an excellent supplement before winter because they promote gut health. Follow a scheduled application cadence for best results.
The key to winter bee creation is the excess larval food. If there is an abundance of nurse bees with plenty of protein to consume, either from pollen or pollen protein substitute, the larval food will be fed to the larva and the excess will be shared with other nurse bees. Sharing the excess larval food will suppress the juvenile hormone (JH), which controls fat body creation. This is how winter bees get their enlarged fat bodies and the ability to live from 120 to 150 days in the hive, heating the hive throughout the winter.