The dandelions are out, and so are the honeybees! Spring is officially here in beekeeper land. But it can still get a little cold in southern Michigan; in fact, I prefer to play it safe and consider our last frost date for Zone 5 is May 21st, so we still aren’t out of the woods yet. It’s a great idea to make some sugar syrup to give to your bees this time of year as a nearby food source to help them take on these roller-coaster temperatures. It’s an even better idea to give your bees Bee Tea!
So, why Chamomile Bee Tea and not a regular 1:1 sugar syrup? Chamomile Herbal Tea is made up of the dried, flowering body of the chamomile plant. The cool thing about this is that there is some pollen still hanging out in these dried up little flowers, and bees need pollen to get all of their necessary vitamins and minerals. So this chamomile herbal tea paired with sugar is a great food option for our buzzy friends in these hard times of cold temperatures.
Please note: sugar syrup is an inferior food source for bees, and nothing man can cobble together will match nectar from real flowers. I do not like to rely heavily on sugar syrup, but I find that during seasonal shifts and for new or struggling colonies, this Bee Tea can give them a hand up.
I highly recommend using loose leaf tea for this application rather than tea bags (though they will work just fine if that’s what you have on hand). The chamomile will be more intact since it hasn’t gone through as much processing as the bagged sort, and it is almost always a higher quality tea.
What you will need:
• Tea kettle
• Mesh tea strainer
• Teapot or heat-safe brewing vessel
• Large jar (I use a half-gallon canning jar, but any size will do depending on the amount you are making)
• Granulated sugar
• Loose leaf chamomile tea or chamomile tea bags
For those that may be curious, 1:1 means that if I used 1 cup of water I will have to dissolve 1 cup of sugar to create this solution. In this recipe I will be making four cups of tea, so I must use four cups of sugar. This recipe can be made in any quantity, large or small, depending on your particular needs.
How To Do It:
Begin by measuring the required amount of water and add it to your tea kettle. Let it come to a boil. Then add the tea to your mesh strainer and place the strainer into your brewing vessel. (My teapot will make four cups of tea, which requires four tablespoons of loose leaf tea.) Pour the boiling water into the brewing vessel and allow the tea to steep for five minutes. While the tea is steeping, put four cups of sugar into your large jar. When the tea is done steeping and still very hot, pour it into the jar and stir to dissolve the sugar; you will know that the sugar is completely dissolved when the mixture no longer looks foggy but is golden and clear.
Stirring To Dissolve
Allow the Bee Tea to cool completely before adding it to your feeder and giving it to your bees. If you have extra, you can pop it into the fridge and refill your bee feeder as needed. Discard any excess Bee Tea after five days have passed.
Wondering what to use as a bee feeder? You can pick up a small chick waterer from TSC, Rural King or any place else that sells poultry equipment for about $3. Wash the feeder in warm soapy water and rinse well before adding the Bee Tea to it. Before placing your new feeder in your apiary, locate a flat surface to place it ( I like to use a chunk of log from the wood pile) and collect a handful of smallish rocks. Flip the feeder and place it on the log, then put the rocks in the trough, this will give the bees something to sit on or use to help them out if they happen to fall into the Bee Tea. You may be wondering why I don’t place it directly inside the hive since many beekeepers feed inside the hive, and my reasoning is this; Ants and Bees have a symbiotic relationship and no matter what we do there will usually be ants around our hives however I feel that putting sugar syrups directly inside the hive give ants a free pass and they can become a bigger nuisance to the bees than they normally would, and in my experience over time they can pull the hives health down because of the distraction they create. SO I feed exclusively outside the hive, a few feet away from it.
Have fun watching your girls enjoy their little Bee Tea Party!