It’s been puzzling me - how to feed fondant to bees when they are clustered in a top bar hive:
- without forcing them to move around their hive too much;
- where my no-floor policy can continue;
- where their stores can be topped up with minimal intervention;
- where topping up causes limited undue stress to the colony;
So here’s what I’ve tried out this year. I started by removing much of the comb that has little or no stores in it. As my colonies have no floor to their hives the bees tend to build down rather than outwards, although the strong colonies will fill a 4 foot Chandler with combs. The follower boards are then put up against the remaining comb simply to give something for the bees to complete their propolising on and to offer just a little lateral wind protection to the comb, although braced comb will do just as well.
Removing the excess comb may help limit the opportunity for fungal growth in comb that might see limited use over the winter months, and reduce the risk of co-habitation by unwanted critters.
So the colony has limited movement within the remaining combs. Towards the centre of the colony I drilled four 10mm holes next to each other, two on each bar. This is best done during a late autumn sunny and warm day, when the bees are less tightly clustered, just in case the drill goes in too far.
Over the top of this hole I placed upside down a clean clear plastic food tray. This provides a way of keeping the ‘bee smell’, warmth and humidity as close to the cluster as possible. I put solid fondant under the tray and directly onto the top bars. Around the plastic tray I placed wooden battens (100mm x 50mm in this case). This provides additional insulation and some protection from any drafts. On top of the battens I placed a wooden plate at least 20mm thick. I then used a brick to weigh down the lid before replacing the hive roof.
I have found that the bees have reduced their cluster movement through the hive, and, because of its close proximity to the cluster, the bees have been very eager to include the fondant within their stores. It is easy to see when supplies need to be replenished as the clear plastic offers a window to the fondant without disturbing the bee smell. Resupply is the only time the plastic need be moved and this can be done without disturbing the main cluster. When feeding is not required the drilled holes can be covered with cloth or paper and the bees will probably propolise the holes from the inside until the following winter.
I hope this helps and someone else can let us know if they also find any success with this method.