Monday, June 18, 2012

UCD worker wins award for rare photo of bee sting in action

By Andrea Gallo
Published: Thursday, Jun. 14, 2012


A rare photograph of a honeybee stinging a man, with its abdominal tissue trailing behind, was more than 100 years in the making.

UC Davis communications specialist Kathy Keatley Garvey in the Department of Entomology said she has taken at least 1 million photos of honeybees in her lifetime, but this snapshot won the first-place gold feature photo award in an Association for Communication Excellence competition. The international organization includes communicators, educators and information technologists.

Garvey has bees in her blood: As dairy farmers, her father and grandfather kept bees to pollinate their orchards. She said bees have been in her family since around 1850.

Garvey recognized an opportune time to capture this photo when she was walking with a friend. A bee came close to him and started buzzing at a high pitch. She said that's normally a telltale sign that a bee is about to sting, so she readied her camera and snapped four photos.

The images showed the progression of the sting, but the most interesting part was that the bee's abdominal tissue lingered behind, she said.

"As far as I know, nobody's been able to record anything like this," Garvey said. She said the only time she's seen it illustrated was in a textbook.

She said her love of bees led her to create a garden in her backyard so she can constantly observe and photograph them.

"I always see something different in every bee," she said.

Friday, June 15, 2012

How Your Plants Pollinate

From the fabulous folks down at Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, IA, a great article explaining plant pollination:

How your plants pollinate

Our teaching garden at Seed Savers Exchange demonstrates important seed saving concepts. Throughout the season, I’ll take you on a tour to discuss some of these concepts. The first stop on our tour is the Pollination bed. It is important that seed savers understand how their plants pollinate in order to prevent varieties in the same species from cross-pollinating. In this bed we are growing tomatillos, spinach, amaranth and cucumbers to demonstrate different flower types.
Flowers exist to facilitate pollination, which occurs when pollen is transferred from the male anther to the female stigma. In some plants, this occurs before the flower even opens. In other plants, pollinators such as humans, insects, or wind are required to transfer the pollen.
Tomatillos have perfect flowers. These flowers have both male and female organs, allowing for self-pollination. Tomatillos are “selfers” that can pollinate before their flower even opens.
Selfers are good plants to choose if you are a beginning seed saver. Selfers include tomatoes, peppers, beans, peas, and lettuce. And remember, in nature there are always exceptions to the rule—just because a plant can self-pollinate doesn’t mean that it can’t cross pollinate.

Female spinach plant

Male spinach plant

Spinach and cucumber have imperfect flowers. These flowers have either male or female organs. If male and female flowers are on different plants, the species isdioecious. In order to produce seed, pollen must travel from male plants to the female plants. Spinach is dioecious, and requires the wind to pollinate. Asparagus is also dioecious, and relies on insects for pollination.

Female cucumber flower

Male cucumber flower

Cucumber flowers are imperfect as well. However, cucumbers—as well as squash, melons, watermelons, and gourds—are monoecious, with male and female flowers on the same plant. Notice the immature fruit at the base of the female flower pictured above. In the Cucurbitaceae family, insects are required to transfer pollen from male flowers to female flowers for pollination to occur. Corn is also a monoecious plant with imperfect flowers (the tassels represent the male flowers, and the developing ears represent the female flowers), though corn relies on wind for pollination.
Take a few minutes to identify male and female flowers in your home garden. Congratulations you are officially one step closer to becoming a seed saver!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

From today's New York Times:

Posh Hotels Are Buzzing With Tiny New Guests: Bees

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Hive Division

Since I got lucky this year and my hives didn't all die over the winter, I get to do hive divisions this year!  Since I've never done them before I decided to start at home in case I made a real disaster of the procedure.

Hive division is the beekeeper's method of controlling colony growth and preventing swarming, which happens when a hive becomes too small for the number of bees. Throughout the year, but especially in the spring, a beekeeper looks for signs of the hive getting too crowded.

 In nature, when the colony becomes too big for the cavity in which it lives, the colony will communicate that swarming -more commonly called supersedure in beekeeping- is imminent and several queen cells will be made and the eggs laid in them will be tended as "queen cells".  This is done in order to raise a new queen for the colony that stays behind.

Though the eggs in the queen cells is the same as every other egg in the brood nest, these larvae will be fed differently than the others.  The difference in the quantity and quality of the food fed to the larvae is what determines the caste of the bee, as the increased frequency and greater nutrition leads to hormone system functionality in queen larvae that does not develop in the larvae of worker bees.

Specifically, the food provided to the queen cells -often called "royal jelly"- contains a much higher rate of mandibular gland secretions of the attendant nurse bees than do worker larvae, it also contains more sugars.  Additionally, the queen larvae are fed much more frequently than the workers.  According to the wonderful book 'Biology of the Honey Bee' by Mark L. Winston (currently the definitive book on honey bee biology), "...queens literally swim in a sea of brood food."

Queen larvae surrounded by royal jelly in their cells

This quantitative and qualitative difference in nutrition stimulates the stretch receptors of the mid-gut of the larva, which leads to an increased release of "juvenile hormone" by the larva's corpora allata, a large organ located in the esophagus.  The juvenile hormone in turn influences the production of other hormones active in the development of the bees cardio system, the brain and the nervous system.  All of this happens quite quickly, as the caste of a larva is decided by the fourth day of development.

Back to the topic of divisions...

Once a queen has laid eggs in queen cells and the colony knows that supersedure is underway, the queen will leave the hive and take the older half of the worker bees with her.  The colony will leave behind enough food and enough nurse bees to continue tending the brood in the hive.  As these nurse bees age, they will become foragers for the colony left behind.

When the queen larvae become pupae, their cells are capped and they continue to develop within the cells, out of sight.  Because the queen is substantially larger than a worker bee, the queen cells are built out on the face of the frame, hang slightly downward and are readily identifiable.  Supersedure cells are built on the bottom of the frame.

Supersedure (queen) cells hanging from the bottom of the frame
(Leominster Beeman)

The first of the queens to hatch will then kill the other queens in their cells, makes her "virgin flight" and then begin laying eggs for the colony. 

Meanwhile, the swarm of bees -the departing queen and workers that have left the hive with her- will cluster on a tree branch.  While they are huddled, scout bees are going out to look for a new cavity in which to establish their nest.

A swarm of honey bees
(Leominster Beeman)

A swarm of bees is very vulnerable and since the bees have neither a nest nor brood to defend, they are very docile.  Once a scout has found a good spot for the new nest, the swarm will move  to that location and begin to build honey and brood comb and the queen will begin laying eggs. A new hive established.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

First Queen Pick-Up!

After waiting for a call from Doug at Cannon Bee regarding the delivery of the Buckfast Italian Queens, I called him on Tuesday and guess what?  The Queens have been there for nearly a week...since the bee packages arrived.  Since I didn't order any packages, he didn't call me in spite of my having been there to pick up Queen separators the week before.

I went over tonight and picked up the Queens.  I was supposed to get eight, but two had died so I only got six.  The entire situation is making me nervous because if two perished in the hours between my call and my picking them up, how long do I have to get these Queens installed and will they flourish?

The stress these creatures are under is inestimable, sitting in a tiny plastic cage next to other Queens (they like to be one to a hive, remember) tended by a small cluster of workers.  The sooner I can hive them, the better.

 This is how the Queens are sent in bulk by the breeder via UPS or US Mail

 Inside the box are stands holding the Queen cages.  To the left bees are feeding on sugar and the white is a damp paper towel from which they drink

Worker bees feed the Queens through the holes in the Queen cages

Meanwhile I am working on responding to emails from folks inquiring about the Hive Host program.  I have had a HUGE response from a posting new Hive Host Theresa R. put on the Master Gardener listserv and that has been wonderful.  Not only did we gain another chicken yard with Theresa, but a great ally in our struggle to keep the honey bee in action.  She also has an amazing yard of wonderful plantings.  Photos to come!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Lilac Season!

The weather seems to have returned to "normal" spring temperatures and wetness, which is somewhat of a relief after the very strange spring we've been having. The lilacs are blooming and smell heavenly, but I didn't see any honey bees taking advantage of the blossoms yesterday late afternoon.  

Today was bright and sunny with temperatures in the mid-sixties, so maybe they were collecting lilac nectar today, although I haven't seen any bees on the tree.  Whatever they are collecting, they are mighty busy, which makes me happy.  I am hoping that they get a lot of brood hatched and more developing before my splits, which I expect to do this week-end, although I haven't heard anything from Doug at Cannon Bee regarding the arrival of the queens.

I was occupied ALL week-end, day and night, by some fascinating events at the University of MN, but all I could think about were my bees, worrying about the upcoming colony divisions and wishing that I could go visit the bee yards just to check in.  I was glad when, on Saturday, it rained.

One of my former Hive Hosts, Nissa, emailed me today to say that her split of the hive that she took over from me went well and that the new hive, located on their second floor balcony, seems to be doing well.  

This is probably the bee yard with the densest population around it and it thrills me to see it growing.

Also blooming this week for the bee's delight are the dandelion, which is usually the first nectar source here in Minnesota.  It's a late-comer this year, but I'm sure that they are happy to see it anyway.  Violets are in bloom and the Bleeding Heart is opening, though I don't know what kind of nectar source that is.

Dandelion...plenty of them here!

Bleeding Heart "Alba"

The violets that have taken over the back yard

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Planting for Pollinators

One of the easiest ways for people to help out native pollinators and honey bees is to plant for them in their yards and gardens.  How?  

Check out the plant list for the Upper Midwest featured on The Xerces Society web site:
Invertebrate Conservation Fact Sheet

Upper Midwest Plants for Native Bees

Written by Eric Mader & Matthew Shepherd

  • Pollinators are a vital part of a healthy environment.
  • Native bees are North America's most important group of pollinators.
  • Patches of flowers can be grown almost anywhere and will form an important food resource for bees.
Pollinators are a diverse and fascinating group of animals.  In addition to their beauty, pollinators provide an important link in our environment by moving pollen between flowers and ensuring the growth of seeds and fruits.  The work of pollinators touches our lives every day through the food we eat.  Even our seasons are marked by their work: the bloom of springtime meadows, summer berry picking, pumpkins in the fall.

Native bees are the most important group of pollinators.  Like all wildlife they are affected by changes in our landscapes.  The good news is that there are straightforward things that you can do to help: providing patches of flowers is something that we all can do to improve our environment for these important insects.  Native plants are undoubtedly the best source of food for bees, but there are also some garden plants that are great for pollinators.

This fact sheet will help you provide flowers that these vital creatures need and make the landscape around us -from small urban backyards to large natural areas- better for bees.  Below you'll find a simple guide to selecting plants for bees.

For more information, visit our web site where you will find other fact sheets and more detailed guidelines on how to enhance habitat for pollinators.  You'll also find information about the Pollinator Conservation Handbook.

Choosing the Right Flowers

To help bees and other pollinator insects -like butterflies- you should provide a range of plants that will offer a succession of flowers, and thus pollen and nectar, through the whole growing season.  Patches of foraging habitat can be created in many different locations, from backyards and school grounds to golf courses and city parks.  Even a small area planted with the right flowers will be beneficial, because each patch will add to the mosaic of habitat available to bees and other pollinators.

In such a short fact sheet it is not possible to give detailed lists of suitable plants for all areas of the Upper Midwest.  Below are two lists of good bee plants, the first of native plants and the second of garden plants.  Both are short lists; there are many more bee-friendly plants.  However, these lists, combine with the following notes, will get you started on selecting good bee plants.  Your local chapters of the Wild Ones, the Native Plant Society and native plant nurseries are worthwhile contacts for advice on choosing, obtaining, and caring for local plant species.
  • Use local native plants.  Research suggests native plants are four times more attractive to native bees than exotic flowers.  In gardens, heirloom vaireties of herbs and perennials can also provide good foraging.
  • Choose several colors of flowers.  Flower colors that particularly attract native bees are blue, purple, violet, white, and yellow.
  • Plant flowers in clumps.  Flowers clustered into clumps of one species will attract more pollinators than individual plants scattered throught the habitat patch.  Where space allows, make the clumps four feet or more in diameter.
  • Include flowers of different shapes.  Bees are all different sizes, have didfferent tongue lengths, and will feed on different shaped flowers.  Consequently, providing a range of flower shapes means more bees can benefit.
  • Have a diversity of plants flowering all season.  By having several plant species flowerihng at once, and a sequence of plants flowering through spring, summer, and fall, you can support a range of bee species that fly at different times of the season.

Native Plants

Native plants should be your first choice to help our native bees.  Listed below are some plants that are good sources of nectar and pollen for bees.  This list is not exhaustive; there are many other plants good for bees.  Individual species have not been included.  Not all of these genera will have species in your local area, but they do represent plants that will grow in a variety of environments.  Use a wildflower guide or contact local nurseries to find your local species.

Aster                                   Aster     
Beebalm                            Monarda
Blazing star                        Liatris
Cup plant                           Silphium
Wild indigo                        Baptisia
Fireweed                          Chamerion
Goldenrod                        Solidago
Giant hyssop                    Agastache
Ironweed                          Vernonia
Joe Pye weed                 Eupatorium
Leadplant                        Amorpha
Lobelia                            Lobelia
Lupine                             Lupinus
Milkweed                        Asclepias
New Jersey tea             Ceanothus
Obedient plant               Physostegia
Penstemon                   Penstemon
Prairie clover               Dalea
Purple coneflower       Echinacea
Rattlesnake master    Eryngium
Spiderwort                  Tradescantia
Steeplebush               Spirea
Sunflower                   Helianthus
Willow                         Salix

Garden Plants

Flower beds in gardens, business campuses, and parks are great places to have bee-friendly plants.  Native plants will create a beautiful garden but some people prefer "garden" plants.  Many garden plants are varieties of native plants.  This list includes plants from other countries -"exotic" plants- and should be used as a supplement to the native plant list.  As with this native plants, this list is far from exhaustive.

Basil                              Ocimim
Borage                         Borago
Catmint                        Nepta
Cosmos                      Cosmos
Lavender                     Lavendula
Oregano/Marjorum    Origanum
Rosemary                  Rosmarinus
Russian sage            Perovskia
Spearmint                 Mentha  
Squill                          Scilla

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation
4828 SE Hawthorne Boulevard
Portland, OR 97215

Monday, April 16, 2012

Chilly weather!

30 F this morning and as we headed off to school snow flurries were falling from the gray skies and it was weather that was going to keep any bee from leaving the hive.  All of the fruit trees that were being pollinated yesterday are being stiffed today.

This afternoon I posted a recruitment message for Hive Hosts on COMGAR, the University of MN Community Garden list serve.  So far all I've received is the automated response letting me know that my message has been forwarded for approval, but I'm hoping that some of the community gardens or some of the intensive gardeners will come forward to join the fun.

I'm thinking of posting something at Lake Country School and maybe the Wedge as well...

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Gardening Matters!

My friend Amie and I signed up this year to be part of Gardening Matters Local Food Resource Hubs network. Today we went to Powderhorn Park (a stone's throw from the Dalal-Whelan hive!) and picked up our garden seeds and some seedlings.  

It was a beautiful sunny day and everyone was very excited about getting into the dirt.  We picked up packets for reporting our production back to Gardening Matters for them to track, which should  be fun and a reason to stay on track.

On our way out we stood by one of the big blooming crab apple trees, which was a hub of activity, no pun intended.  There were tiny pollinators, butterflies, Bumble bees and even honey bees at work collecting the goods!

If you don't know about Gardening Matters, you should check them out.   

According to the web site:

Gardening Matters is a nonprofit dedicated to promoting and preserving community gardening across the Twin Cities by connecting gardeners to each other and to the communities in which they reside. We provide training and resources to support community gardeners in achieving community gardens that are successful and sustainable.

We do this by  connecting gardeners to each other (no better resource than each other!) by hosting the community gardener listserv (COMGAR) where gardeners share opportunities and advice. And sharing information about the region's wealth of community gardens through our online map.

The Local Food Resource Hubs network  supports residents to grow their own fresh produce, helping to ensure greater food security and healthy food access.  They distribute seeds and seedlings, teach classes on gardening, processing and storing food and connect like-minded folks seeking a safer, sustainable food system.

Today I sent a message to COMGAR, the Community Garden listserv, asking for interested parties to consider the Hive Host program.  I'm hoping to connect with Community Gardens and individuals because I have eight more hives to place, hopefully in south Minneapolis.

Orientation Flights

What a day to be a bee!  The sun was out and there was nearly no wind and the temperature hit the 70s F.  There must be brood hatching in the white hive in the backyard because there was a sudden flurry of orientation flights about 2:30 PM which was quite a sight!

The pear and cherry trees are still blooming, but they are nearly finished.  Hopefully a day like today affords the bees plenty of time to pollinate to make up for chilly, damp weather we've been having on and off all week.

On our bike ride to the Birchwood Cafe (one block from the Konar-Steenberg hive!) Louis fell over on his bike and hit his arm on the sidewalk.  Teacup fracture of the humerus; two weeks in a sling.  I guess he won't be helping me with hive divides.  ;)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Plenty of Food

The weather this year is perplexing to nearly everyone.   One day it is 65 F and sunny and the bees are coming and going laden with pollen and nectar and the next day it is under 40 F and not one bee is out.  

I'm not worried about the colonies surviving anymore; there is no danger of the brood freezing now and the dandelions are out and the lilacs and tulips are blooming, but I worry a bit about the foragers getting out to bring in the available nectar.  In other words, I'm worrying about taking the bees being able to take advantage of everything that is  blooming so very early.

However, I am grateful for the relative lack of worry this spring.  Let's hope the fickle weather continues to treat the bees and the beekeepers well.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Baskets full of pollen!

I did a double-take last Sunday when I was working in the bee yards; bees were returning to the hive with huge amounts of pale yellow pollen packed onto their hind legs.  Turning my eyes skyward I searched for exploding buds, since I figured this early blooming must be a tree, but I didn't identify anything.

 These bees are packing pollen in their corbiculae, a divot on their 
back legs also familiarly called a pollen basket 
(Zimmerpeople Hive)

Later that evening I looked up Jim Kloek's excellent website to see if he was seeing pollen in his hives.  He had posted the following:
A couple beekeepers told me they saw their bees bringing in pollen. There isn't pollen quite yet. The bees are going to bird feeders or deer feeders and picking up dust off of the feed. They will get this seed or corn dust and bring it back to the hive as pollen. Bees will also collect fine sawdust in the very early spring. I knew a beekeeper that someone was building a treated lumber deck across the street from his hive. The bees went over and brought back the treated lumber sawdust. The treated lumber had an insecticide in it. The colony died as the result of this. Pollen may start coming in as the frost leaves the ground.  If there are pussy willows in your area watch them for bees working for available pollen.
I like and respect Jim, especially as a beekeeper, but this post made it seem as if he were living in a different reality than I was.  The first four inches of the soil in my bee yards is defrosted and the possibility that eight hives out of ten were finding that much saw dust or bird seed to pack on, let alone the likelihood that they would, seemed doubtful to me. 

Honey bees feeding on over-wintered honey
(Konar-Steenburg Hive)

In fact, the bird seed/saw dust story sounds apocryphal to me.  What would attract a bee to a bird feeder or a construction site?  More to come on this as research time allows.  ;)

Just because the bees are finding pollen doesn't mean that they're finding much nectar, though.  Not knowing what kind of pollen the bees are bringing back means I can't tell how much nectar that tree produces in its blossoms.

This morning the Saint Paul Pioneer Press ran an article on the early spring and included a segment on the bee hive at Woodlake Nature Center in Richfield.  
The latest early sign of spring at Wood Lake Nature Center in Richfield happened Tuesday afternoon, March 13, when naturalist Scott Ramsay was watching the center's honeybees carry their dead from the hive - honeybee spring cleaning. 
A closer look revealed that some of the bees had what are called pollen baskets on their legs."I've never seen them collect pollen this early," Ramsay said. "Tree pollen usually is not out until the first week The of April." 
Honey bees were out collecting tree pollen earlier than usual at Wood Lake Nature Center in Richfield. The yellow balls seen on this bee's hind leg is pollen packed into a depression on the leg called the corbicula.  
 The bees were gathering the pollen from the center's silver maples, several of which sported swollen buds. Some elderberry shrubs at the nature center had also begun to bud, and a few plants were poking their tops out of the thawing ground. 
By the solar measure, the first day of spring this year is March 20. But in phenology - the examination of plant and animal cycles and how they relate to climate - a number of signs in nature can mark the beginning of spring. One of the first in Minnesota is the return of the male red-winged blackbird, which winters in the South.  They arrived at Wood Lake on Saturday, 10 March, a full ten-days early.
Welcome spring. 

Honeybee Deaths Linked to Corn Insecticides

As a beekeeper that made the decision early-on to tend my bees without the use of any kind of chemicals introduced into the hive environment, the conclusion of this research comes as no surprise.  
However, it is good to know that progress is being made to provide activists with solid scientific evidence of the effects of agricultural chemicals on the very pollinators that agriculture relies on for product.
If you've ever watched a colony of bees, you know better than to introduce chemicals into the mix.
From ABC News:
New research shows a link between an increase in the death of bees and insecticides, specifically the chemicals used to coat corn seeds.
The study, titled “Assessment of the Environmental Exposure of Honeybees to Particulate Matter Containing Neonicotinoid Insecticides Coming from Corn Coated Seeds,” was published in the American Chemical Society’sEnvironmental Science & Technology journal, and provides insight into colony collapse disorder.
Colony collapse disorder, or the mass die-off of honeybees, has stumped researchers up to now. This new research may provide information that  could lead to even more answers.
According to the new study, neonicotinoid insecticides “are among the most widely used in the world, popular because they kill insects by paralyzing nerves but have lower toxicity for other animals.”
Beekeepers immediately observed an increase in die-offs right around the time of corn planting using this particular kind of insecticide.
Pneumatic drilling machines suck the seeds in and spray them with the insecticide to create a coating before they are planted in the ground. Researchers suspected the mass die-offs could have been caused by the particles of insecticide that were released into the air by the machines when the chemicals are sprayed.
The researchers tested several methods to make the drilling machines safer for bees. However, they found that all variations that used the neonicotinoid insecticides continued to cause mass die-offs of bees.

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Second Colony Loss- RIP Davnie Hive

I had posted excitedly on Saturday that only one of United Nectar's urban apiaries had not survived the winter.  After partially-disassembling most of the hives on Saturday, I can now report that the Davnie Hive is also dead.

Unlike the Hilty Hive, which had recently perished, the Davnie colony seems to have been long dead; the odor of decomposing bees alone told me that. Though both the Hive Host and I had witnessed loud buzzing and many bees coming and going as recently as the day before, I now believe that these bees were robbing any honey that might have been left in the defunct hive, of which I found a small amount.

The Davnie Hive was a late installation due to the tornadoes in Spring 2011 that delayed the arrival of the Buckfast Carniolan bees that I had ordered through Cannon Bee.  I can only think that this colony didn't get well-enough established to make it through the winter.
Feeding Honey Bees

Late Winter/Early Spring:

It's 10 AM CDT and sunny, 60 F in the shade and lots of activity in all three hives within walking distance with a cup of coffee in my hand.  I'm off to the bee yards to feed sugar syrup and pollen patties. Let the bee season begin!

It may be counter-intuitive to feed bees something to eat in order to have them make honey for you to eat, but feeding is only done at specific times during the year and for very specific reasons.

There is often a period in the late winter/early spring where the bees become active, come out for their euphemistic "cleansing flight" and begin to build comb again.  During this period there is usually nothing blooming yet hence there is no natural source of forage for the honey bees.

In my experience (2006-2012) the bees come out for their cleansing flight between 15 and 25 February.  This year, of course, I had bees out on Christmas Day, in January and multiple days in February, so I was doubly worried that this increased activity would lead to decreased stores of honey and pollen.  This was true in about one third of the hives; the rest still had plenty of honey in their top boxes, so I didn't open the hives any further.

This is also the time of year -in Minnesota- when the queen starts to lay eggs for the spring brood since a worker bee takes about 21 days to develop from an egg to a hatched bee ready to take up work in the hive.

In order to supply enough carbohydrates to keep the colony going until the first bloom when nectar will be available, especially if there is a shortage of honey in the hive, the beekeeper feeds a 1:1 ration sugar syrup to the bees.  To get the over-wintered bees nutritionally up to snuff for feeding larvae, beekeepers often feed a protein patty, or pollen-replacement patty, to increase the amount of protein in their diet.

Spring Sugar Syrup:

There are three types of sugar syrup that can be used to augment the honey bee diet, each with a special formulation and a specific seasonal purpose:

1:2 ratio
This ratio of sugar to water makes a very light syrup that is most frequently used in late winter and early spring to stimulate egg laying.  Mix 1 cup sugar to 2 cups water and heat to dissolve.  Cool entirely before feeding.

1:1 ratio
This ratio of sugar to water makes a medium weight syrup that is used most frequently to feed brood larvae in spring or summer, or to enhance the drawing of comb.  Mix 1 cup sugar to 1 cup water and heat to dissolve.  Cool entirely before feeding.

2:1 ratio
This ratio of sugar to water makes a heavy syrup that is used most frequently to increase honey stores in fall or early winter.  Mix 2 cups sugar to 1 cup water and heat to dissolve.  Cool entirely before feeding.

Pollen Patty:
Before the advent of commercial pollen replacement, beekeepers would mix their own recipe of dry ingredients with honey or sugar syrup to feed their bees.  Now that buckets of pollen replacement powder are readily available the recipe is in the hands of the manufacturer, so it is important to find out what is in the different mixes and which you prefer.

This recipe is from the Southeastern Michigan Beekeepers Association web site

Pollen Patty Recipe for stimulating brood production:
(Makes a 1.5 pound patty)

Dry Part
1.5 cups (8oz.) fat-free soy flour
.5 cup (1oz.) Brewer’s yeast

Sugar Syrup
1.5 cups (12oz.) granulated sugar
.75 cup (6oz.) Hot water
Mix dry ingredients and add slowly to syrup until mixture is like stiff bread dough. Press between wax paper. Place patty over cluster with wax paper up.

Some beekeepers mix a bit of natural pollen into the patty in place of the soy flour, but this quickly gets expensive.  This year I don't believe I will have to feed much pollen replacement as already yesterday I saw bees coming back to the hive in three different neighborhoods laden with a pale yellow pollen.  Unbelievably, something out there is blooming on 11 March.

There is more chemistry to feeding than I am able to wrap my head around right now,  I find myself more concerned with the survival of the colonies than in maximizing their production because I don't know enough about it yet; this is sometimes frustrating and I get a creeping feeling that I am not doing the best by my bees.

For now I am doing the best that I can do.  This salient piece of advice from the sadly now-defunct Hirschbach Apiary site captures the effort to keep colonies going until local fauna blooms:

"To properly manage your hives you need to be an expert on the local flora and fauna.  Know what is blooming and when.  What are significant nectar sources?  What are the flows and how long do they last?  All these factors are what drive the hive. 

When the temps hit the 50s and the last frost has come, you want to make that first inspection you have been dying to make since you saw the first bee emerge.  During this inspection you want to assess the condition of the colony.  Make sure there are eggs and make sure there are enough bees to cover the entire brood nest.  

If there are not enough bees or the hive seems weak, they may need a feeding jump start.  Honey from a trusted source, preferably their own, is the best bet but if you don't have that, sugar syrup is the next best bet."