Put the syrup close to the bees
After I wrote “When a colony refuses to drink,” I decided to do a small and informal experiment to learn more about the drinkers vs the non-drinkers. I filled baggies with 2:1 syrup, laced them with Honey-B-Healthy, and added these to the top of eight strong hives. I surrounded each baggie with a three-inch eke (or feeder rim) and topped it with an inner cover and a lid.
After three days, during which the nighttime temperatures dipped into the 40-50°F range, I went back to check the bags. Six were totally empty and two were untouched. So I went digging . . .
In the six hives with empty bags, the cluster was very close to the baggie—within just a few inches. In the two with untouched baggies, there was an entire medium box of honey between the bees and the syrup.
Other people have noticed this phenomenon too, and it has prompted them to suppose that these bees “knew” they had enough stores and didn’t need more. But “knowing they had enough” doesn’t sound very bee-like. After all, honey bees are known to be hoarders and will fill a dozen honey supers if they can.
I believed they didn’t eat the syrup because it was too cold, and it was too cold because it was too far from the bees. So, in those two hives, I just reversed the position of the feeder and the medium of honey. In other words, above the two brood boxes I put the eke with the baggie, and on top of that I put the medium of honey.
In three days I went back to check, and in both cases, the syrup was gone.
Now, I still believe the difference is the temperature of the syrup—after all, syrup close to the cluster will be warmer than syrup further away—but I realize my theory may be wrong. Nevertheless, from a management point of view, if you think it is important to feed your colonies, getting the syrup as close to the cluster as possible may increase your success.