Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bee Tea

With Spring comes early feeding with 1:1 sugar syrup.  Last year i first read about bee tea.  Essentially a brewed/steeped tea made from anything good for bees.  To promote health mainly.  One can either add it to the syrup or sweeten it with a little sugar and feed it separately from the syrup.  Many use essential oils in the tea.  I'm not a fan of essential oils, however.  The Tea is a way i can add nutrition to the sugar syrup without blasting the hive away with lemon grass oil or the like.  Lets face it sugar syrup is like feeding your kids nothing but soda pop.  The bees love the sugar but I'd like them to get more out of it.

As far as I'm concerned the ingredients for this recipe should change depending on what sources of nectar are naturally available.  This way the tea reflects what the bees are looking for.  I assume Maples bloom in Spring because they have what bees need the most in Spring. (Evolved over millions & millions of years)  It may be a leap for some but it who am i to second guess nature.
Therefore at this time the tea is made of whatever blooms first in this area:  Willow, Maple, Elm, Cherry, Pear, Plum, Sassafras, & Red Bud.  I also added two primary flow sources: Yellow Poplar & Basswood, but any combination will do.  This week the recipe is Maple, Poplar, & Basswood.  Next week will be Willow, Elm, Red Bud, & Poplar.  I'm very leery of giving a tea made from Sassafras to the bees since it is a known psychoactive.  A sprig of Thyme and 2 tbs of Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar are also added per gallon.  These can help with Varroa & Nosema plus the ACV keeps the syrup from spoiling.

Unsure of all this an experiment was in order.  I made a syrup/tea and a non-syrup/tea out of Yellow Poplar and set it out for the bees.  The bees hit the syrup as one would expect.  Alright, so I know they will take it, that's good.  They also did a good job on the non-syrup/tea.  They about hit it as hard.  So it looks like this might work.  Now to make some tea...

The procedure:
First i collect wood rounds from the target woody plants with a chainsaw.  Disks of a ½" in thickness are good.  I cut them from saplings so there is no heartwood present.  Heartwood is where a tree places it's metabolic wastes.  Small saplings will not have accumulated enough yet.

2 Rounds of each species per gallon.  Maple & Poplar

Second i remove the bark.  The inner wood, called xylem, transports liquids and material up into a tree.  The nectar that is found in a tree flower has gotten there via this tissue.  Bark, called phloem, transports nutrients down to the roots.  Since bees feed from flowers not roots I'll go with the xylem.

Use Caution cutting green wood with a ban saw

Then the debarked rounds get cut up into small bits to increase surface area.

All 4 rounds

There are only 2 Basswoods that I know of around here and neither one am i willing to harm.  Fortunately the local health food store has a great selection of 'Frontier' herbs which include dried Basswood flowers.  A half ounce cost $0.35.  Plus they have lots of other things I'll be adding at some point.  So I divided it and put each half in 1 gallon.  After all I'm feeding 2 colonies so I'll need 2 gallons.

Not fresh but they still had a fragrance

The last ingredient this week was the Thyme.  My Wife grows it on the back deck so what i have is freshly picked.  I took what i thought might equal a drop or two of essential oil.

The tea smells like sausage???

Once the ingredients are ready i put the water in the pot.  To make a total gallon of 1:1 syrup i start with 2qts & 15oz. of water.  The water is then heated to between 150°F - 165°F.  (This is the steeping range used for grains when brewing beer; which i do.  It is important to not exceed 170°F because tannins begin to leech into the water at that point and above.)  Once the water is above 150°F I toss in all the ingredients.  Then reduce the heat enough to keep the water in the temperature range.  Steep for 40 minutes.  Stir little or not at all.

Near 170°F i took the pot off the burner to cool it down some

After 40 minutes remove from heat and strain.  I first ladle out the big chunks then strain the rest through a paper towel.

Strained Tea

Then i measure the tea back into the rinsed pot.  Some water will have evaporated during the steep.  Replace that water to get back to the original amount.  Now place back on heat and bring to a near boil.  Remove from heat and add the 6 lbs. of sugar and stir.  The tea/syrup will be clear again in a few minutes.  After which I add 2 tablespoons of Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar to each gallon.  Stir, let cool and give to bees.

My plan is to give the bees a gallon of syrup each week,  When they've finished it I'll give then a strait tea with no sugar for the rest of the week.  I'll post the results, hopefully good ones, soon.



Anonymous said...

How'd the experiment go?

Hemlock said...

It went fine the bees took it and seemed to like it. although i discovered essential oils soon afterward and use them now instead. They don't require a brewing period. Just add one drop per gallon on your way out to the hive. I use organic Peppermint & White Thyme oils. Thyme to counter Varroa and Peppermint to off-set the thyme.