He also said that we should be feeding the bees because there hasn't been much of a nectar flow for the last two months. Trish came home and did some reading on the subject because while commercial beekeepers feed their bees regularly (since the bees' honey gets harvested), we figured our backyard bees should have enough of their own honey to be eating well throughout the winter.
First, Trish looked at Toward Saving the Honeybee by Gunther Hauk. He's her favorite bee expert as he led the bee workshop she attended back in 2010, and he's an internationally known beekeeper who specializes in biodynamic and organic methods. He says that converting sugar to honey is exhausting to bees, so it's preferable not to feed them sugar water unless you must. To quote Hauk: "Only on rare occasions--when a colony is in danger of starving in late winter--do I mix some sugar with honey and a mild herb tea made with chamomile, sage, and a pinch of salt."
She then consulted Abbe Warre's Beekeeping for All (also available as a free PDF download from a natural beekeeping site in the UK). Warre suggests that with the design of his hive, bees can survive on a smaller store of honey in the first place because the honey they've stored is more readily accessible as the hive is more compact--the bees aren't using up energy to reach the honey, etc. Warre says the bees are kept "safe from overexertion."
We're interested to find out what other beekeepers do in terms of feeding or not feeding bees in the fall to help them through the winter. Trish sent a question out to some beekeeping friends of hers, and we welcome ideas from any beekeepers who are reading this. Do you feed your bees in the fall and/or wintertime?