Janemma. I think that the first year of keeping bees has got to be the most confusing of all, I hear you, I remember my feelings. I am still rather confused. You are given so many choices, and just don't have the experience to know of what choice to make. You will need to go with your gut feelings. And this can be confusing too. It is a hard thing. You will fair well though, have no fears about that, you are a new and concerned beekeeper. In a couple of years (and it could be longer, like me, I began in April 2005), you will look back and say, "now what was so confusing and hard about that", hee, hee. It is a lot to learn and alot to understand about the bees.
This is my two cents, we are both from north of the border, you have short and intense summers, nectar flows, we have longer summers, milder winters, but as one Canadian to another. Listen to what I have to say, take it as my two cents only. But listen, then make your decision.
To feed or not to feed is a huge question, no doubt. Some will say don't feed, the bees will have enough from nature. Some will say feed, they don't have enough with nature.
Nature provides nectar yes, and no. It depends on the weather, the location, and man it can change from within a very few kilometres away. For example. I live across the river from a town, I live close to the mountains. My flows are at least 3 weeks behind those that are across the river, and it is only about 20 km away, if that. It is simply amazing and stunning.
You are in your first year of building up. The bees will need your help now. They are drawing comb, this requires copious amounts of carbohydrates for the bees to secrete wax. They must have sufficient food to do this. And you must do this by providing sugar syrup. The bees are new. It takes about 6 weeks for a package of bees to build up to have a decent sized brood nest. With enough nurse and foraging bees to support the colony. When you have package bees, those bees will soon die off with the new brood replacing them. There is a huge amount of bees to begin with, a huge loss of bees and then as the brood hatches the colony builds up again, real fast. But they need enough food to do it.
I don't care what people will say. Package bees need to be fed for at least 6 weeks to get them through this incredible amount of wax building and brood rearing. Every book that I have ever read said to feed the be packaged bees for a long time. I will probably get flack from saying this, but that is OK, this is my opinion and I am stickin' with it. If the bees are getting enough from nature they won't use the syrup, but it will be there in case they need it.
My first year with bees, I fed my bees for about 2 months, they consumed all the syrup that I fed them, all the time, and I was shocked at how much they used. As the summer progressed, I stoppped and the made out OK. Jane, if I were you, I would feed your bees syrup for at least 6 weeks. You will not be taking a lot of honey for yourself this year (most likely), so the honey will not be adulterated with syrup for human consumption. I am hoping that this may make you feel a little bit less confused about this issue that is bothering you so much, and I know that it is. Feed your bees. It cannot hurt to feed your bees, and may get them through some very hard times if there is not enough to feed.
I lost a nuc at the end of May last year because I did not provide enough food for this colony. I thought that they were getting enough from nature, I learn by the many, many mistakes that I make, and let me tell ya, I am the queen of the mistaker. Have that most beautiful day, feeling a little bit better about confusing issues. My deep regards. Cindi