When a weak bee colony is found short of stores early in the spring, a good method of feeding is to take empty combs, place them in a tub and pour into them sugar syrup, made about two parts water to one of sugar. A thicker syrup does not go into the comb so readily. Fill one side of the comb, turn it over, and fill the other side. Two of these combs may be given at a time, but these should be well cleaned up before more are given, since if too much syrup is given at a time, it is apt to sour in the combs.
Place these combs of syrup just outside of the brood nest, one on each side; but never put them in the center, as chilled brood would be the result. This feeding should be continued until the bees have an abundance or until the honey flow is on in earnest. Other methods of feeding will be discussed under Fall Feeding.
If bees have plenty of stores and a good vigorous queen, they need no other care until the honey flow comes on. I do not think it is a good plan to open the hive and examine it to determine its condition until the season is more advanced. Note carefully the outside appearances of your colonies. If plenty of bees are flying, loads of pollen coming in and the colony is heavy enough to indicate plenty of stores, all it needs is a “good letting alone.” Do not open it, as the sealed covers are disturbed, and thereby your colony harmed.
However if few bees are flying out when other colonies are active and if little pollen is coming in, the colony may be queen-less or the queen failing, so it is well to examine it, and if your suspicions are confirmed unite it with another colony rather than buy a queen to put with it so early in the season. In the first place such a colony with its old bees left from the year before does not readily accept a queen, and when it does, the population is so depleted that it cannot build up in time for the honey flow.
Consequently since a weak colony re-queened too early in the spring is apt to dwindle away and die, it is best to unite it with a weak colony containing a good queen, by the “News Paper Method” described later. After building up strong, this “dual” colony may be divided as described under “Making Increase.”
If a colony is weak and yet has a good queen, save it by giving it one or two frames of sealed brood from another colony next to their own brood, and place outside of the brood nest combs of honey, which are better than feed. As to what constitutes a weak colony, the beekeeper must be the judge. If a colony has less than a pint of bees and less than a patch of brood six inches across, it should be either united or strengthened, depending on whether it has a good queen or not.
Here is the original 1926 page:
Here is a cool video of honey bees drinking water in slow motion: