Feeding Bees By Season

Pollen and honey provide the protein and minerals that honeybees need to survive. A healthy, successful hive will gather most of their resources from the natural world. Occasionally, beekeepers will need to feed the hive to ensure adequate stores in periods of low nectar flow and overwinter.

SUGAR WATER

The magic numbers…

1:1 (1 part sugar, 1 part water): Encourages comb building and hydration in the summer

2:1 (2 part sugar, 1 part water): Builds honey stores for winter

When you get a new package of bees, you will want to feed them 1 part water, 1 part sugar for the first few weeks to allow the new hive to build comb and raise their brood. Once established, the bees should become more self-sustaining. 

Similarly, beekeepers should feed in the early spring before the nectar flow has fully begun. This will ensure adequate food is available to raise the new brood and grow the colony following a long winter. Some beekeepers feed 1:1 sugar water, while others give sugar cakes. 

In periods of dearth – or low nectar flow – beekeepers should again feed 1:1. Dearths often occur at the end of summer before the autumn bloom. 

In the August/September timeframe, beekeepers must ensure that their bees have enough stores to last through the winter. Hives will need 50 – 60 lbs (22 – 27 kg) of honey throughout the winter months. If they do not have enough honey in late August, early Septemebr, beekeepers should switch to a 2:1 feed: 2 part sugar, 1 part water. The higher concentration of sugar will provide the nutrients required to last the long winter. Do not take honey from your hive in the first year. This is one of the most common mistakes of beekeepers.  

When creating your sugar water mix, it is important that the water be hot enough to melt the sugar, but not yet boiling. Continue to stir until the sugar is immersed, especially when creating your 2:1 mixture. 

THREE TYPES OF FEEDERS

  1. Entrance feeders: Entrance feeders sit at the entrance of a hive. This type of feeder is easy to check and replace, but encourages robbing from nearby honeybees and yellow jackets. We do not recommend this type of feeder, as feeding is often correlated to new/weak hives or times of dearth. 
  2. Top feeders: Top feeders can be purchased or made at home with a mason jar and a cutout lift on the inner cover. This is the safest feeding method and least likely to attract robbers. 
  3. Frame feeders: Frame feeders are inserts that are applied alongside the frames in a hive. Many beekeepers appreciate this type of feeder, as it is simple to install. We encourage you to read the reviews of the frame feeders, as some beekeepers report bees drowning in their frame feeders. Many now have ladders to allow the bees to safely enter and leave the frame feeder. 

CANDY BOARD + SUGAR OVER WINTER

Once the temperatures drop into the 40s (6-9oC), you should not open your hive, as they will have sealed the cracks with propolis. This is the time to give your bees either a candy board or sugar via the mountain camp method. 

*Mountain camp method: This is the easiest way to feed your bees over the winter. Simply lay newspaper on top of the frames and pour sugar on top. You will want to make sure that no newspaper is showing outside of the hives – Any moisture that touches your outer paper will make its way into your hives and could be catastrophic to the colony. When in doubt, use less newspaper. 

*Candy boards: Candy boards are fun and easy to make at home: Using bakers sugar, place 10 lbs (4.5 kg) of water into a pot. Add 10 tablespoons of water. With your hands, work the sugar and water together. This should feel a bit like making a sandcastle in the summer. Take the mixture and place it into your mold. Pat down heavily and let rest overnight. The product should be hardened by morning and ready to place in your hive.  

POLLEN PATTIES

Pollen patties are a mixture of pollen, sugar, vitamins, lemon juice or citric acid, dried egg, oil, yeast, and honey. Their primary purpose is to stimulate brood production, although they can be a great supplementary feed for bees in periods of low nectar flow. The type of patty that should be fed varies by season. It’s also important to note that pollen patties can (and will!) attract small hive beetles (SHB). Make sure to keep SHB outbreaks under control. 

Winter patties: Winter patties are primarily comprised of carbohydrates with a small amount of protein includes. This will discourage your queen from rearing brood too early. These patties can be placed in your hive in the December timeframe, or before temperatures drop too low to open your hive any longer. 

Spring patties: Spring patties have a high concentration of protein, which encourage brood rearing and population growth in your hive. These should be used once the winter temperatures have risen enough to open the hive – Daily temps over 50 degrees (10oC) with mild nights. 

Summer patties: Patties shouldn’t be used in the summer unless you are in a period of dearth and the bees do not have enough stores to survive. Bees will always favor the natural pollen. Pollen patties that are not being actively broken up and consumed by the bees will attract SHB. 

Remember: Bee clusters move up in the winter, not out. So, all food sources will need to be above them. 

Pollen of various colors stored in the cells of a honeycomb near the brood. Some larvae can be seen, most of the brood cells are already capped.

 

Image Credit: Waugsberg

Italian honeybee on the White Sweet Clover with pollen.

Image Credit: Ivar Leidus