When to Feed Your Honey Bees

GONGHE COUNTY, CHINA - JULY 28: (CHINA OUT) A beekeeper feeds bees with white sugar water at an apiary, built in a rape field located on an altitude of about 3,290 meters (10,791 feet) on July 28, 2006 in Gonghe County of Qinghai Province, China.
China Photos / Getty Images News / Getty Images

You may be wondering if your honey bees are going to starve or whether they have enough stores to make it through the winter. And you may want to encourage your colony to build up properly in the spring for optimal health. So, when and how do you feed your bees?

  • 01 of 04

    When Do You Feed Bees?

    In an ideal world, you'd leave the bees plenty of honey and you would not need to feed your honeybees. However, sometimes there is a poor nectar flow and the bees might not have enough honey stored, especially if you have a new colony that was just started in the spring.

    If you can pick up your hive easily, it might be light on honey. Each colony needs at least 50-60 pounds of stored honey to keep them from starvation in the winter. If you know early enough in the season, like in the fall, you can begin feeding them. Even if you don't feed until winter and early spring, you can still feed the bees. You might want to use granulated sugar or fondant during cold winter days.

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    How to Feed Bees

    You can use a variety of types of feeders to feed your bees, just make sure that the type you choose is appropriate to the climate and the needs of your bees. Some feeders work better than others. A hive-top feeder made of an inverted pail with some small holes punched in the center of the lid works well. Mason jars can also be inverted this way.

    If checking on or feeding bees in winter, do not open the hive unless it is at least 40 degrees F outside with little to no wind. Never remove frames to inspect them unless it is at least 60 degrees F outside.

    One consideration when feeding bees is whether you want to stimulate brood production. Some forms of feed stimulate brood production more than others: for example, granulated sugar does not because of its lower water content. Only feed as much as necessary. Overfeeding can stimulate bees to swarm or to overproduce brood.

    If you have honey stored, you can feed this back to your bees. Honey is the best bee food. But never used purchased honey, because it can introduce diseases and contamination to your hive! Beekeepers sometimes set aside dark, strong-colored or other "off" honey to feed to bees in an emergency. Otherwise, make sugar syrup or feed dry sugar.

    • Sugar Syrup Recipes
  • 03 of 04

    Pollen Patties

    Bees need protein, so you can also feed them pollen patties if necessary. You can purchase them or make them from a dry powder. Place the pollen patty on the top bars. Pollen is essential for early spring brood rearing, so if you’re worried about your bees, use pollen patties in early spring.

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    Fondant and Sugar Candy

    Fondant and sugar candy can be fed in winter if it is too cold for sugar syrup and if it is an emergency.

    Sugar Candy: Add 12 pounds of sugar to a quart of boiling water, stirring well. Simmer for 15 minutes, then add 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon cream of tartar. Let cool somewhat, then stir vigorously and pour into dishes. Once fully cooled, invert the dish over the frames holding the cluster. Be sure to also check out the hard candy recipe.

    Fondant: Bring one quart of water to boil in a large pot. Turn off heat, add 5 lb granulated sugar and stir constantly. Once sugar is dissolved, bring water to boil again and keep stirring. Bring mixture to hard ball candy stage, 260-270 degrees F on a candy thermometer. Pour into molds or onto cookie sheets lined with wax paper. Once cooled, break into smaller pieces and store in wax paper in the freezer.