How To Feed Honey Bees
Excerpted from: Honey Bee Suite
You may be wondering if your honey bees are going to starve or whether they have enough
stores to make it through the winter.
In an ideal world, you'd leave the bees plenty of honey and you would not need to feed your honey
bees. 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.
Most late fall feeding is done with a thick syrup made with a 1:2 ratio of water to white sugar, which
the bees tend to store. In spring and early fall, a 1:1 mixture stimulates brood production. Some
beekeeping-supply companies sell high fructose corn syrup formulated for bees, but don’t use the
corn syrup sold by grocers or, for that matter, syrup made with brown sugar, molasses or other
sweeteners; they can be harmful to bees. Honey, dark from long storage or otherwise deemed
unacceptable for human consumption, is always welcomed by bee colonies.
If checking on or feeding bees in winter, do not open the hive unless it is at least 40° F outside
with little to no wind.
But honeybees don’t live by nectar and honey alone. A number of protein supplements can augment
natural pollen sources. You can buy these as patties—placed on the top of the hive—or in a powder,
which can be made into patties or sprinkled dry on top of the frames.
Pollen is essential to the development of larvae, and its presence stimulates the bees to produce brood,
so pollen substitutes are best in the early spring and early fall. That’s when colonies need to build up
their populations to take full advantage of the nectar flow in the one case, and to create a critical mass
of long-lived winter bees in the other.
Fondant, or bee candy—easily made at home from recipes available online—is a solid form of sugar
designed for emergency winter-feeding. Use it only as a last resort when a colony is at risk of starvation.
In that circumstance, it can be a lifesaver.
More is not always better !
Open Langstroth hive
with pollen patty.
Nectar and pollen provide not only the calories but also the proteins and minerals a colony needs to
thrive. With natural sources available, we should avoid artificial substitutes when feeding honey
In general, honeybees benefit from feeding in three circumstances. Newly installed packages benefit
from feeding until they can draw out comb and begin filling it with nectar and pollen. This takes a few
days to a few weeks. We also should feed when there are no stored resources in the hive, or when
there nectar is not available for the bees to bring into the hive.
Early spring feeding—before plentiful floral sources are available—stimulates brood production and
helps a colony start building up its population in preparation for the spring nectar flow. Because bees
continue to make honey as long as the flow lasts and storage space exists, that means more honey
for the beekeeper.
In the Midwest, dry summers often create a dearth, which usually yields to an autumn bloom. This is
natural, and feeding honeybees should be done only if no honey is stored in the hive. Goldenrod,
asters and other late-year flowers provide the honey that must maintain the colony through the cold
months. Some parts of the country escape the summer dearth but might also suffer longer, more
Even mild climates experience rainy seasons or periods of low bloom. The quantity of food stores that
a hive requires for overwintering depends on region, climate and number of bees. As a general rule, a
two-deep hive in a moderate zone should have at least 55 pounds of honey; in northern states, as much
as 125. A full deep frame holds about 6 pounds and a full shallow about 2 1/2, or you can get an idea of
the weight by hefting one side of the brood box. The important thing is to gauge winter stores and feed
if necessary in the fall—if there are insufficient food stores in the hive, and well before cold weather begins.