Roe Valley Beekeepers Association

Beekeeping Advice

Feeding Bees

An account of the principles involved in feeding bees, including types of feeder, amount of food, types of food and the time of feeding.

Beekeepers may find it necessary to feed bees when their natural supplies of honey or pollen are inadequate for the colonies’ needs. This situation may occur at the beginning of the season, to stimulate the colony, at times of dearth or following removal of a honey crop, to administer drugs or to prepare for winter.

Types of feeder

The most commonly used feeders are placed inside the hive (to minimise robbing) and include rapid contact feeders, circular feeders, Ashcroft and Miller designs and frame feeders, used most commonly in nucs. Contact feeders consist of a container with a tight fitting lid which is inverted over the brood chamber frames. The lid contains perforations which permit the liquid feed to be drawn down by the bees. It’s principle disadvantages include its relatively small size and the potential to spill with resulting potential to initiate robbing. Circular feeders are constructed to resemble a ring cake tin with a central access chamber into which bees can climb to access the feed. This is covered by an internal cover to avoid bees drowning in the container. The feeder is positioned over the crown board with a super or eek placed around it to support the hive roof. The container willusually hold approximately 2litres of feed, and will therefore require repeated filling, which can be accomplished without disturbing the colony. These feeders are generally constructed of plastic. The Miller & Ashcroft feeders are constructred of wood with the same dimensions as the hive components. The miller feeder has a centrally positioned access chamber running the length of the feeder. This allows access to an internal ramp to permirt access to the feed, and like the modern circular feeder is covered by an internal lid to prevent full access to the feed. This can be removed to permit use of this feeder for cleaning of honey from cappings. Because the access is central, there may be a problem with accessing all of the contents if the hive is not completly horizontal. This is likely to occur in most cases as many beekeepers maintain a small angle towards the landing board. To overcome this disadvantage, the Ashcroft feeder has its access to one side. Otherwise its modus operandi is identical Its principle disadvantage is that the peripheral access will be a disadvantage if feeding in spring when the brood will be confined to central areas of the brood chamber. Both feeders will hold approximately 5litres, and some beekeepers leave them permanently in situ, in place of a crownboard. This permits easy emergency feeding.


Amount of feed.

The quantity of feed required will depend on the feeding circumstance. As a general rule bees will feed until they have had suffucuent for their needs, so that feeding should continue as long as bees are prepared to accept it. For autumn feeding the colony will require a tiotal store of approx 45 pounds. The aim of feeding will be to supplement the bees own honey stores with sugar solution until this level is reached. In early season stimulant feeding the quantity required is that which produces the desired level of queen laying. If the feeding is intended to introduce drug treatments only, the quantity necessary is that required to carry the dose.

Types of Food

Feeding can be with sugar solutions, honey or pollen supplement. Honey if used must only be produced by that hive. The use of imported honey carries the risk of introduction of American Foul Brood, and must never take place. Oil Seed rape honey processed and held in a container (eg margarine tub) could be used inverted over the brood frames as a spring stimulant. Pollen stores may be exhausted in spring, and can be supplemented with patties formed from pollen (fresh or frozen) 20%, mixed in a small quantity of honey, with soya flour (60%) and brewers yeast (20%). Most feeding will be with sugarsolutions. Bakers fondant produced by mixing 1 part water with 5 parts white sugar, heated to 234 degrees until softly thickened can be used as a winter supplement. Solutions of sugar and water can be produced in a variety of strengths. Strong solution (605) is made by mixing 2 lbs sugar with 1 pint water. This strength is ideal for storage and is suitable for autumn feeding. Bees need only concentrate this to 80% for storage. A thinner solution of 1lb sugar to 2 pints water (30%) will stimulate the colony and could be used as a spring feed to stimulate queen laying. Where feeding requires immediate digestion by bees (eg emergency feeding in dearth) a 50% solution is best as it requires no processing. This can be achieved by mixing 1kg sugar with 1litre water.

Time of Feeding

At the beginning of the beekeepers year in late autumn when sufficient stores need to be laid down for overwintering, 60% solution in quantities to provide 45Kg total store will be necessary. During winter fondant may be necessary as an adjunct if feed stores are depleted. Pollen substitute may also be used. In spring to stimulate the colony light solution (30%) should be used until bees have had sufficient and queen laying accelerates. 50% sugar solution should be used to feed after removal of a honey crop, or if bees are found to be suffering from a collapse of nectar flow in summer when the colony size is at its peak. Nucs will always require feeding, and stimulation of colonies to draw comb can also occur. This is particularly so with swarms which should be fed after approximately 36 hours when their carried honey has been consumed. Feeding should always be performed carefully to minimise the risk of induction of robbing, and is best carried out just before dusk to reduce hyperactivity and following.