Roe Valley Beekeepers Association

Beekeeping Advice

Feeding Bees

You may be confused by the different sugar solution strengths, when to use fondant etc. If so this page might give you some answers.

Bees will require feeding when honey reserves are depleting and nectar supplies are insufficient for the level of activity and the number of bees in the colony. Contact Feeders that the bees access (contact) from below with the syrup held by a vacuum formed by inverting the feeder and shaking some syrup out go over the feeder hole in the crown board are the simplest.  They are useful for stimulation feeding (feeding to encourage the queen to lay more eggs usually in the early spring) and top up feeding.  Use an empty super box on top of the crown board to support the roof whist the feeder is on. 

There are three possible times in the calender when bees may require feeding

In early spring bees will have eaten into their overwinter reserves, and will not have access to nectar either because of weather or lack of flowering plants. Feeding will avoid the risk of starvation in February /March. You’ll know if the hive is light without opening it in the cold, by hefting (lifting the corner to asses the weight). It may be too early in the season for high volume feeding, as there will be insufficient pollen protein and feeding will stimulate the queen to lay in increasing numbers. The general advice is to use sugar fondant or solidified sugar as this will be sufficient to feed, but wont overstimulate.

Candy is a mix of sugar and a little water that forms a smooth stiff paste similar to bakers fondant, indeed bakers fondant can be used and saves you the hassle of making it up.  As candy has a low water content, it can be fed to bees during the depths of winter or as a spring stimulant.  However some bees seem to ignore it whilst others take it with relish.  If you feed sufficiently in the autumn there should be no need to use candy at all.

Making fondant is as simple as 1,2,3,4,5... that’s 1 pint water with 5lb sugar heated to 234F 

(For metric use 2kg sugar, 0.5litre water at 112C). A teaspoon of Cream of Tarter also helps to stop it setting too hard.  Mix the sugar into the water slowly and bring to the boil for 10 minutes stirring occasionally.  Test the mixture by dripping onto a cold plate until it forms a soft solid mass.    Take off the heat and stand the saucepan in cold water for about 20 minutes until you see white streaks appearing.  Then stir vigorously and pour into containers around 2Kg such as old ice cream tubs and leave to set.

Alternatively perfectly acceptable feed can be made by cutting a small hole in a bag of sugar, adding some warm water and leaving for a day or two in the bottom Aga oven. 

When spring blossoms, feed with sugar and water solutions via a contact type feeder. (It will still be too cold for bees to climb out of their clump to go exploring other feeder types. Weak syrup mixture is advocated (1 litre of water to 1kg sugar). This will increase the rate of egg laying of the queen and thereby make a stronger colony earlier ready for nectar when it emerges from spring plants. This is known as ‘Stimulation Feeding’.  Feed in early March, this is at least a month before the first flow is expected.  You may also want to add Fumidil B to the mixture to sort Nosema (see Science section)

Bees may also need to be fed in mid season if the weather is poor, and particularily if you have removed a spring honey crop. Bee colonies may starve in June/July as a result of the large colony numbers and their activity levels. Feeding at this time should be with a stronger sugar solution (2kg sugar to 1 litre water).

In the autumn after the final honey harvest bees will need to have honey stores built up for the winter. This can be done fromAugust until mid September. The bigger the saved reserve, the better the chances of overwintering especially if the winter is mild, wet  and protracted. Strong solution is advocated for the autumn feed. Most beekeepers consider that bees require16-18kg (35-40lbs) of food stored to get them through the winter, if the hive was completely empty of stores this would be about two full fills of a bulk feeder (20 litres) but as the bees normally have some honey already in the brood chamber one 10 litre fill may be sufficient.  If in doubt feed more.   

Feeding: At other times

For many reasons bees can need additional feeding at any time of year, perhaps due to a spell of very dry weather in the summer or some other crisis.  In the depths of winter a bag of sugar with a hole in the middle and a cup of water to wet it can be a hive saver if placed over the feeder hole.  In the summer months do not feed with supers on as syrup will easily be stored there.