We’re often asked why beekeepers need to supplement feed their bees with sugar syrup. They eat honey, right? Feeding your bees helps nourish a newly established colony or lets an existing colony make it through a tough winter when honey stores are running low.
When to feed throughout the year
This completely depends on where you are located but in general liquid feed supplementation is necessary during periods when honey is running low in the hive such as in late winter or early spring.
Newly Packaged Bees: It is always necessary to start newly installed packages of bees on liquid feed. Sugar water stimulates wax production necessary for comb building, which is especially important for a new beehive. In addition, the bees need the sugar water to fuel their other activity both inside and outside the hive. Continue to feed newly installed packaged bees until they quit taking it up which should be about the same time the first major nectar flow of the season starts.
Extraction season: If harvesting honey during the fall season, supplemental feeding may be necessary when there is a dearth of nectar. After extracting, we highly recommend leaving enough honey on your hive from the spring and summer flow to get your bees at least through late winter. This equates to approximately 2 honey-filled deep supers (9 5/8”) but can vary depending on how large your colony is.
How to make Sugar Syrup
For late winter or early spring feeding, make a 1:1 syrup using 1 pound of water (2 cups) to 1 pound of sugar. If feeding in the fall (if not enough honey was left on the hive after the honey flow), make a 2:1 syrup using 2 pounds of sugar per pound of water.
Completely dissolve the sugar in the water by heating the water on a stove top (the water doesn’t need to boil, it just needs to get warm), add the sugar and stir until the liquid becomes clear.
Bees prefer liquid sugar water to sugar granules for feed because it is easier for them to process. With that being said, it all depends on the temperature. If it is consistently above 50 degrees the bees will take the sugar water. If it is below 50 degrees they will take the solid sugar (in the form of solid cane sugar, fondant, and even candy.