A guide to autumn feeding


It is important to make sure colonies have sufficient stores to last them through the winter until pollen and nectar are again available in the spring.

By September you will probably have harvested honey from your colonies and removed all of the supers. Some beekeepers leave a full super on the hive as winter stores. Either way, you need to be sure there will be enough food to feed the colony for up to six months.


Bees need to be fed when they are still active enough to take large quantities of liquid food into their nest and then process, store and cap it. Aim to complete the majority of your feeding by the end of September.


Use ordinary white cane or beet sugar only. Make the sugar into a heavy syrup so bees have less work to do when processing it. This is made by mixing 1 kg of sugar with 600 ml of water. You can make small batches by putting two kilos of sugar in a mixing bowl, adding 1200 ml of boiling water from a kettle, and stirring until dissolved. This quantity can be placed in large 2.3 litre (4 pint) plastic milk bottles for easy storage and transportation to the hive. To make bigger batches, fill a bucket with sugar to a line drawn on the inside. Add very hot water until it reaches the same level and stir until dissolved.

How much?

It is difficult to determine exactly how much food a colony needs to see it through the winter. Different colonies consume varying amounts, and varying winter conditions can affect their requirements. It is commonly suggested that colonies require total stores of 20–40 kg (44–88 lb). Before feeding, you can estimate existing stores by working on the basis that a British standard deep frame filled on both sides weighs about 2.3 kg (5 lb) and a fully filled 14 x 12 frame weighs 3.5 kg (7.7 lb). Examining frames of existing stores allows you to estimate how much a colony already has and thus how much you need to feed. Some beekeepers give each colony a set quantity of syrup each year, while others keep giving syrup until the bees take no more. When you have finished feeding, heft the hive by lifting it at one side to gauge its approximate weight. It should feel as though it is nailed to the hive stand. Repeating this occasionally throughout the winter will give a rough idea of the remaining stores.


Rapid-type feeders are best for allowing large amounts of syrup to be accessed and removed quickly by the bees. If your bees are in your garden, the small, round feeders are ideal as you can easily refill them each day. These hold about 2.3 litres (4 pints). If your bees are in an out-apiary, larger capacity feeders, such as the Miller and Ashforth designs or the more modern English feeder, are preferable. These can hold up to 6 litres (10.5 pints). Using any of these feeders it is worth dribbling a small amount of syrup down the feed hole and into the hive to encourage the bees to find the syrup and come upwards for more.


Feed all colonies in an apiary at the same time. Give the first feed at dusk so that the bees don’t start searching the apiary for the new source of food. This can encourage them to rob nearby colonies. By the morning, the excitement will have died down. Subsequent top-ups can be given at any time. Don’t spill syrup while filling the feeders. To avoid potential robbers accessing the hive, reduce the size of hive entrances and check all hive parts are sound with no gaps. It is surprising how small a gap bees and wasps can squeeze through!

 Make sure the feeder lid or crownboard is replaced and bees cannot get into the syrup and drown.

Written by Richard Rickitt. This article appears in the September 2019 edition of Bee Craft magazine.

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