In bee-Utopia, feeding is not necessary. The colony collects sufficient nectar during the summer months to feed all the bees and a surplus which they convert into honey.

Bees at fondantThe colony’s honey store is enough to keep it going through the following winter until the nectar starts to flow again, in spring.

In reality, there are times when things are not quite so simple. Bad summer weather, a late spring, the beekeeper taking too much honey, robbing by other bees or wasps, etc, can all leave a colony without sufficient food.

If a beekeeper’s colony is in danger of starving, the beekeeper should feed.

Routinely check the available honey stores when opening a hive and note how much is present on your colony record.

A suggestion:

Estimate the amount in terms of full (deep) frames in the brood box and full (shallow) frames in the supers and make a note of each separately on your colony record. A full National brood frame holds around 2.3 kg of honey and a full National super frame holds about 1.2 kg of honey, so you can work out the total weight of stores in a hive.

Learn to recongise when stores may become short:

A large colony has more mouths to feed, so will consumer more honey than a small colony.

Even a short spell of bad weather in the active season when the colony is strong can cause stores to run out, especially if the beekeeper has just taken a honey crop.

Early spring is a time to be vigilant, when the bees are active collecting pollen but there is very little or no fresh nectar to be had and last season’s stores are getting low.

The June gap and other gaps in forage availability. Learn about the forage in your area and keep an eye on what is in flower and where the bees are foraging.

What to feed:

Do not feed honey back to the bees as this can spread disease and honey that has been heated can be harmful to bees.

Always use white sugar or a specially formulated bee feed. Brown sugar is not good for bees.

Specially formulated bee feeds (in the form of syrup or candy) are inverted sugars and therefore easier for the bees to use than homemade syrup or candy.

Use thin or thick syrup or candy/fondant at appropriate times, to mimic the food that the bees would naturally be using at that time. For example, a thin syrup (800 g sugar to 1 litre of water in the spring and summer to mimic nectar; thick syrup (1.6 kg sugar to 1 litre of water) in the late summer/early autumn to mimic stores close to being capped; candy or fondant in winter/early spring to mimic stored honey.

Feeding syrup in winter when the bees cannot evaporate the water can cause dysentery and the syrup will often ferment in the hive.

Feeding fondant in the summer/autumn will give the bees food for immediate consumption but will not encourage them to move it into the brood box to store it.

Use syrup to encourage bees to draw out wax such as when carrying out a shook swarm or putting a nucleus colony into a full-sized hive.

Only feed when there is no danger of contaminating supers from which you may harvest honey.

How to feed - types of feeders:

Priming hole

Always use a feeder and feed within the hive. Never leave feed outside the hive to be collected as this will encourage robbing.

When feeding, reduce the size of the hive entrance to help the bees guard against robbing. The entrance can be reduced to a single bee space if necessary, especially for a small colony or nucleus colony.

It’s a good idea if possible to put the feed on in late afternoon as the sudden appearance of food inside the hive can result in foragers that have not found the feed yet flying around the hive and becoming excited and agitated, which can lead to robbing.

Sugar syrup can be fed using a contact feeder or a rapid feeder.

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