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Feeding Your Bees

Yes, we know that your bees feed on nectar and pollen. But what about the times in the year when those resources aren't as plentiful or even available? And if your bees need medication, how are you to be able to provide it to them?

This article deals with the details of how and when to feed your bees when you, as their caretaker, need to step in and supplement their regular sources of food and nourishment.

Spring Feeding

Spring Feeding Guide

Spring feeding is required to supplement a balanced diet for our bees during times when there isn’t any natural sources available and when the weather prevents them from accessing it. We typically feed honey bees in the spring, during prolonged rainy periods, and in the fall.

Feeding in the spring is important and supports our colony’s development in two ways:

  • Colony build up: feeding provides bees with more food and nutrients to support the queen laying when there isn’t a nectar or pollen source available in the natural environment. It can encourage and stimulate early brood build up in your colony.
  • Access to nectar and pollen during times of dearth: Dearth is when there are no sources of natural nectar and pollen in the environment. Dearth occurs at different times during the beekeeping season.

Tip: Remember, if your bees need it, they will use it. When there are plenty of natural sources of nectar and pollen, the bees will take little or no feed. This is okay and normal. We provide them with access to the syrup so that it is there when the weather turns or there are no other pollen and nectar sources.

WHAT TO FEED IN THE SPRING

Syrup 1:1 (Sugar to Water)

In the spring, we feed syrup 1:1 (sugar:water). This light syrup mixture mimics a nectar flow, provides carbohydrates to the bees, and plays an important role in spring bee colony development. Typically liquid feed requires temperatures of 10°C outside. If the syrup is too cold, the bees will not take it. Your colony can consume 1lb to 1.5lbs every few hours on some days. You need a lot of syrup for spring feeding.

To mix the syrup, use regular granulated white sugar. Syrup needs to be made by weight. You want to make sure you dissolve sugar into water and boil at least one minute to breakdown molecules in the sugar to create the syrup. Breaking down these molecules, makes it easier for the bees to digest the syrup.

spring syrup 1:1: 1 gallon of water + 8.3 lbs of sugar

Pollen Patties

These can be put on an overwintered hive in early spring (usually mid-March). Pollen patties provide protein and amino acids to your bees' diet. Tip: when placing a pollen patty in your hive, it should be placed in the top box on frames near the cluster, but not on top of the cluster.

Other Vitamins and Supplements

Honey B Healthy can be added to your syrup in early spring as a feeding stimulant. You can also try our very own Hiveworld Brood Powder that adds nutritional supplements to your hive by sprinkling it directly on the cluster of your bees. Both of these add extra nutrients to your bees' diet.

WHAT TYPE OF FEEDER TO USE

In the spring, use the small 5 KG pail feeder or a frame feeder. Either option is fine, and it's usually a beekeeper's preference as to which one works best for them. If using a frame feeder, place it adjacent to the bees so it keeps the syrup warmer. If using a pail feeder place it over the hole in the inner cover.

Note: If you have package bees, it is recommended to use a frame feeder. It’s easier for the bees to access if the temperatures fluctuate.

Pail Feeder

Pro Feeder

WHEN AND HOW LONG TO FEED

We recommend feeding syrup right up until the main flow, which is typically the longest day (approximately June 21). The weather can fluctuate a lot in the spring, and the nectar and pollen sources will come and go too. If there are no good flying days, bees are unable to access natural sources of nectar and pollen.  

OTHER SPRING MANAGEMENT REMINDERS

Fall Feeding

Fall Feeding Guide

 

In the fall, you need to feed your bees to ensure they have enough stores for overwintering. As temperatures cool, there are limited natural sources of nectar and pollen. To overwinter, you need enough bees to form a sizeable cluster. If your hive isn’t up to weight, you need to feed the colony to ensure they have enough stores.

Hive health and weight is key for prepping for overwintering.

  • A two-box Langstroth hive needs to be approximately 150 lbs to overwinter in Alberta and other northern regions.
  • Check your provincial apiculturist’s overwintering guidelines to prepare your hive properly before taking honey.

WHAT TO FEED IN THE FALL

Syrup 2:1 (Sugar to Water)

Sugar syrup provides carbohydrates to the bees and supplements the lack of nectar sources in the fall. Syrup provides food for the bees and a nectar source to create more stores for winter. During the winter months they will feed on these stores.

  • To mix the syrup, measure 2:1 (sugar:water) in terms of weight.
  • Use hot or warm water to dissolve the sugar. It can be a tedious task to get it to mix well as it is a thicker syrup. The better your sugar is dissolved, the better the syrup is for the bees. It will also be less work for the bees to dehydrate the honey.
  • Fall syrup 2:1: 1 gallon of water + 16.6 lbs of sugar

Tip: Bees will take they syrup if they need it.

Pollen Patties

These provide protein for the bees. It is also a source of vitamins, fats and minerals. Bees use pollen to feed the brood they are rearing to become the colony that overwinters in the hive. It is also stored in the comb around the honey and brood nest to provide a source of pollen for spring when they begin to rear brood again. Follow package directions for pollen patties, but usually two patties on a double box hive is recommended.

These are indicated as suitable for feeding in both spring and fall.

Here's a photo to show you what they look like and their suggested placement in the top box on frames near the cluster, but not on top of the cluster.

 

Medicated Syrup with Fumigilan-B

If you need to treat your bees for Nosema Apis or Ceranea. there is an easy way to do it with your syrup. Simply add Fumigilan-B to the syrup mixture during your second feeding. This will promote having the bees take the medication in to their gut instead of storing it immediately. Mixing

Tip: Make slurry with medication and water before adding to the feeding pail. Mix luke warm water and blend the Fumigilan powder until it is mixed well. Then add it to the syrup mixture in the pail.

Adding Other Vitamins and Supplements

We also recommend adding Honey-B Healthy to your syrup (place about 2 tbsp in a pail feeder). It stimulates feeding in your hive with natural ingredients (sucrose, water, spearmint oil, lemongrass oil, and lecithin).

Sugar Fondant Candy (Winter Candy)

Place Hiveworld’s winter candy in the top box of your hive before doing your winter wrapping. Winter candy provides your bees with an extra source of food and nutrients for their winter diet. Place candy on the top frames of the hive and the bees will use it when/if their stores are running low. You can replace winter candy during the winter on a warmer day.

WHAT TYPE OF FEEDER TO USE

A fall feeding pail (15kg) should be used on the outside of a hive for fall feeding. An inside feeder is not recommended as it takes up a lot of space that the bees can use to create more stores for overwintering.

15kg Fall Feeding Pail

WHEN AND HOW LONG TO FEED

Weather really determines the feeding window beekeepers have in the fall. It needs to be 14°C for the bees to want to take syrup. Feed 2:1 (sugar:water) until your bees won’t take anymore and/or it gets too cold. You should start fall feeding by the first weekend in September.

You will do at least three feeds before it’s time to wrap. Complete the first feed in the first two weeks of September.

Fall Feeding Tips

  • Make your first feeding regular fall 2:1 syrup.
  • For your second feeding, if treating for Nosema, make a medicated syrup with Fumigilan-B. Bees are more likely to eat it rather than store it.
  • For your third or last feed, use regular fall 2:1 syrup. Keep feeding until it's time to wrap.

If your bees are still underweight, you may need to amalgamate a weaker hive with a stronger hive. You may also consider feeding fondant bee candy over the winter months. Place the fondant candy over the hole of the inner cover and add more over the winter on a warmer day.

OTHER FALL MANAGEMENT REMINDERS

  • Check for a good brood pattern to ensure you have a healthy queen in early September. If you need to requeen, you still have time. Order queens.
  • Check and test for disease (varroa mites) and pests. Refer to your Beekeeping In Western Canada and Honey Diseases and Pests books.
  • Check your mite load and treat if you have any mites. It is important to go into winter with no mites. If you have mites they will feed on your new brood, and you need those new bees for overwintering. Treat your mites!
  • Plan to wrap your hive around Thanksgiving weekend (weather pending). If you do it too early, the bees will consume more food and energy to cool the hive. Better to use that energy to create stores while they still can.