On Feeding Bees

There seem to be varying schools of thought on feeding bees. Some say, “Don’t feed unless absolutely necessary” (C.C. Miller, A Thousand Answers to Beekeeping Questions 1917). My mentor Dale Large explained that harsh winters require beekeepers to feed honeybees at least a few times. In our case, a few of the feedings were considered “emergency feedings.” This winter has been exceptionally mild on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  We call it the “winter that never was.” As a result, it’s been necessary to feed the bees on a half-a-dozen occasions. Each time, we tried different variations of sugar water in varying degrees of “thickness.”

During the colder months the feeding recipe Dale uses involves a candy substance that includes vitamins for the bees. When the temperatures reached 60 to 75 degrees consistently, we fed the bees simple syrup in bucket feeders.

The colder the temperature outdoors, the more compact the feeding method. Bucket feeders create a lot of air in the hive and it’s not advisable to use them when temperatures reach below 45 degrees.

According to the American Bee Journal, “Feeding bees in the late fall and early winter goes against the normal cycle, yet the bees benefit by having more resources in the hive before winter begins.” Even though we just had the winter that never was, we found it was necessary to feed the bees so the colonies didn’t die of starvation. Also, honeybees raise more brood when fed.

One Gallon Bee Feeding recipe:
Use a gallon plastic milk jug
Mix ½ gallon of warm water to 5lbs of sugar
Shake, revisit in an hour, shake again

Tip: In winter months, add a tablespoon of ground sea salt to prevent the solution from freezing. Pour into a top hive feeder, and place on top of inner lid, surround with brood box and lid.

Five Gallon Bee Feeding recipe:
Use a 5 gallon container
2 ½ gallons of water
paint stirrer
25 lb bag of sugar

Candy Boards:
A fondant-type candy was made from simple recipes, molded into a wooden frame and put on top of the colony. A recipe commonly used to make sugar candy is:
15 pounds of sugar
3 pounds of glucose or white syrup
4 cups of water
One half teaspoon of cream of tartar

Dissolve sugar in water by stirring and boiling the mixture until the temperature of the syrup is at 242°F. Let it cool to 180°F and beat [until] thick. Pour into molds and allow to harden.

In the Mid-Atlantic region, early fruit bloom begins by late April and early May, and there is a dramatic increase in the amount of food available for the bees to gather. The queen will begin laying 1500 eggs or more per day. This results in a pound of new bees every few days.

This was my first season with bees. I enjoyed learning something new and sharing it with others just getting started. We had a very strong beginning as that has given me a lot of hope for raising bees into the future. The most enjoyable part of raising bees has been sharing the honey with my friends and family. Everyone has enjoyed hearing my stories, and my friends and their children have (in some cases) learned about beekeeping for the very first time.

If you want to learn about how I set up the hives and read about the entire process, start with “On Becoming a Beek”.