Feeding Honeybees


If bees are short of stores, their brood rearing will reduce and in a desperate case, the bees may abscond or die. We have the ability to feed them to keep them going until they can get some income. Sugar syrup is cheap and easy to prepare. Note that on NO ACCOUNT should bought honey be fed to bees as it might contain diseases.

Thin Syrup. Used as a summer feed and to promote brood rearing.

Thick Syrup. Used to build stores as less water has to be evaporated off before it can be sealed over.

Syrup should not be used as a winter feed as it can cause dysentery. (In Norfolk it can be used from March onwards as the weather warms up and the bees are able to fly).

Bakers Fondant. Can be purchased from a friendly baker and used as a winter or summer feed. It can be as cost effective as making your own candy.

Candy. Made yourself, candy is usually used as a winter feed.

Pollen Substitute. Good to encourage brood rearing in the Spring. Not usually a necessity. My recipe uses easily obtained ingredients from the High Street.

Queen Candy. Used to block the entrance of a queen cage for introduction purposes.

Manufactured bee feeds. These are also available. It is up to you if you want to use them - they can be expensive.

Starving bees.

If you find a starving and listless colony they can be revived within minutes by a few drops of thin syrup – it really is that quick. Syrup can be dribbled onto horizontal comb so the cells have some liquid in them, and the comb replaced by the bee cluster. They will now have enough energy to feed from a contact feeder. Provided the colony is still active and not lethargic, some have poured sugar into a hive (one with a solid floor of course) to revive a colony and some 'keepers put open bags of sugar (split the along the long side) on the top bars of the frames pour a little water in the bags and leave them to it. (Use an empty super around the sugar of course). Sugar will keep the bees alive but pollen is required for brood rearing.

Sugar Syrup Recipe.

The concentrations of sugar to water does not have to be absolutely precise.

Thick syrup: 1 kg of sugar mixes with 1/2 litre of water.

Thin Syrup: 1 kg of sugar mixes with 1 lire of water.

(If thick syrup has too much sugar to all be taken into solution, a bit more water can be sloshed in).

Chances are that you’ll use the same containers or measuring jugs again and again so it is easy to repeat the process once the measuring jug has been marked. Warm or boiling water can be used to speed up the dissolving process but you should leave the syrup to cool to about room temperature before feeding.

Feeding should ideally be given at the end of the day when the bees have stopped flying to prevent robbing. This can be especially apparent at some times of the year, particularly later on when there are lots of bees and little income – and splashing syrup or just opening hives can cause a spate of attempted robbing. Bees will be seen travelling around the apiary looking for a way into one hive then the other. This is especially noticeable around the cone bee escapes in the roof of WBC hives.

Liquid feeds should be given in contact feeders (upturned bucket feeders), purchased rapid feeders or larger Miller or Ashforth type feeders. A home-made feeder can be made using a container with a lid such as a pop-corn bucket. Holes can be drilled in the lid (1 to 1.5 mm drill) or poked through with a sharp nail/pin. A few dozen holes are needed. With all upturned feeders, once the syrup has been put in and the lid put on, the lid should be squeezed as the container is upturned to squeeze some of the air out and then the finger pressure on the lid reduced once the lid is lower-most. In this way there will be little or no syrup dripping out as a partial vacuum has formed. Try with water first. With heating of the syrup and air inside the bucket by the sun, these feeders are known to drip which is not ideal. Unlike the bucket feeders from the commercial suppliers, try to buy clear plastic buckets so you can see how much is left!

Candy can be made by boiling 2.5 kg of sugar with 0.5 litres of water to a temperature of 117 degrees centigrade. It should then be stirred and poured out onto trays. I have uses flat baking trays with cling-film over them. It should solidify within a few seconds. If not, boil it some more! The cling-film keeps the candy moist - you need to put it over the candy too. Place above the feed-hole; make sure that there is a small hole or slits in the underside of the cling-filmed parcel so the bees can find the candy through the feed hole. (If it's going to be cold, put the candy parcel on the top bars so bees can get direct and instant access to the food; cover with insulation and an empty super).

Fermenting. If you find the syrup is fermenting (smell it or stick you finger in and taste it) it should be discarded, and the feeder cleaned out thoroughly to remove the yeast before re-use or it will quickly ferment again. Thymol can be used to stop fermenting.

What if they don’t take the feed and they need it? Syrup does not smell so sometimes it can remain on the hive for a few days before it is found. If your bees are not taking the syrup, a few drops can be run down into the hive so it is found. Once they realise it is there they won’t need reminding again.

With a good ‘flow’ i.e. when lots of nectar is coming in, then it won’t always be taken as nectar is preferred.

Pollen Substitute

There are good 'subs' available however a home-made substitute is quite easy although my assumption is that it is not as good as a commercially made product. It’s very difficult to find a pollen substitute recipe that has ingredients that can easily be obtained as some have a list of hard-to-find ingredients. This one can be made from ingredients that can be purchased in the high street.

Pollen Substitute recipe:-

4oz Brewers Years

4 oz Soya Flour

4 oz Honey (your own, don't use shop-bought honey).

2 oz Sugar.

Procedure: Mix up the ingredients with warmed honey and then add enough water to form a dough. Put into plastic bags and squidge or roll until flat or the shape you want. It will keep in the fridge for a few weeks. I repeat, don’t ever use shop-bought honey as it may contain disease.

When to use.

A lack of pollen will slow colony development so pollen substitute can be used to help spring build-up or in a poor summer when colonies need a little help. In addition, if autumn has been poor, pollen sub will help the colony produce winter bees.

How to use.

Pollen substitute needs to be close to the brood nest so it is best placed on the top bars of the hive. Slit the bag a few times and place slits downwards. The bees will get the feed they want. The bag keeps it moist and don’t be surprised to find the bag ejected in shreds a week or two later.