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What should I feed my bees, and how often? When should I not feed them?

I heard a YouTuber say, I don’t remember which one – but it always stuck with me, that bees are like children. You teach them to be the kind of forager they’re going to be. If you overfeed your bees, they’re going to be lazy because they never really need to travel far for feed. But the supplemental feed is only meant to be supplemental. Nothing can replace the real thing: the nectar in the flowers around them.

Of course, it’s always a good idea to feed your bees especially in the times of the year where the colonies grow, and they may not be bringing in enough to store, and when your hives are in seasons in which the wildflowers are no longer in bloom (dearth), just in case they do not have enough stores in their frames.

Bees should be fed in the following situations:

  • New swarm
  • New package or nuc
  • Recently moved hive
  • Low honey stores approaching winter
  • Low bee population
  • Dearth

Keep in mind that what they are eating also translates to what you are eating in their honey.

I put my hives next to my orchard, where there are plenty of blueberries and clover and peaches for them to graze on… but there are also tons of other flowers that you can plant that they love for nectar.

So, back to the supplemental feeding… what should you feed your bees?

The answer (as usual) is different depending on who you talk to, but here’s what I do:

Spring/Fall: Sugar Syrup (along with planting flowers)

Winter: Candy Boards

DIY honey bee sugar syrup just simple sugar and water! The ratios depend on the time of year, and you can also add additives/supplements. I use Honey B Healthy as a feeding stimulant, I wish I had used it sooner. It’s great for when you first buy a nuc and want to help your new colony thrive, and it’s awesome for when you’re in a dearth, which happens ALOT here in the PNW.

Anyway, here’s the ratios and when to use them! It is important to use just plain white granulated sugar, not brown sugar, molasses, sorghum, or fruit juices.

You can measure the sugar and water by either weight or volume as there is no need to be 100% exact about the sugar concentration.

Pouring sugar into saucepan with warm water to make sugar syrup to feed your bees

Sugar Syrup Ratios

Here are the standard sugar syrup recipes you will see for spring, and for fall.

1:1 RatioSpring Syrup

1 part of sugar to 1 part of water — measured by weight (known as 1:1). The 1:1 syrup is generally used to:

  • supplement honey stores
  • stimulate colonies to rear brood
  • encourage drawing of comb foundation, particularly in spring

Mixing Chart:

1:1 (Feed in Spring)SugarWater
8 ¼ pounds
(16 ½ cups)
1 gallon
(128 ounces)
4 pounds
(8 cups)
½ gallon
(64 ounces)
2 pounds
(4 cups)
1 Quart
(32 ounces)
1 pound
(2 cups)
1 Pint
(16 ounces)

2:1 RatioFall for Winter Syrup

2 parts of sugar to 1 part of water (known as 2:1). The stronger syrup is used for food when honey stores in the hive are low (used in fall as the bees will store it for winter).

Mixing Chart:

2:1 (Feed in Fall)SugarWater
16 ¾ pounds
(34 cups)
1 gallon
(128 ounces)
8 pounds
(16 ¼ cups)
½ gallon
(64 ounces)
4 pounds
(8 cups)
1 Quart
(32 ounces)
2 pounds
(4 cups)
1 Pint
(16 ounces)

Feeding Bees in Winter: Bee Candy

Once daytime temperatures drop below 57 degrees stop feeding liquid syrup and switch to a solid sugar board: Bee Candy.

Bee candy is a type of food made for bees to eat during the winter months when food is scarce. It is typically made from a mixture of sugar and water that is boiled and then cooled to form a hard candy. There are several recipes for making bee candy, including a basic recipe that involves boiling sugar and water together, and a fondant recipe that involves adding apple cider vinegar and Real Salt to the mixture. It is important to use only pure cane sugar and to avoid using corn syrup and cream of tartar as they may be toxic or genetically modified.

Bee Candy Recipe

This is a recipe that I found onlinethat worked for me after several failed attempts from other recipes. It’s from “Funny Bug Bee Blog“:

Ingredients:

10lbs Granulated white sugar

1qt Water

1 Tblsp lemon juice

1 Tbspn White vinegar (anti-fungal and anti-microbial)

1 tsp Honey-B-Healthy (optional)

Molds: Paper Plates or candy board feeder

Directions:

  • Prepare your Molds: paper plates or candy board feeder. The best option is to use a candy board feeder, you can make one yourself or buy them online. But the bees will use the paper plates just fine.
  • Add water, lemon juice, and vinegar to a pot and bring it to a simmer.
  • Add the sugar to the pot. Make sure to keep stirring it until the sugar dissolves into solution (you can see no more sugar crystals). If all the sugar won’t go into solution add 1/4 cup water and stir. Keep doing this until all the sugar is dissolved.
  • Add a candy thermometer to the pot and turn the heat up to medium-high. You can stop stirring at this point.
  • Let the mixture boil until the temperature on your candy thermometer reads 250f.
  • Remove the pot from the stove.
  • Spray your molds with canola oil, or if you do not have a sprayer, use a paper towel soaked in canola oil to rub them down, coating all surfaces.
  • CAREFULLY pour the mixture into the molds. I say CAREFULLY because what you have now in your pot is candy napalm which upon contact with anything cool, like your fingers or arms, will instantly become part of your skin and then harden before you have a chance to wipe it off, continuing to burn you for several more minutes!
  • Allow the candy to cool completely, then pop it out of the molds. You can store the cakes with layers of wax paper between them for several months away from bugs, mice, etc.

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