Feeding Frenzy: A Guide on How to Feed Bees

Welcome bee enthusiasts to the complete guide on feeding bees! Novice beekeepers are usually shocked to learn that ensuring honey bees are well-fed is a standard aspect of caring for them. 

Properly feeding your bees will ensure they last through the longest of Ohio winters and are ready to go in early spring. However, feeding honey bee colonies at the wrong time or giving a beehive the wrong food can have harsh consequences. 

West River Exchange is committed to sustainable beekeeping and promoting bee well-being. We’ll help you navigate feeding honey bees, and you’ll have strong and well-nourished colonies in no time!  

Why Feed Your Bees?

Honey bees are busy ladies who spend most of their energy building the hive’s food stores. Ideally, your apiary will have plenty of honey stores and bee bread. Supplementing your hive’s stored honey with an outside food source is not a regular practice. 

Instead, beekeepers will provide extra food sources in specific scenarios. Here are the times when your little pollinators may need additional help: 

  • Dearth: A shortage of nectar-producing flowers can be devastating to your bees. Dearth can come from pesticides, natural disasters, harsh weather, or other events. If your bees can’t find nectar nearby, they’ll likely swarm. Feeding them may prevent this and allow you time to shore up local nectar supplies. 
  • New hive: Package bees or a nuc colony are new on the block! Their foraging skills may need a little work, but supplementing their food source is normal. (Plus, it will help prevent a swarm.) 
  • Harsh winter months: Winter bees may be less busy but still need to eat. An early, long, or even exceptionally harsh winter can decimate honey stores. In the fall, start seriously monitoring your bee’s food source and be ready to feed as needed. 
  • Spring: Spring feeding may be entirely unnecessary; however, brood rearing picks up in the spring, meaning there are more mouths to feed. You may need to feed the gals before their nectar flow picks up. 

Part of being a beekeeper is becoming one with the bee. You’ll learn to sense when your ladies need a little more food and when they don’t. We’ll give you some tips below.

Bee Buffet: What Do Bees Eat?

Like many creatures, bees require carbohydrates and proteins to thrive. Bees carb load with nectar (which, of course, turns into delicious honey) and bulk up with pollen. Your bee yard should have ample pollen and nectar sources to ensure a happy bee supply. 

Pollen is essential for growing baby bees, so ensure your hives have an adequate supply in the spring.  

From Sugar Water to Pollen Substitutes: Types of Bee Feed

There are better ways to feed your hungry bees than shaking flowers over the hive’s inner cover or brood box. Long ago, beekeepers developed excellent bee food substitutes. Here are the most popular feeding materials: 

  • Sugar syrup: Making feeding sugar is easy. Simply mix one part dry sugar (only use white granulated) and one part clean, distilled water. This mixture is the most common nectar substitute and can be used in most feedings with temperatures above freezing. Remember that the hive’s inside is warmer than the ambient temp.  
  • Fondant: Bee fondant is a nectar replacement that resembles hard candy. It’s typically a mix of sugar, water, and other ingredients like bee nutrients or vinegar. Beekeepers can make it at home or buy it commercially. Bees will crowd around the fondant, slowly melting it and consuming it as needed. Theoretically, this is best for use in very cold winters. However, bees are more likely to toss dry sugar and fondant. 
  • Pollen substitutes: Known as pollen patties, these are best used when bees need help raising their young. They’re easiest to buy commercially. 

Just be careful when feeding. Excess food, especially pollen substitutes, can attract mites and other pests to the hive. Feed only at times of the year when your bees genuinely need the extra support. 

Feeding Time: How to Safely Nourish Your Hive

Now it’s time to feed your bees! Feeling bees the wrong way can stress them out and even put them in danger. Use these step-by-step tips to help this process go smoothly. 

There are two main methods of bee feeding: liquid and solid. Solid feeding is relatively straightforward. A pollen puck or fondant is placed in the hive itself, usually during the spring for pollen feeds or during a harsh winter for fondant feeds. 

There are many, many different forms of liquid feeding, including: 

  • Pail Feeding: Buy or fabricate a pail with a screened lid, fill the bucket with syrup, and place it upside down on an inner cover with a hole. This method will allow bees to access the delicious honey without damaging the hive or attracting pests! 
  • Baggie feeding: Fill a baggie with syrup and place it on the top bars. Pop a rim under the inner cover. Cut a hole in the top of the baggie. Easy peasy.  
  • Frame feeder: A frame feeder is a special hive frame specifically designed to deliver food to your bees. You can periodically fill it without disturbing the hive. 

No matter which form of feeding you’re using, it’s essential to follow these steps:

  1. Be sure that your bees need the extra sustenance.
  2. Disturb the hive as little as possible.
  3. Use a smoker if necessary.
  4. Prep all ingredients before you start the feeding.

Innovative beekeepers are always coming up with new and clever ways to feed their bees. Always remember to put bee health and safety first in all feeding situations, and you’ll be fine. 

Keeping Tabs: Monitoring Your Bees’ Feeding Habits

Most of the time, it’s super simple to monitor your bee’s food intake. Just walk up to the hive and look. It gets a little trickier for solid feeds or when you’ve placed the liquid feed within the hive. 

In these cases, it is best to add food checks to your regular hive inspections. This will lessen the disturbance to your bees. 

In general, you want to ensure the bees are actually eating your food source. If they aren’t, it could indicate a larger issue or improper feed. 

Depending on the situation and the consumption rate, you may need to top up the food source. For example, if your bees are overwintering in harsh conditions after a dearth and guzzling the supplemental food, then you should prepare to top up at least bi-weekly. 

A lot of bee-feeding expertise comes from trial and error. As you gain experience, you’ll learn to adjust feeding practices based on hive health and activity. 

Feeding Faux Pas: Common Mistakes in Bee Nutrition

We all make mistakes, and beekeepers are no exception. Here are some of the typical mistakes that novice beekeepers make: 

  • Feeding bees constantly 
  • Not checking for existing food stores
  • Feeding sugar water in freezing temps
  • Making incorrect sugar-water ratios
  • Not knowing new hives may need supplemental food

Follow these comprehensive tips and techniques to keep your hive healthy through any season. 

Support Hive Health with West River Exchange

There’s nothing better than a self-sufficient hive and full bee bellies. Sometimes, you have to use techniques like feeding in bad seasons, making your own nectar, and checking on bee food stores to ensure your gals are fed and happy. 

We’re here to give you all the advice you need. Plus, access to premier beekeeping equipment, the toughest of bees for sale in Ohio, and even delicious honey (to tide you over until your bees are ready, of course).     

Explore West River Exchange for more resources, supplies, and community support in your beekeeping journey. No one should beekeep alone, so join our family of bee lovers today.