The Importance of Proper Feeding for Honeybee Health and Colony Success

Honeybees are social insects noted for their capacity to create honey, which serves as a food source for both themselves and humans. They are also significant pollinators, contributing to the health and survival of a variety of plant species. Feeding honeybees can be critical for their survival and well-being at certain times of the year, as well as the eventual success of their colony and honey production.

Honeybees’ natural food source is nectar from flowers, which they use to make honey. But, in times of scarcity, e.g. during a dearth in summer between flows or during the winter months if their supplies run out when it is too cold to fly and even if they did there would be few if any flowers and little to no food of any type for them to benefit from, it may be necessary to augment the bees’ diet.

Sugar syrup and protein supplements are the two major forms of supplemental food that honeybees may be fed.

Glucose Syrup

The most frequent additional food for honeybees is sugar syrup. It is created by combining granulated sugar and warm water in the proportion of two parts sugar to one part water, by volume (e.g. two cups of sugar to one cup of water or two litres of sugar to a litre of water). The syrup should be mixed until the sugar is completely dissolved before being delivered to the bees. It is critical to use pure granulated sugar since alternative sugars, such as brown sugar or honey, might contain contaminants that are harmful to bees.

When giving sugar syrup to honeybees, ensure the syrup is not too hot, as excessive temperatures might kill the bees. The syrup should not be too thick, since this will inhibit the bees from extracting the sugar from the solution and they may store it instead.

Supplements for Protein

Honeybees may require a protein source in addition to sugar syrup, especially during the spring when the colony is developing and new bees are being produced. Pollen replacement, which may be acquired from a beekeeping supply store, is a frequent source of protein for honeybees. When giving pollen replacement, choose a shallow dish or feeder that enables the bees easy access to the food. Be careful not to give too much protein to your bees too early as this may stimulate early egg-laying at a time when there will be no food source to sustain the colony.

Bee Feeding in the Open

When you open feed bees and you set the food, syrup, or protein replacement where any insect with a sense of smell may join in the meal you need to place the feeder a long way from your apiary. The insects attracted to your feeder might include wild bees from an infected hive in the region or wasps and other insects. In general, beekeepers dislike this procedure, although there are exceptions.

If you notify rival insects of your bees’ existence they could attack your hives to get to their honey or in the case of wasps, they may take their larva to feed their own young.

External Feeders

These are placed outside the hive, usually near the entrance, and allow the bees to access the food without disturbing the hive. If they are being used at all they should be placed as far from the hive/s as possible to avoid alerting the hive’s enemies to their location.

External Feeder on Beehive
Can you spot the unwelcome quest at this feeder?

External feeders can take many forms, but they typically consist of a container or reservoir for holding the food, such as sugar syrup, and a mechanism for the bees to access it, such as a small entrance or feeder port. Some types of external feeders are:

  1. Boardman feeder: A shallow tray or jar that fits into a notch in the hive’s entrance. The bees can access the syrup through small holes in the feeder.
  2. Top feeder: A larger container that sits on top of the hive’s inner cover. The bees can access the syrup through small holes in the cover.
  3. Bucket feeder: A bucket or container with a lid that has holes for the bees to access the syrup. This type of feeder can hold a larger volume of syrup than other types.
  4. Bucket Feeder 2: This is simply a bucket of syrup that the bees can feed from. It has no lids and any passing life form has full access to it. Just one warning with this one. Make sure that you put something for the bees to stand on while feeding. It can be floating or fixed like sticks of straw or the like. If you don’t you will lose a lot of bees as they drown in the syrup.

External feeders can be useful for providing supplemental food to the bees during times of dearth or for stimulating brood production in the spring. However, they can also attract pests such as ants or wasps, so it’s important to monitor them regularly and take steps to prevent pest problems.

Talk to your local beekeeping supplies people. They will have a wide variety of options for you.

In-Hive Bee Feeding

It is preferable to feed your bees using a feeder placed within the hives. Attachments for the hive model you’re using are almost always available from suppliers. Just speak with your dealer or visit one of the many websites that offer them. If your bees are short of food during the colder months, it is typically advised that you give them fondant. This is done to prevent the syrup from producing condensation in the hive. It is, nevertheless, practically hard to completely prevent it. While feeding fondant, keep in mind that they will need water to dilute it because it is simply a block of sugar, therefore they will have to dilute it as they eat.

It is critical to monitor honeybee feeding and ensure that they have adequate food to sustain their colony. If the bees do not have enough food, they may swarm or abscond (abandon the hive) in search of a better food supply. January and February are difficult months for bees since the first of the early blossoms are few, and they may hunger. Heft your hive, and if it’s light, add sugar.

It’s also worth noting that honeybees may require various kinds of food at different periods of the year. For example, because there are fewer flowers for them to feed on during the winter, they will require a source of food that supplies both energy and protein. Brood rearing continues throughout the winter in greatly reduced numbers. This is just to maintain a viable colony as some of the bees die off over the winter. There may be a week or so when the queen does not lay eggs.

Beekeepers may supply clean water to the bees in addition to feeding them, which is necessary for the bees to control their body temperature and maintain their hives. To supply water for the bees, a small dish or bird bath filled with clean water can be put at the entrance of the hive. Yet, unless there is a genuine scarcity, bees tend to select their own water sources, frequently choosing the neighbour’s swimming pool or dirty water puddles etc. over the wonderful filtered bucket of water you provide. So, don’t let anyone down. Simply leave the bucket there, and if they require it, they will take it.

NOTE: When feeding and inspecting honeybees, it is important to practise proper cleanliness since illnesses and parasites can readily migrate from one colony to another. To limit the danger of disease transmission, beekeepers should clean and disinfect their feeding equipment after each use.

When is the Proper Time for a Beekeeper to Feed his/her Bees?

Beekeepers typically feed their bees during times of dearth or scarcity of nectar and pollen. This can occur in different seasons depending on the location and climate.

In general, beekeepers may feed their bees in the following situations:

  1. In early spring, when the colony is building up and there may still be a shortage of food this early in the season.
  2. During a nectar dearth in the summer or autumn when there are no flowers blooming and nectar is scarce. Or as some say during the June Gap. This gap may not occur only in June. It may in some years start early or finish late or may not even be noticeable.
  3. When the bees are low on honey stores going into winter or if they run out at any time in the winter.

When feeding bees, beekeepers must be careful to provide the right type of food and in the correct amount. They can use either sugar syrup or commercial bee feed substitutes, such as pollen patties, which are made from a mixture of pollen and sugar.

Sugar syrup is usually made from granulated white sugar and water, and the ratio of sugar to water can vary depending on the season and the needs of the bees. In the spring, a weaker concentration of sugar syrup (1:1 or 1:2 sugar to water ratio) can help stimulate the bees to build up their brood. In the fall, a stronger concentration of sugar syrup (2:1 sugar to water ratio) can help the bees store more food for winter.

When feeding bees, it’s important to avoid feeding them too much or too little. Overfeeding can cause the bees to store excess food, which can lead to issues with pests or disease and may even leave the queen without empty cells to lay her eggs in. Underfeeding, on the other hand, can weaken the bees and make them more susceptible to disease or starvation.

It’s important for beekeepers to monitor the hive’s honey stores regularly to ensure that the bees have enough food to survive. If the bees don’t have enough honey, supplemental feeding with sugar syrup or other bee feed substitutes can help keep the bees healthy and strong.