Feeding Bees in Fall
Proper Fall feeding of your bees is very important. Before cold weather arrives to stay or that killing frost hits, we want our honey bees to be prepared. Some colonies will benefit from being fed sugar water . Those without enough food stored for Winter may not survive without help.
A common beekeeping question is “How much food do my bees need for Winter”. Sadly that is difficult to answer as each hive location is different.
This is the time you have to check with local agriculture agencies or bee clubs to find out the recommendations for your region.
At any rate, unless you live in tropical Florida, one deep hive body is not enough room for bees and food storage.
Plan on having a “food box” for the bees that is full of honey before cold weather arrives.
This size of that box : shallow, medium or deep will depend on your local weather conditions.
Goals for Fall Beehive Status
By mid October (Upstate SC), the cold weather is here. Or, it will be soon and most beekeeping jobs should be finished.
Hopefully, all colonies have been inspected and found to have a good queen. They are “queen right”.
She may not be laying a lot right now but she is present and seems healthy and capable.
Varroa mite counts are low and any colony in need has been treated successfully for mite problems.
In my region, the colony needs at least 1 super full of honey plus some in the deep box for Winter. If the colony is in good shape, my Fall feeding is done.
Sugar Water in Later Summer/Fall
Feeding of sugar water must be completed well before cold weather arrives. Once it begins to get colder ( in the 50’s F), the colony will not be able to make the best use of the liquid feed.
Do not feed sugar water in late Fall or Winter. The bees will probably not be able to use it and you will cause more problems inside the hive with excess moisture etc.
Feeding sugar water can be a good tool in honey bee management but it is not always the answer.
Late Summer or even Fall can be a time of nectar dearth. Blooms do not always mean nectar is present. The beekeeper can not assume – you have to check the food reserves of your colonies.
Any hives that are not full of stores in the food super should be fed 2:1 sugar water. (2 parts sugar to 1 part water). It is best to feed inside the hive as everyone is hungry this time of year.
If you must practice open feeding, have the station far away from your hives. If a lot of fighting is present, you may need more than 1 feeding station.
This is not the most economical strategy, as you will be feeding every wasp and yellow jacket in the area too-but it is better than having colonies starving.
Fall Hive Inspections in the Bee Yard
It is the lucky beekeeper who finds the colonies full of honey and ready for Winter. You should not have to feed bees year-round, though in some years it sure feels like we do.
Sometimes things happen due to weather conditions or late Fall swarming that leaves a healthy colony little food reserves.
Perhaps you choose to not feed bees at all-no matter the circumstances. That is your choice. But, if they starve due to a lack of food that may not have been their fault. It’s on you.
Food Storage and Food Placement in the Hive
Living in Upstate South Carolina near the mountains, our Winter are relatively mild. Freezing temps are common with a few nights of single digits.
It is rare for my region to have a prolonged period of bitter cold. In some ways this is to the advantage of the honey bee colony. A good thing but bees do eat more in mild weather.
I have added a strategy to my method of preparing the colonies for Winter. This has improved the survival rates of my bees.
A strong, healthy colony can survive cold temperatures with ease as long as they have honey stores within reach. That term “within reach” is very important.
Your colonies can starve to death with a full box of honey on top of the hive, if the cluster is in the box below and unable to move up.
Fall colonies of marginal size have a chance to survive in regions with mild Winter. This is true “if” they have food stores constantly within reach.
My Mix for Feeding Bees in Fall
The large yellow bowl contains sugar – just pure cane sugar that has been dampened enough (with sugar water (1/2 cane sugar-1/2 water) to make it start to cling together.
I want the mixture to stick together but not be too liquid. How much you want to make will depend on how many hives you need to feed.
You can store it in the frig for a while if you need to. When the Winter stays warm, I sometime add a bit more to the hives?
To prepare your mix, use a large mixing bowl – one with a lid can be handy as well so you can store the extras in the refrigerator.
Caution: this can get a bit messy. Ok, it’s darn messy so be prepared. And don’t do it outside! You may have a “honey bee” audience that you don’t want.
Pour a 5# bag of pure cane sugar into the bowl. I suggest you use only white pure cane sugar for this recipe of Fall prep feeding. Bees find it more digestible than generic sugars that are made with beets.
Have a sugar syrup mixture of 1:1 sugar water in another container. It’s not necessary but if you have some, mix a little Honey B Healthy into the 1:1 sugar water in your spray bottle.
Using a big spoon, slowly add sugar water until the dry sugar just begins to mold together. You do not want it to get too loose but remain firm and mold-able.
This mix also works well for emergency late Winter/early Spring feeding. If you like in a climate where the weather warms enough to be able to open the hive briefly, it can save colonies.
Feeding Fall Bees With Sugar on Their Heads
My honey bees seem to do best when they have food stored over head. I want the brood nest in the bottom with some honey and a full box of honey stores on top.
I apply my feeding strategy to all of my colonies. But the smaller borderline colonies (also called “marginal” colonies) are my biggest concern.
They may or may not survive the winter regardless of food stores. But, I want to ensure they have the best chance.
Where to Place the Bee Feeding Mixture in the Hive
Before going to the bee yard, I have cut half size pieces of newspaper. You can use a single layer or double to hold the sugar in the hive.
I can do this for all of my hives if I wish. Now that cold weather has arrived the threat of having ants in my hive are less.
My standard hive configuration is one deep box and one shallow (I call this box a food super). To apply my mixture, I remove the shallow and gently smoke the bees down from the tops of the brood super frames.
I place a piece of newspaper on the top bars. Then the sugar mixture is spooned onto the newspaper. How much to use? That depends on the size of the colony.
In general I use the amount of 3 large canning spoons – spread out into a thick patty. Now, the shallow super is set back on.
The top super is slowly wiggled into place. This allows the wet sugar mixture to squeeze up between the frames. The boxes must fit back together tightly.
In the end, I often have 2 sugar cakes – one between my deep and shallow and one under the inner cover. This helps the bees transition from one box to the next.
When I am finished, each cluster of bees has “emergency” feed right above the cluster.
Maybe this will provide some much needed help if an extended period of several cold days prevents the cluster from moving to more stored honey.
Taking the extra steps of properly feeding bees in Fall, when needed, results in fewer dead bees in Winter.
No matter which method you use, make sure your fall hive feeding plan is in place for those colonies that need it.