When to Stop Feeding Bees for Winter
If your hives are full with plenty of stored honey, feeding bees for Winter may not be a major concern. Honestly, that is what we all hope for – the best food for bees is their own honey. Alas, this is not always the reality. Sometimes bee colonies need help. Feeding bees sugar water is the most common way to provide food. But, it is vital to understand the timing – knowing when to start and knowing when to stop feeding bees for Winter food storage.
Is Feeding Bees a Good Idea?
First let’s consider is you need to feed your hives. Some beekeepers feel strongly about the issue of feeding bees …..or not feeding.
However, Mother Nature can be tough and our bees are subject to many uncontrollable factors. Colonies that fail to store abundant honey resources should be fed or they will be lost.
Should you feed colonies in need or let them die? Ultimately, that beekeeper decision is yours to make.
If your colony is low on food stores with only weeks to go before Winter, failure to start feeding the bees will certainly result in colony death.
Why is Winter Food for Bees so Important?
A honey bee is an insect but unlike some other bees – they do not hibernate. Honey bees cluster inside the hive during the cold days of Winter.
Fortunately, they have a marvelous strategy that allows the bee colony to survive Winter on stored nectar that has been converted to honey.
But, they must have enough food stored to last during the cold months. And, they must have honey in the right locations.
With plenty of resources, they fill their top boxes and backfill to the brood nest. This provides an “avenue” of honey throughout the hives.
Reasons Colonies May Not Be Ready for Winter
In many areas, long hot summers with little rain can lead to a reduced amount of nectar. In addition to seasonal dry spells, weather pattern changes can bring drought or flooding rain.
Late Summer storms can prevent worker bees from harvesting available nectar. All weather issues affect the foraging behavior of our honey bee colonies.
Those beekeepers who experience a Fall honey flow must guard against harvesting too much honey. Sometimes new beekeepers do not understand the patterns of honey production.
Do You Need to Feed Every Colony Before Winter?
No, not every colony will need to be fed. If your honey bee hives are heavy with stored honey, great ! That is the condition that we beekeepers strive to achieve.
Strangely, 1 colony can be vastly different from the hive sitting right beside it. This is because even though these 2 hives share a foraging region, they are still different genetically. Some bees thrive more than others.
Do Your Bees Have Enough Stored Honey for Winter?
How much honey do your bees need for Winter? That is dependent on your location, the duration of Winter in your region, and to a degree the genetics of your bees.
Some kinds of honey bees overwinter with a bigger population, therefore they need to store more food. Italians are known for over-wintering with larger numbers of bees.
In general, any honey bee colony that lives in a region with some Winter cold will need a minimum of 60# (60 pounds) of stored honey. Some colonies need much more.
Connect with local beekeepers through your state agricultural departments. Or, find beekeepers online who live in a similar climate.
When to Begin Feeding Your Hives for Winter Stores?
If you live in a region that does not have a heavy dependable Fall nectar flow, begin feeding 6 weeks before cold weather arrives.
This is plenty of time to get the bees ready. With warm temperatures you may be able to get the job done in 3-4 weeks. If depends on how much feeding your hives need.
I always do a food check on my hives, 4 weeks before the first frost date. That gives me 4-6 weeks before regular cold arrives to make adjustments.
All of this is assuming, of course, that you have a healthy colony with enough workers to get the job done.
Fall Nectar Flows Affect Timing of Feeding Bees
When I harvest my honey crop, I always leave the bees plenty of their honey. After years of keeping bees in this location – I know they are not going to make any excess honey after late June.
Also, summer weather conditions may cause the honey already stored for winter to be consumed in July and August!
Where there is a heavy Fall nectar flow, a colony of bees may be able to make more honey to replenish their stores for winter. There may even be some excess depending on where you live.
Don’t have a Fall nectar flow? If you believe that your hives are not on tract to have a full food super box (or 2 if you live in a very cold region), you need to begin feeding by late Summer.
Successful Fall feeding of colonies in need must begin well before Winter cold arrives. This is especially important if the colony is low in population.
Feeding Bees to Prepare for Winter
Bee feeders that can be placed inside the hive – with another box around the outside temporarily are easy to use. Internal feeders do a better job of feeding your bees fast because those in the hive get all the food.
Also, bees can access those feeders better as the days begin to grow cool. Bees only forage outside during the warmer hours of Fall days.
Open Feeding of Bulk Bee Hives
Open feeders are usually large (at least 3-5 gallons) and can be made in several different ways. It is not as economical as inside feeders and can cause bee robbing if placed close to your hives.
You can make your own bucket feeder – for out yard feeding. If you use this method, place the feeding station well away from the bee yard. This method becomes less useful as the weather cools.
What to Feed Bees for Winter Stores
Large commercial beekeepers often feed High Fructose Corn Syrup (yeah, I know). This is because of the prohibitive cost of feeding thousands of colonies.
Any type of food that keeps the bees alive is better than letting them starve. Luckily for me, I am a small-scale beekeeper and can take a gentler approach.
Pure cane sugar mixed with water (sugar water) is the food of choice for honey bees.
For Fall feeding in prep for Winter, feed a 2:1 mixture. This is 2 parts sugar to 1 part water.
This bee syrup recipe is thick and encourages the colony to store it for Winter.
We must be cautious when feeding bees. During a time of low nectar availability, it will be easy to start a bee robbing frenzy.
Take care to avoid spilling sugar water around the hives and place any outside feeders well away from your hives.
Last Minute Feeding Plans for Winter Hives
If you really get behind, you may consider using a winter bee patty on your colony. This is not the best solution but it may prevent starvation.
When to Stop Feeding Bees for Winter
Once your hive has enough stored honey for a normal Winter in your region, stop feeding them.
Yes, you may decide to put on a winter patty or fondant as extra insurance or use my emergency sugar cake feeding recipe.
What about sugar water? You should not plan on feeding bees sugar syrup in cold weather.
If you live in a cold region, it is best to remove any sugar water feeders from the hive when the daily temperatures are below 60 degrees F.
Final Thoughts on Feeding Bees for Winter Survival
No beekeepers want to let their bees starve – yet that is exactly what many do.
By procrastinating late season inspections, when they finally do open the hive right before Winter – it may be too late.
Feeding honey bees for winter involves …well… feeding them well before it gets cold !!
Beekeepers who fail to plan and start feeding the honey bees weeks in advance of cold weather may lose colonies.