What to feed…
Sugar can be given as either syrup or fondant.
Syrup needs to be in about 50% concentration or less if the bees need to consume it immediately.
To make 50% syrup add 1 part sugar to 1 part water, this can be by weight or volume, it does not have to be precise.
Stir well and allow to settle for 30 minutes, repeat twice if necessary. The syrup must be clear but may have a very pale straw colour.
Syrup will naturally start to ferment and cause dysentery so we recommend the addition of Hive Alive.
Making syrup of higher concentration is neither necessary nor economical.
Sugar must be pure refined granulated white cane or beet sugar and nothing else.
Never use any other sort of sugar such as unrefined or brown sugar or syrups, it gives bees terrible dysentery.
Fondant is difficult and uneconomical to make so is best purchased.
When to feed…
Bees become less active and stay clustered together as temperatures go below about 14ºC, 57ºF so they will be less inclined to access a feeder.
The bees also respond to syrup in the same way as they do to an income of nectar causing excitement with foraging bees scouting nearby for the source of the income and also stimulates bees to increase the amount they feed the queen which increases her rate of egg laying.
Syrup is best given to colonies in the evening when flying has stopped. This will reduce scouting foragers and the chances of robbing.
Avoid spilling syrup because it can start a robbing frenzy when it is found by scouting bees.
Therefore syrup should only be fed during the normal active season and not when the bees are inactive in winter.
Fondant can be given in winter although it can be used at any time of year and does not cause robbing or excite the colony.
Colonies sometimes fail in spite of the best efforts of the beekeeper but there is no need for a colony to die from starvation, it is fully preventable. It can happen at any time of year so colony stores should be assessed at every hive inspection to ensure there is at least enough to last until the next inspection. As a rule of thumb, erring on the safe side, a strong colony can consume 1 pound of honey stores per day. If in doubt feed syrup in spring or summer and fondant in autumn or winter.
Spring and Summer feeding…
Newly started nucleus colonies, any small colony, newly hived swarms and artificial swarms will all need to build new comb and fill their brood boxes. In these cases, if there is no steady nectar flow, feeding with 50% syrup will be necessary if the colony is to expand and grow as large as possible before the approach of winter. Do not over feed syrup in these cases or else the bees will start storing it in the space needed by the queen for laying eggs so ration feeding to 1 gallon per week.
The colony cannot be overfed at this time of year so if there is any doubt provide syrup. This can be 50% concentration, it is not necessary to make higher concentration. It is important for the colony to process and store all the syrup it needs before the weather becomes too cold for them to take it so start feeding as soon as any honey harvest has been taken in August. Syrup can be continually supplied until the colony stops taking it, usually when the nights become colder.
Fondant can be fed in the same way, replenishing as necessary but it can also be used throughout winter.
The most commonly used is the plastic 4 pint rapid feeder. The bees must crawl up through a chimney into the feeder to access the food. The feeder is placed over a feeding hole in the crown board so the bees have access to the central chimney. Dribble a little syrup down the chimney so the bees find the feeder quickly as they clean up the dribbled trail of syrup. Filling these feeders is easily done without disturbing the bees and the access can be restricted so feeding can be rationed. It is important to ensure that no robbers can access the feeder or the food so an empty box or feeder eke must be used to house the feeder so the hive roof can be replaced. There are also large capacity box versions such as the Adam Feeder that fit on the hive instead of the crown board so they do not need an eke. They are very useful when feeding honey cappings back the colony after harvesting. Frame feeders are open top feeders designed to fit inside the hive in place of a frame in close contact with the bees without needing a feeder eke. They are especially useful for feeding small colonies and nucleus hives. Be wary of upside down bucket feeders, known as contact feeders. They can cause problems when temperature changes make them discharge, or 'glug' the syrup onto the colony with disastrous results. We do not recommend them.
Fondant does not require a feeder, simply make a hole in the bag and place it so the hole is over a feeding hole.
Remember that every year is unique, every locality is different and no two colonies are the same so every hive should be treated as an individual and managed accordingly.