Since 2010, beekeepers have been encouraged to feed a thin syrup during Spring to encourage early brood rearing. We advise using white granulated sugar instead of brown due to evidence showing brown can cause nosema (bee dysentery).
Many beekeepers feed pollen patties or protein substitutes in the springtime, particularly for new colonies or packages, or when weather limits foraging. This practice can help ensure optimal bee health.
In the wild, worker bees collect pollen by visiting flowers where it accumulates on their legs and bodies. Once there, they comb it off and store it into pollen baskets or corbiculae on their hind legs before returning it to the hive – providing their diet with protein-rich carbohydrates that enable them to withstand any potential mite invasions.
Beekeepers in areas with limited natural pollen may supplement their colonies with additional proteins to encourage brood production, especially during late winter and early spring when natural forage may produce low nectar flows and nectar flows are low. This practice is especially important as a means of protecting bee colonies.
Beekeepers can create their own protein patties by mixing sugar, brewer’s yeast, soy flour, essential oils, dried egg and/or honey together in an oven until fully mixed and baked. However, commercial products like Dadant’s AP23 Pollen Substitute exist to make this task much simpler and faster for beekeepers.
Although placing the patties inside the hive may work, for maximum efficiency they should be placed outside and under some sort of rainproof shelter – such as a roof, cardboard cover over a bucket or similar surface – for example. This will prevent moisture getting in and causing them to get wet and spoil quickly – something bees don’t appreciate! A roof or cardboard placed over an inverted bucket are great places for this.
Sugar syrup can be easily made using equal parts of white (not brown) sugar and water in order to provide quick energy boost for bee colonies in times when nectar or pollen sources become scarce. Sugar syrup also acts as an emergency source of moisture storage during times when nectar sources may not be plentiful enough.
Sugar syrup should be fed to new package or nuc hives upon their launch, to jump start their foraging and encourage comb building. A strong colony may require supplementing their stores prior to winter by feeding an occasional large dose.
Available commercially are ready-made sugar syrups suitable for spring and autumn feeding, although they may cost slightly more. But they save time.
No matter the type of syrup fed to a colony, it is vital that they consume it quickly or else it will accumulate and ferment posing serious risks to their wellbeing. A feeding stimulant such as Honey B Healthy or our very own Hiveworld Brood Powder which adds nutrients directly into their syrup can be helpful, either added at once to their feeders or sprinkled directly over clusters.
At times, even strong overwintered colonies may run low on food in early spring due to weather patterns which prevent bees from accessing natural forage sources. When this happens, supplementation such as sugar syrup, candy boards or fondant may become necessary – Betterbee offers pre-formulated winter patties which contain both sugar and protein to place directly in the hive.
To create sugar syrup, combine equal parts granulated white sugar and warm water in a 1:1 ratio, mixing by weight (not volume) until all of the sugar has been dissolved. Transfer this solution to a feeder placed inside your hive so bees can access it. You may add essential oils like lemongrass or spearmint essential oil (lemongrass or spearmint are good choices) which will reduce robbing, mold growth and provide beneficial bacteria for keeping bees healthy.
Feeding bee colonies that have recently been introduced (via packaged bees or nucs) or when facing changing weather conditions which restrict their foraging abilities is particularly crucial when starting new colonies such as packages or nucs, or when foraging is interrupted due to bad weather. Feeding can help stimulate queen laying, increase comb building and population build-up in new colonies. Once natural forage starts flowing steadily into a colony it should be removed immediately as its foraging activity resumes.