Some beekeepers feed their colonies sugar syrup during fall or early winter to provide additional sustenance for starving bees. This strategy often serves as an insurance against their starvation.
Feeding sugar syrup to bees during cold weather can be difficult given its fluctuating temperatures, potentially leading to mold-laden syrup which cannot be eaten by bees.
Feeding Sugar Syrup
If a colony has enough honey stores to last them through Winter without needing additional sustenance from sugar syrup feedings, then generally this would not be necessary. But in cases of low stores entering Winter or if weather prevents bees from foraging for food sources such as nectar sources, sugar syrup feeding may help ensure their survival.
For sugar syrup feed, the most efficient approach is to place a sugar cake on top bars of hive and pour white table sugar onto it. Bees will consume the cake and convert it into honey before storing it away in their cells.
As alternative methods of feeding sugar syrup during Winter are becoming increasingly common, other feeding mechanisms include frame feeders (also called division board feeders), contact feeders and Miller feeders can be utilized. These containers feature reservoirs filled with syrup that require floats in order to avoid spillage; however these containers can become difficult to use as temperatures change throughout the day and night and cause the syrup to drip from them.
Feeding Sugar Cakes
Sugar cakes are an easy and cost-effective way to provide both water and sugar for bees in winter months. Most beekeepers use 1:1 syrup ratio (by weight or volume), though it varies from beekeeper to beekeeper. Some people add essential oils like lemongrass or spearmint essential oil in addition to providing water, as these oils have been said to inhibit mold growth as well as dissuade varroa and tracheal mites from inhabiting their colonies.
Sugar cakes can be prepared by mixing equal parts sugar and water into a container, and then removing its lid and letting it cool before feeding it to the bees. An appropriate container size would be half-gallon canning jar. For an easier method, fit the hive with two inch high risers so the cake stays away from inner cover. Other solid winter feeds, like candy boards or pollen patties require specific recipes but are very effective emergency feeds when bees need additional sugar stores.
Feeding Hard Candy
Medium or strong colonies will be capable of turning dry sugar crystals into syrup quickly. This process works especially well during autumn and spring when bees can source water from outside their hive or through condensation inside it.
Sugar syrup should be given to bees from late August until November in either a light or heavy recipe (1 kg of sugar to 1.25 litres of water), depending on weather conditions. As soon as average daily temperatures start dropping, fondant should replace sugar syrup in their diets.
Beekeepers have increasingly abandoned cooking their sugar to produce toxic hydroxymethylfurfural. Instead, Betterbee offers winter patties – pre-formulated products designed to make beekeeping simpler. Simply place these on top of the hive!
To create these, take an empty jar or tin, drill/punch 6-7 holes in its lid using a drill/punch tool, fill with sugar syrup, and remove the cardboard insert often found inside lids of jars and bottles.
Fondant is another method of feeding sugar to bees during winter. It can be prepared using either one-two syrup mixes or equal parts sugar and water; prior to feeding it should be brought down to room temperature for optimal results.
Beeswax blocks may be fed directly into hives using a feeder, or placed between frames on a board or crown board and in direct sunlight so that bee respiration moisture condense on it. For optimal results, locate them near sunny windowsills for best results.
Fill a plastic freezer bag with sugar syrup and puncture the top surface with 6-8 holes using a nail or brad. Partially close and place on a riser made from wood in the top box of the hive – this will reduce humidity exposure since winter temperatures make syrup die quickly before bees can access it.