feeding bees in winter

Feeding Bees In Winter

Even though bees are self-sustainable by producing their own food, they still sometimes require our help. During winter, you might notice that your colony’s honey supply is low. This can happen especially during particularly long, cold winters.

If you do notice a low supply, it’s crucial to feed your bees. But how do you do that? What should they eat? Keep reading to learn how to feed your bees during the winter.

When to Feed Bees

Over the winter, bees can’t leave the hive to go foraging for nectar and pollen. They have to rely on the honey they’ve produced within the hive. And since honey is so low in moisture, it will stay good for a very long time, making it the perfect winter diet.

As a beekeeper, if you choose to harvest honey late in the season, it’s important that you leave enough for the colony.

How much honey they need depends on the climate. In areas with milder winters, the bees may not need more than 30 pounds of honey. In cold areas with long, rough winters, the bees might need up to 90 pounds of stored honey.

A low supply of honey could be caused by a few different factors, these include:

  • Pest infestations such as Varroa mites
  • Honey robbers, these could be other bees, hornets, or even mice
  • An unusually cold spring
  • Not enough worker bees in the colony at peak time for nectar, which could be caused by a weak queen or swarming

During hive inspections in the fall, you should be able to tell if your hive is ready for the winter or not. Inspect the honey supers, if they seem light, you may need to help out by feeding them.

What to Feed Bees in the Winter

One might think that it would be safe to feed your bees honey, however, that could be a fatal mistake. Feeding bees with honey from an unknown source could cause an infection to spread. Some beekeepers, on the other hand, set aside dark honey to feed back to the bees if necessary.

There are some great things you can feed your bees to keep them thriving during winter. These include:

  • Sugar syrup
  • Granulated sugar
  • Fondant
  • Pollen patties

While feeding your bees with sugar is a great option, they do require a more nutritious diet. Bees actually require quite a lot of protein to keep them balanced. Pollen patties are high in carbohydrates as well as protein.

You can purchase pollen patties or you can make your own. Some beekeepers will even add up to 10 percent real pollen. You should, however, be cautious when adding pollen since it could carry American Foulbrood spores.

How to Feed Bees in Winter

When you need to feed your bees, you’ll need a bee feeder. You can easily make your own if needed.

There are many types of feeders, but the two most popular types are:

  • Hive-top feeder: These can hold around three gallons of syrup. A hive-top feeder is simply placed on top of the brood box.
  • Entrance-feeder: These are inexpensive and easy to use. It’s basically an inverted jar that sits at the hive entrance.

During the winter, it’s important to remember that the bees are hard at work keeping the hive at a warm temperature. You should never open the hive or remove frames unless the weather is warm—above 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

It’s important not to overfeed your colony as well. Overfeeding could lead to the hive overproducing brood which will lead to overcrowding in the hive. It’s also important to understand which types of food sources stimulate brood production.

Granulated sugar, for instance, doesn’t stimulate brood production since its low in moisture. Pollen patties, on the other hand, are packed full of everything the hive needs for brood.

Pollen patties can easily be placed on top of the bars or queen excluder, where the bees can access it similarly to the way they access honey.

Feeding your bees fondant is great during winter since its high in sugar and it will stay with the bees for a long time. It does, however, come with a risk. Fondant can become extremely sticky, therefore, bees might get stuck in it, unable to free themselves.

A good way to feed fondant is by cutting it in half while still wrapped. Then place one half with the sticky side down, on top of the queen excluder. In this way, your bees can easily access the fondant while clustering, and they won’t get stuck.

Summary

Feeding bees in winter isn’t always necessary. Strong colonies can easily make it through the cold months without added sugar or pollen. A weak colony can have many causes, however, the bees do require your help to avoid starvation.

It’s important to inspect your hive during the fall. It’s during this time when you’ll be able to predict whether your bees will need to be fed during the upcoming winter.

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