Hive Strength and Population
Monitoring the strength and population of your bee colony is vital in deciding when to stop feeding sugar water. As a colony grows, it becomes more efficient at foraging for nectar and pollen. A well-established and thriving colony, consisting of numerous worker bees and a healthy queen, indicates that the bees can efficiently forage for nectar on their own.
When you observe a strong colony with workers bringing in pollen, gradually decrease the sugar water you provide. Eventually, you can stop feeding them sugar water altogether, allowing the colony to sustain itself through natural foraging.
Spring and Summer Abundance
During the spring and summer months, when flowers are in full bloom, there’s an abundance of nectar available for bees to forage. We feed bees just as winter turns to spring to help build up the colony numbers in preparation for the nectar flow. It also keeps the bees from starving if the weather changes suddenly, keeping them indoors for days or weeks. Once the weather warms up and you notice the bees collecting pollen, it’s time to wean them off the syrup. Stop feeding before you add honey supers to the hive.
Fall and Winter Preparation
In the fall, as the nectar flow decreases and plants begin to prepare for winter, you might need to resume feeding sugar water to ensure the bees have enough food to survive the colder months. Once the temperature falls below 50 degrees, the bees will reject syrup. If the hive hasn’t achieved the target winter weight, you’ll have to switch to a solid alternative, such as fondant or candy boards.
Monitoring Nectar Flow
The availability of nectar in the environment directly impacts your decision to stop feeding sugar water to your bees. Pay close attention to the plants and flowers in your area, as they are the primary nectar sources for your bees. Watch out for bees bringing in pollen. Where there is pollen, there is likely nectar.
Plant a few of the plants known to bloom in your region so you can learn the floral calendar. That will help you map out your season’s activities and keep you prepared and not caught off-guard.
Consider Honey Production
One of the primary reasons for keeping bees is to harvest honey. Because honey, by definition, is made from nectar, sugar syrup will not qualify as honey, even when the bees store it in the honeycomb.
In 2013, a beekeeper chose to create an exchange program for local beekeepers where they could barter their red honey, made as a result of the open feeding of bees on some crushed candy cane, for market honey. Otherwise, the local beekeepers would have gone at a loss because that red “honey” would not qualify to be labeled as honey since it did not originate from nectar or plant secretions.
If you’re ready to put in supers for honey production, stop feeding your bees.
The Best Way to Phase Out Sugar Water
The most effective way to phase out sugar water is by gradually reducing the amount you provide. By providing fewer feeders or refilling them less often, the bees adjust to the decreasing availability of supplemental food and begin foraging for natural nectar sources.
As you decrease the amount of sugar water, keep a close eye on your bees’ progress. Observe their foraging behavior and the colony’s overall health, ensuring they successfully transition to natural nectar sources. Look for signs of a healthy colony, such as a productive queen by looking at the brood pattern and incoming pollen.
Timing the Transition
Timing is crucial when phasing out sugar water. As mentioned earlier, it’s best to reduce or eliminate supplemental feeding during the spring and summer months when nectar flow is at its peak. However, continually monitor the local flora and nectar availability to ensure your bees have adequate natural food sources before phasing out sugar water completely.
Supporting Colony Health
While phasing out sugar water, continue to support your colony’s health by providing additional resources when needed. For example, during periods of extreme weather or when local nectar sources are scarce, you may need to resume supplemental feeding temporarily. Be prepared to adjust your feeding strategy according to the changing needs of your colony to maintain its health and productivity.
Keep an eye on your colony’s strength, population, nectar flow, and honey production to make informed decisions about supplemental feeding. Familiarize yourself with the local flora and seasonal changes to anticipate when natural nectar sources will be available. By providing sugar water only when necessary, you’ll help your bees thrive, promote natural foraging behavior, and ensure the best quality, honey.
Always remember that each colony is unique, and you should tailor your feeding strategy to the specific needs and conditions of your hive.