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Advice and Information
Article 1 - Feeding

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1   Reasons for Feeding

Under normal conditions a colony can feed itself, but there may be situations when the beekeeper has to, or wants to intervene and provide the colony with additional food.  These are :-

  • To provide adequate stores for the winter to last until April

After the beekeeper has removed the honey crop, the average colony will need approximately 35 lb. /16 kg. of sealed liquid stores to survive an average winter.   A large colony with a prolific queen will need about 50 lb. There will always be some stores in the brood box depending on the size of box and the variety of honeybee. A National brood frame will hold about 5 lb. of honey; a shallow frame about 3 lb. Since the beekeeper has probably removed some or all of the colony's winter stores, he or she may well have to replace them with an alternative.   This also makes commercial sense, in that honey is more expensive than sugar.

  • For emergency stores during the season between colony inspections

The so-called June drop is probably the most likely time for this, when the colony is in full swing and there is a sudden lack of nectar, or the weather changes.   In these cases the colony can use up their available supplies very quickly.

  • To apply drugs to control pests

Some drugs e.g Fumidil B are easiest to administer in a sugar solution..

  • To stimulate the queen to lay more eggs.

The aim here is to fool the queen into believing there is a nectar flow, in order to build up the colony ready for early forage.

  • To prevent starvation
  • To increase wax production and the drawing of comb
  • When the colony has an inadequate foraging force of workers.

For example, when undertaking an artificial swarm.

  • In times of stress

e.g.  In cases of poisoning, or severe disease.

2   Types of Food


This provides protein which is necessary for growth. Pure pollen can be collected and stored in a freezer.  Then it is thawed and fed back to the colony by pressing the it back into the empty drawn comb and put back into the brood box.    Alternatively, patties of pollen substitute can be used in spring to stimulate brood rearing.


This consists of sugar and water.

Syrup and nectar are the same sugar - sucrose and this provides carbohydrate for energy.  The sugar must be pure granulated sugar and not brown sugar. The impurities of brown sugar have an adverse effect on the colony causing an increase in faecal matter which is a problem if the bees are confined to the hive for long periods during the winter.  The sugar will dissolve in hot water quicker than cold water.  There is disagreement over whether beet sugar is better than cane sugar.

Care needs to be exercised in the active season in feeding syrup as the bees might store it in the supers as sucrose, and then, later on, you might be extracting sugar as well as honey to pass on to an unsuspecting public.   There are strict limits as to how much sucrose there should be in honey - and it can be detected quite easily.

Syrup Strength

Heavy syrup
2 lb. sugar to 1 pint water gives 61.5% sugar concentration.  Used for winter feeding
and will be stored almost immediately.

Medium syrup
1 kg. sugar to 1 litre water gives 50% sugar concentration.  Used for immediate consumption.

Thin syrup
1 lb. sugar to 2 pints water gives 28% concentration.  Used for stimulative feeding.

If a colony is short of food in springtime, candy is fed as an emergency to keep a colony alive. As it is taken slowly it does not stimulate or excite the colony. It is consumed as it is needed and is not stored.
Candy is made by dissolving 5 volumes of granulated sugar in one volume of boiling water.   Keep stirring as it cools and pour the setting mixture into suitable moulds.

This can be used as an alternative to candy and can be purchased from a bakery.  It is not quite solid and can slowly flow so needs to be in a container.

This is the ideal food but care must be taken not to spread diseases from one apiary to another. Never feed imported honey as there will be a serious risk of diseases.

3   How to Feed

Sealed honey in frames is self evident.   Pollen can simply be pressed in to empty comb and returned to the centre of the hive.    Alternatively, pollen patties can be made, or purchased, and placed directly over the brood.   Syrup however, or loose honey, require the use of a feeder.

Fast or Rapid Feeders
These consist of a large rectangular container with the same dimensions of the hive and is placed on top of the hive below the roof and crown board.   There is a baffle which retains the liquid syrup but allows the workers to drink but not drown. (Bees are not good swimmers !!!)

There are several designs available. The Miller feeder which is about 3" deep with a covered slot in the centre extending down from one side to the other. It has a capacity of 10 litres and allows many bees to feed.   The Ashforth feeder is similar but the access slot is at the side.   The Brother Adam feeder is similar but has a centra! access.  The open bowl feeder is simple and only needs straw to prevent drowning.

Contact Feeders
These come in a variety of shapes and sizes but consist of a container with a tight fitting lid. The lid has a central area of small holes or or wire gauze. After filling with syrup the container is turned upside down over the feeder hole in the crown board. The number of holes regulates the speed of feeding. A contact feeder is cheap and can be made out of many types of containers. An eke such as an empty super is needed to provide space.

Nucleus Feeders
A frame feeder is the same size as a brood frame and holds about 3-4 pints of syrup. There is a float to stop the bees drowning.

Feeding Rules
Only feed in the evening at dusk, otherwise the scout bees will quickly start roaming the immediate area for the source and start robbing nearby hives and upset your neighbours. Bees will not fly at night. Do not spill syrup in the apiary as this also encourages robbing.

With thanks to Chris Utting - whose "Beekeeping for Beginners" course notes formed the basis of this article - together with some additional information from "Practical Beekeeping" by Clive de Bruyn

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