One of the very first tasks a beekeeper will do is mix sugar water for the colony once it arrives in the spring. Feeding new bees as they adjust to their new home gives them the energy they need to kick off the season right. But giving bees sugar water doesn’t stop after they’ve settled. Every year, beekeepers continue to feed their hive a sugar water mix.
Beekeepers often debate about feeding bees sugar water. Some believe that you should never introduce sugar water and allow a hive to find their own food source. There are concerns that feeding bees will prevent them from foraging on their own. While others feel that feeding honeybees is necessary under certain conditions.
But in what circumstances do you feed bees sugar water? And how do you know when to stop feeding it to them?
What Is Sugar Water?
Sugar water is the man-made version of nectar made from sugar and lots of it! Bees need nectar as an energy source to perform daily tasks like building comb.
Sugar is only half of what bees need from a nutrition perspective. They also need pollen. Forager bees collect pollen to make bee bread. Bee bread is a mix of pollen, nectar, and enzymes for preservation. Bee bread is used to feed larvae. Since pollen does not last long, beekeepers often provide a pollen substitute. Pollen patties can be used when a colony needs additional pollen.
When Will I Need To Feed Bees Sugar Water?
Feed your bees when they need your help to survive. There are certain occasions when a beekeeper needs to decide the best plan to keep a hive alive. Something simple like providing an additional source of food will help a colony thrive. This is especially true for a new hive. With so many factors affecting honey production, it’s difficult to solely rely on a natural nectar supply. If a new hive does not have enough food in the spring, they will forego creating new brood. In turn, there will be fewer forager bees to forage for nectar and pollen.
There are a few specific occasions that warrant the need for feeding bees sugar water.
A New Beehive
When you purchase bees in a package, they will arrive with a lot of work to do right away. After they’ve been introduced to their hive, they will immediately begin adding brood, making wax combs, and storing honey. Challenges along the way can make it difficult for a new hive to properly prepare for its first winter. If you have problems with your queen bee or if there is a nectar dearth, you bees are losing time to store food for the cold season. Feeding bees sugar water as soon as they arrive helps put the colony in the right direction.
Honey Production Behind Schedule
If a hive is new or weak, they will need help storing food for the fall and winter. By mid to late summer, you should be checking the honey supply regularly to see if your hive is on track to survive the cold season. If they aren’t on schedule, it’s time to feed your colony so they have enough resources to create and store more.
Low Nectar Supply
If your region is experiencing a nectar dearth or a period with limited nectar available, it may be time to help your hive so it can stay on schedule to produce enough honey to survive the winter.
Bad Weather Conditions
Pay attention to the weather conditions over the spring and summer. Cold temperatures, wind, and rain can all affect how often bees forage. If your area is experiencing any of these weather conditions, it may be time to help your bees by providing food.
When Do I Stop Feeding Bees Sugar Water?
Bees do not need constant feeding, but it’s important to know how long you should feed a new hive. There is no set time for when to stop feeding bees sugar water. It’s the responsibility of the beekeeper to observe their new hive and understand if sugar water is necessary. When bees first arrive at their new home in the early spring, they will be hungry and eat a lot. After a few weeks, nectar will naturally become more available. Too many beekeepers think this is the time to stop feeding their bees sugar water. However, it’s good practice to wait until the colony has created combs and started filling those combs with honey.
As you perform routine hive inspections, always observe how much honey is being produced. When your bees have enough comb in the frames and honey stored for the winter, you should stop feeding bees.
Discontinue feeding bees sugar water when there is honey in the supers intended for human consumption. If you need to feed your colony sugar water, you must remove any supers before you start. Bees don’t differentiate between food sources and they will cap sugar water instead of nectar. Bees cannot make honey with a sugar water mix. If you harvest capped syrup, you won’t be harvesting pure honey.
It’s important to help new colonies get settled, but once they are, continuous feeding can cause a new set of problems.
Honey is the best bee food. But when it’s not available, be prepared to offer your hive alternatives to get it established. Feeding your bees pollen substitute and sugar water is a good idea for new hives who need to build combs and forage for nectar.
As a beekeeper, it’s important to help your colony get through the hard times. Although everyone strives to keep the process as natural as possible, sometimes you need to push nature along. Help your bees get to a point where they can begin storing honey in their combs.
Deciding when to stop feeding bees sugar water is a decision that a new beekeeper can’t take lightly. If you are starting with a new package of bees, you may need to make sacrifices to ensure your hive thrives in its first year. Always put your bees’ health and establishment before your desire to harvest honey in your first year.
Learn More About Beekeeping
Whether you have one or two hives in your backyard or have acres dedicated to honeybees, all beekeepers need to start with the foundations of maintaining a hive.
As a beekeeper, you will need to have an extensive understanding on topics including:
Best Hive Location
Different Bee Species
How to Inspect the Hive
Spot Parasites and Diseases
How to Install A Colony