Your Guide To Feeding Bees in Autumn and Winter
Supplemental feeding is a controversial topic in Australia. It comes with a lot of conflicting information, which can leave you feeling confused about what to do. The truth is, feeding your bees in the lead-up to winter can be crucial to their survival.
If you'd prefer to watch a video on everything to do with feeding bees, check out our Beekeeping 101 series!
Bee Feeding Part 1: What, when, why and how much to feed bees
Bee Feeding Part 2: How to feed bees
The population of your hive relies directly on the levels of quality food – pollen and nectar/honey – available to them, and they may need multiple sources to survive. In colder months, bees rely on stored honey and pollen as outside sources aren’t available. If you harvest too much of their honey supply, they can be left without enough to get through winter. And with the flooding that much of Australia has had recently, many pollen supplies have been destroyed, so bees may be struggling to put aside enough for winter - even if you thought you left them with enough supplies. Although most healthy hives in warmer parts of Australia will make it through winter on their own, in many cooler parts of Australia not feeding your bees during these times may leave them to starve and die.
So, what’s the answer? We’ve outlined everything you need to know to keep your bees fed this season, so they’re set for a productive and healthy spring and summer honey flow.
Truth bee told, bees can’t always go it alone
Although bees store honey in the hive to use as food for winter, it’s sometimes not enough – particularly if you harvest a significant amount, or if a weather event accidentally catches them in short supply. And if your entire honey supply goes, your whole brood could starve. But that can be prevented – and it’s simple to do. Supplemental feeding supports your bees and the overall health of the hive throughout cooler months when bees can’t source as much food. It sustains your colony and also prevents starvation.
Whatever you decide to feed your bees, the most important thing is to place the food inside the hive, where they’re the only ones who can reach it. Placing anything outside could attract unwanted neighbouring bees who bring diseases, robbing bees, wasps or other invaders.
Here’s what to feed your bees to ensure they stay healthy
You can easily make sugar syrup by mixing one part plain white sugar to one part water, or two parts sugar to one part water for bees that have particularly low stores in the hive. Here’s how to make it:
1.Boil the water. Once boiled, remove from heat.
2.Add an appropriate quantity of sugar and stir until dissolved.
3.Don’t boil once the sugar has been added – this could make it caramelise which will be difficult for bees to digest.
4.Wait for the syrup to cool completely before feeding to bees.
It’s also important that bees get protein in the form of pollen. You can supplement by placing pollen patties on the top of your frames with a lid on top. The bees will take what they need to keep them going, and you can rest assured that your bees are getting multiple sources of pollen.
How much to feed
It is generally safer to slightly over-feed a colony than to underfeed it and cause starvation. If you just want to give them a boost, follow the little-and-often rule – small amounts of honey or sugar syrup (about 1 litre) every second day, using the 1:1 ratio of sugar and water. But if you’re wanting to help your bees store food going into winter, give them about 5-6 litres of sugar syrup or honey in one go so they store it.
Ways to feed
There are many ways you can feed your bees; we recommend using either a top feeder or a frame feeder, which you can fill every couple of days. Don’t keep any syrup in it for too long, as it’ll ferment and become toxic to the bees. Maintain a healthy feeder by checking in every two days, and thoroughly washing out any syrup that the bees haven’t eaten.
When to feed
Many beekeepers choose to feed their colonies in late autumn and early winter, so they’re well supplied for the cold season. However, it’s best to stop feeding when winter sets in, as bees can’t process sugar into honey properly when the temperature is low – and uncapped honey can ferment, making it dangerous for bees to consume.
Early spring is also a common time to do some supplementary feeding. If your hives feel light and empty before the first spring blooms appear, it makes sense to feed your bees to get them through – and to stimulate brood production.
Feed your bees, keep them healthy
Although it’s a highly debated topic, feeding your bees when they need it is hugely beneficial. As the months get cooler and supplies are lower, bees may need your help to maintain a healthy and vibrant hive.
Need more tips on how to keep your bees healthy? Check our other blogshere.