Feeding Bees In Winter

Feeding Bees in Winter

The bees have been storing honey all summer in preparations for winter, but sometimes they do not store enough.   As beekeepers, we need to be aware of conditions in the hive and compensate for any lack of honey stores.

The best way to prevent starvation is to ensure that the hives have plenty of stores before going into winter.  If the bees are short on stores at the end of the summer, you will need to feed them.

Beekeeping at Buckfast AbbeyThere is definitely an optimal amount to feed the bees.  Brother Adam, in his book “Beekeeping at Buckfast Abbey(link to my book review) warns about feeding too much.  They should only be fed the amount necessary to get the bees through winter.  As he puts it, “To feed enough to carry the colonies through until mid-April would as experience has demonstrated, exhaust the bees prematurely, leading to disastrous results.”  If you have not read Beekeeping at Buckfast Abbey, I would highly suggest reading it.

Generally, feeding should take place before winter arrives.  Never feed sugar syrup in the winter.  Once it gets cold, feeding sugar syrup can be lethal to your bees.  It can raise humidity levels or freeze in the combs.

There are a few ways to feed the bees during winter.  Realize though, winter feeding is generally only used for emergency feeding.  Use Plain sugar or bee candy in winter.

How to Feed Bees Granulated Sugar

Feeding bees with granulated sugar is a really easy to do.  All you have to do is put a piece of newspaper on top of the frames and put the sugar on top of that.  For some reason the bees have a harder time finding the plain sugar.  I have had good luck adding a small drop of lemongrass oil in a 4 pound bag of sugar and mixing it in really well. Spearmint or peppermint could also be used.  Just make sure the oil is food grade.

The major problem that I have with feeding granulated sugar to  bees is that a piece of newspaper is needed to hold the sugar.  Sometimes the bees will chew through the paper and the sugar will fall right on the cluster.  Other things can be used to put the sugar on but when you are dealing with a lot of hives, newspaper gets the job done quickly and cheaply.

Another problem is the sugar can end up on the bottom board where it gets covered in bee waste. Once on the bottom board the sugar will also attract all kinds of unwanted guests.  Mice love the sugar and will build cozy, stinky, disease infested, nests in your best beehives.

Feeding Bees Fondant or Bee Candy

Bee candy or fondant iFeeding bees fondant, also known as bee candy, in mid winter. s an excellent way to feed bees in the winter. The great thing about fondant is that it doesn’t fall through the frames like granulated sugar does.  All you have to do is place the fondant patties on the frames and close the hive up. No newspaper is required. The only additional equipment you will need is a cover that allows clearance to the patties.  Those of us running migratory covers and no inner covers have to have candy boards or find some way to lift the cover a little to make room for the fondant.

The bees really like the fondant.  The finer sugar crystals in the fondant are easier for the bees to digest.  The fondant also has a bit of moisture in it that keeps it soft and easy for the bees to eat.  The only real problem with feeding fondant is that it is hard to make.  It isn’t too difficult but does require following a few directions pretty closely.  Here is the recipe that I use.

Bee Candy Recipe

  3 cups water
10 cups sugar (4 lb bag)
1 cup Karo syrup
1 teaspoon Lemon Juice

Boil the water.  While the water is boiling add the sugar, Karo syrup, and lemon juice.  Cook until candy thermometer reads 240 degrees or soft ball stage.  Allow the mixture to cool to about 200 degrees.  Using an electric beater, beat the mixture until it becomes light and fluffy.  Place in pan and allow to cool until you are able to work it with your hands.  Knead it for 2-5 minutes then place in plastic bag or airtight container.

All of the ingredients do not need to be followed exactly.  This is just the recipe I use to keep things consistent.  The only thing that you need to do is make sure that your mixture reaches 240 degrees.  At this temperature the correct moisture content is achieved and the fondant becomes nice and pliable.  Take the mixture any hotter and you have a rock that you won’t be able to shape with your hands.  Any cooler and the fondant won’t hold its shape.  Make sure that you use enough Karo syrup.  If you don’t the mixture will end up with large crystals and will crumble when worked.  The acid in the lemon juice, I am told, converts some of the granulated sugar from sucrose to glucose or fructose, it doesn’t really matter.  I do it because I have been told to.  And in my biased opinion think that it does have an effect on the consistency of the fondant.


Feeding bees is sometimes necessary.  It is best to let the bees over-winter on their natural and preferred food but sometimes we need to step in and help them out.  The best advice that any new beekeeper can get is to not feed sugar syrup when it is too cold outside.  Feeding sugar syrup or fondant can save your bees. Even though the bees don’t digest sugar the same way that they digest honey and it isn’t necessarily good for them, it is still better to feed them than to let them die.




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18 Comments on "Feeding Bees In Winter"

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Patrick Burt
I am new to beekeeping and I find it difficult to know what to do because it seems like everyone does thing a little different. I live in Washington State and my friend and I stopped feeding sugar water in late Sept. and we are ready to prepare are hives for the winter. I know there is a lot of honey stores in both of our hives and I’m not exactly sure how much pollen is stored, I found it hard to recognize the pollen. I was planning on feeding the bees fondant over the winter, but how do you… Read more »
George Newby

This is my first year of bee keeping.
I will try to make fondant if I need to.
Thanks George Newby

George Newby


Anna Johnson

Could you actually buy honey to feed them instead of syrup or fondant, and if so, how would you feed it to them?


What about the pesticide residue in the food the bees are using to over-winter? What about GMOs (some sugar and especially corn syrup is GMO)? Since this is their sole food source, these chemicals and resulting inflammation could build up to toxic levels rather quickly.

Sam Wipf

I am a beginner bee keeper in South Dakota. I winter my bees inside. I placed a honeybee healthy patty on top of each hive a few weeks ago. Somebody told me they also need water. should I put a styrofoam cup of water with a drop of peppermint oil and/or sugar water @ each entrance. I read that moisture could also be fatal. What do you think. My bees can’t leave the building.TNX Sam.


I am a beginner beekeeper in So. Dak. I winter mine bees inside. I put a honey bee healthy paddy onto each hive a few weeks ago. would it be okay if i placed a styrofoam cup with suger water and a drop of peppermant oil at each entrence,or plan water? somebody told they also need water during the winter. i also read that it could be fatal. what is your take on this?

Sidney Patin
Thanks for posting this, because we are thinking about how to feed our bees for winter at this time of the year. We have a Warre hive, but I guess it works like any other hive for this purpose. The bees look like they have clustered up in the top box. They also propolized the opening at the bottom, leaving only a couple of very small holes for them to come and go, so I guess they are getting ready for winter. So if we make fondant or sugar cakes for them, where do we put them? Do we just… Read more »
Stacey Stewart

This is my first year keeping bees, When is a good time to start feeding them this Sugar Fondant.


Thanks so much! The first recipe I tried did not include Karo syrup. The resulting “fondant” was hard, but broke easily, but not too easily (a couple broke in half but no big deal). I’ll try it with the Karo next time, but I didn’t mind the hard stuff I made. Neither did the bees as they ate it very quickly!