Feeding Bees In Winter

One of a beekeepers main goals is to get his/her hives through winter and into spring.  This means that as beekeepers we need to make sure that the bees have enough honey to survive through winter. Sometimes the year just doesn’t go as planned.  You may have great nectar flows throughout the summer only to be disappointed with a failed fall flow.  The great thing is that we can do something about starving bees.  We can feed them.  We just have to do it differently than in the summer. Feeding regular sugar syrup from late fall through winter and into early spring will kill your bees. We have to feed our bees differently in winter.  Plain granulated sugar or bee fondant/candy should be used instead.


No Syrup?

In the winter time feeding sugar syrup can be lethal.  A lot of new beekeepers mistakenly feed their bees too late in the fall or in mid winter and the bees are never able to cure the sugar syrup properly.  This leads to the sugar syrup fermenting resulting in sick bees and also increases the condensation in the hive.  During the day, the water in the syrup evaporates.  When things cool down, in the evening, all that moisture in the hive condenses on the cover and drips onto the bees.  To prevent this we have to make sure that we only feed bees sugar syrup when the temperatures are warm enough.  In order to supplement our light hives in winter we need feed the bees food that is mostly dry.  Pure granulated cane sugar or bee fondant/candy work well to accomplish this.

Feeding 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.  This seems to help them find the sugar better.  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 put the sugar on.  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.  The problem is the sugar just ends up on the bottom board where it gets pooped on and not eaten. Once on the bottom board the sugar will also attract all kinds of unwanted guests.  Mice love the sugar and will build themselves cozy, stinky, disease infested, nests in your best beehives.

Feeding Bees Fondant or Bee Candy

Bee candy or fondant is 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 butt. 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.




17 comments on “Feeding Bees In Winter

  1. Peggy Marlowe on said:

    Cam I mix water and sugar to feed my bees in the Winter with a drop or two of Anise oil?

    • ruthiesbees on said:

      I exclusively use the Anise oil in their syrup and candy boards. The bees LOVE IT and are all over each other to clean up any residual drops. I think it really helps with the grooming of the mites and such.

  2. Steven Tervort on said:

    I don’t think it would hurt your bees, however, I have never tried anise so I don’t know what the bees reaction to it would be. I use peppermint oil because I’ve found it helps the bees find the fondant quicker. I’ve also used lemon grass oil. Some people use essential oils as treatments for everything from nosema to varroa, you name it, there is probably a recipe (definitely beyond my experience). I use the oils mainly for their scent which seems to help the bees locate the feed quicker.

  3. 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!

  4. Stacey Stewart on said:

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

    • Steven Tervort on said:

      You can put it on at any time, but it is only necessary to feed them when they are low on stores. You can put it above the hive on any warm day that you would regularly work the hive. If it is an emergency and it is cold be careful not to disturb the cluster too much. Make sure you supply them with a water source if there is none readily available. Once snow is on the ground you don’t need to worry about the water. Monitor the feed you give them. You can add more during the colder months. Obviously, if they have plenty of stores there is no need to feed them.

  5. Sidney Patin on said:

    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 remove the top of the hive to get to the bars and just put the cake on top of the bars? I always worry about the bees getting too cold if we remove the top to get to the top bars. Thank you for your ideas on this.

    • Steven Tervort on said:

      The best place to put the fondant is on top of the bars. It is best to pick a warmer day to open the hive. Although, if it is an emergency, you can work quickly to place the fondant on and it won’t harm the bees at all.

  6. 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?

  7. Sam Wipf on said:

    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.

    • Steven Tervort on said:

      I winter my bees outside and don’t have any experience wintering them inside. If they cannot leave the hive, I could see you having problems with water. It might be a good idea to give them access to it. Like I said, I don’t have any experience with wintering inside so I could only guess.

  8. Melissa on said:

    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.

    • Steven Tervort on said:

      Those are very valid concerns. It is something that each individual beekeeper has to weigh when making decisions. I may be foolish, but I tend not to worry too much about it. Generally I don’t have to feed my bees in winter, but I would rather take the risk and feed them and have them survive than to let them die and do nothing about it. I’m sure there are other options than suger, corn syrup, etc. I just haven’t bothered to change. I would love to hear what you are doing to address this issue.

  9. Anna Johnson on said:

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

    • Steven Tervort on said:

      You could buy honey to feed them, but I have been cautioned against doing it. With all of the diseases that affect the bees a lot of people advise against feeding honey because of the diseases, but it would also be very expensive.
      The problem I see with feeding honey is how to get it to the bees. Fondant is nice because it does not run, you can place it at the top of the hive as an emergency feed if they get low. Feeding honey would be very messy.
      The best bet is to make sure they have enough honey going into winter.

  10. George Newby on said:


  11. George Newby on said:

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

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