Feeding Bees In Winter

Beehives with snow on them.


The bees have been storing honey all summer, 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 if we want them to survive.

The Ideal Situation… 

The ideal situation is to have hives full of stores before winter hits.  Feeding bees in winter should be used as a last resort to save a hive that is starving.

If it is not quite winter in your location, check out my “Feeding Bees In Fall – Preparing for Winter” post.  You might be able to save yourself from having to feed in winter. If it is winter, and your hives are starving, consider using one of the feeding methods below.

What to Feed in Winter?

1. Honey

The best thing to feed bees is honey.  One method that can be used to help a starving hive is to give it a frame of honey from healthy hive.   Great care should be taken when donating honey-combs from one hive to another. Without experience, it is easy to overestimate the stores the strong hive has.  Donating too many frames to the weak hive may compromise both of them. Sometimes it is better to let a weak hive die than risk compromising a strong one.

2. Granulated Sugar

Granulated Sugar is the easiest way to feed bees in winter.  It isn’t the best way, but it can be used in a pinch if you suddenly find a starving hive.

To feed bees granulated sugar, place a piece of newspaper on top of the frames and pour the granulated sugar on top of the newspaper.  The newspaper keeps the sugar from falling on the bees.

Sometimes the bees have a hard time finding the sugar.  I find it best to add a drop of lemongrass oil, or other essential oil like spearmint or peppermint, on top of the sugar.  Obviously, make sure the oil is food grade, and don’t add a lot.  One drop is plenty, and will help the bees find the sugar as they investigate the new smell.

3. Bee Candy

Feeding bees fondant, also known as bee candy, in mid winter. Bee candy or fondant is an excellent way to feed bees during 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.

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 to lift the cover 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.

I have been told, that the acid in the lemon juice converts some of the granulated sugar from sucrose to glucose.  I am not sure about the science, and add it because it is how I have been shown to do it.  You could probably leave out the lemon juice.

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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!