Feeding Bees in Fall – Preparing for Winter

Fall LeavesNow is the time of year that Nectar and pollen sources are almost entirely exhausted in most locations.  Now is the time to inspect the bees, and take action to ensure they will make it through winter.  If a hive is low on stores, consider feeding sugar syrup, or giving it excess honey reserves from stronger hives.

Depending on your location, and the length of winter, hives should have at least 50-100 pounds of honey stored.  A standard deep hive full of honey normally weighs 100 pounds.  This should give you a good idea of what to expect when inspecting your hives.

Feeding Bees in Fall – Sugar Syrup Ratio

The ratio of sugar to water when feeding bees in fall is different from the ratio used in spring.  In fall a 2:1 ratio (sugar:water) should be used.

I usually mix my sugar syrup in 1-gallon batches.  I dissolve 5 pounds of granulated sugar (10 cups) into 5 cups water.  I do it this way, because I feed each of my hives a gallon of sugar syrup regardless of how much they have stored.  All hives get one gallon in the fall, around the end of September into early October.

Beekeeping at Buckfast AbbeyI started doing this after reading Beekeeping at Buckfast Abbey written by Brother Adam.  Here is a link to my book review.   In the book, he talks about feeding bees in fall. He advises feeding 1 gallon of sugar syrup to each hive irrespective of stores.

Since adopting this principle, I have had better success wintering my hives.  My stronger hives seem to have greater growth in the spring, and the percentage of my weaker hives making it through winter has gone up.

Beekeeping Ethics: Feeding Is NOT Bad

Early on in my beekeeping, I fell victim into believing that feeding bees was always bad and should never be done.  Because of my gullibility, I did not even consider feeding bees in fall.

After reading Brother Adam’s book, I realized that it was okay to feed the bees in certain situations.  He advocates avoiding reliance on stimulative feeding, but if feeding is the difference between a hive surviving or dying, you should definitely feed them.

Warning: Feeding in winter

Once winter comes, you should no longer be feeding your bees sugar syrup.  Sugar syrup is for feeding bees in fall, and in the spring.  If you absolutely must feed during the winter, you have a couple options.  If you want to learn more about feeding in winter, visit my winter feeding page.

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You are correct that feeding bees sugar syrup is okay if it means the difference between live bees and dead bees, however emphasis should be placed on ensuring they have as much honey as possible and as little sugar syrup as possible. Sugar syrup is nutritionally inadequate compared to honey and will weaken the bees natural defenses, promoting disease. For humans and animals alike an inappropriate, nutritionally inadequate diet always leads to disease.