Feeding the Bees

Who would have thunk it? Sometimes bees need to be fed. 

Last week a very helpful fellow beekeeper came over to give me a hand with my weekly hive check. I had one, main concern and that was finding a queen - either the one I'd started with (whom I hadn't seen in three weeks) or a new one (which my bees were hell-bent on making).

This is a "queen cell" where a new queen grows. My bees made about 10 of these...

After digging around in the hive for about 30 minutes, we found her. A brand, new queen - already laying eggs. Whew!! I was relieved. Then my new friend said something that concerned me. It turns out that my bees had spent so much time making new bees to fill out the colony and worked so hard at making a new queen, they really hadn't spent enough time making honey. This is bad because they could, potentially, not have enough stores to get them through the winter.

So, what does one do? Well, it turns out that you feed them sugar syrup that they make "honey" out of. It's honey that's good enough for them to live off of for the winter but it's not really "proper" honey because it's not made from nectar. At this point, I just want to make sure I still have bees come spring time so it was off to the market to buy a bunch of plain, white, granulated sugar for me.

When you feed a bee sugar syrup in the autumn, you feed a thicker 2:1 (sugar to water) by weight concoction. I did the math and I needed 2.25 cups of sugar to 2 cups of water. Then I checked out the various methods of delivering the syrup. Most people just punch a few small holes in the top of a mason jar and place that over the frames in the hive. The syrup drips, the bees eat, and there you go. Then there's the Ziplock bag method (I love this one) where you fill a gallon Ziplock back 3/4 full with sugar syrup, lay it on the top of the frames, and then cut a 1" slit into the top of the bag with a razor blade. The bees eat from the slit in the bag. Pretty efficient and not as drippy as the mason jar version. Then I stumble on the delivery system I decided I liked best - the chicken waterer.

Basically, you can buy these things for about $4 that fit on a mason jar. For chickens, you fill the mason jar with water, screw on the contraption, flip the whole thing over and the chicken drink from the little bowl. I like it because it means less syrup "drip" in my hive. The one thing most folks don't know is that bees are prone to drowning. They need something to sit on in order to drink from a pool of anything (including water) or they will, in fact, just drown. So I had to "fix" the waterer so the bees could use it. My beekeeper friends suggested using wire - so, this is how it happened:

Mark the wire mesh where you want to cut it.

Snip with tin-snips.


Push the wire mesh into place.

Fill the mason jar with sugar syrup.
 Screw on the waterer and you're off!

The waterer gets placed on the top cover, like so.

You place an empty hive box around the food supply and then put the lid on the whole thing.

My bees ate two quarts of sugar syrup in less than 24 hours.
So, I was kind of freaked out by how fast they ate what I put out for them. One of my fellow beekeepers said that I needed to think in terms of GALLONS of syrup, not quarts. LOL  Turns out bees are sort of piggy.

Here's the new batch I made last night. Just shy of 10 lbs of sugar made a gallon and a quarter of syrup. I get the feeling I'll be doing this a lot for the next couple of months. 

- Alex the sticky beekeeper


  1. What a nice article. Sort of like feeding hummingbirds. I always wondered if there was a way to feed our friendly bees. Thank you.

  2. I was inspired to read some of this , which also says "several brewer’s yeast products, Wheat, and soybean flour, fed singly or in combination, can be used to improve the nutrition of colonies when natural pollen is scarce."

  3. Alex, before reading this post, I was totally ignorant of any of the bee info you've imparted. Thank you so much for sharing the info, and I offer best wishes to you and your bees as you all prepare for the next season.

    I love the notion of bees being a bit piggy with the sweet drips.


  4. Fascinating! I totally enjoy hearing about your bee adventures and seeing your excellent and educational photos.