Butterfly and Bee Garden

Butterfly Bee Garden

Ensuring the Well-being of Your Bees: A Guide to Feeding Bees in Winter

When most people think about bees feeding, they imagine a sunny day with these busy insects flitting from flower to flower to find nectar. Although they have developed strategies to survive when food is scarce, there are good reasons to consider feeding bees in winter. In the hive, they will eat stored honey, cluster together, and reduce their metabolic rate to conserve heat. But, food is still an important requirement and we’ve put together this handy guide on how to feed bees in winter.

The Importance of Winter Feeding Your Bees:

 

man Winter Feeding his BeesDuring the colder winter months, it’s unusual to see a bee foraging for nectar and pollen. At these times, they tend to rely on honey stores because flowering plants are rare in winter. To conserve their limited energy resources, they tend to stay close to the hive, and providing extra food is a great way to improve their chances of survival.

 

There are a number of reasons why there may be insufficient stored honey in the colony including a disease outbreak, poor foraging conditions, an exceptionally cold winter, and more. A new bee colony may have lacked sufficient time to build up a store of honey before winter arrived.

 

In these cases, providing additional nutrition during the late winter months can give the colony enough energy to prepare for early spring when nectar and pollen will be readily available.

 

Understanding Bee Nutritional Needs:

 

Before you begin feeding bees in winter, it’s important to understand their nutritional needs. During winter, the bees have different activity levels, and their energy expenditure tends to be lower. The bee colony focus shifts to survival and energy conservation, but key nutrients are still needed to promote health and well-being. They are:

 

  • Protein: This is stored pollen that’s essential for the production of eggs, larvae, pupae, and the metabolic function of the adults. Less pollen is needed in winter because brood rearing is reduced, but protein is still required to keep the adults healthy.
  • Carbohydrates: These are stored as honey during winter and they give the bees the energy they need to stay warm and carry out essential tasks.
  • Water: The bees need to maintain metabolic processes and the hive humidity. Although there are sources of water in winter the beekeeper may want to place a source of water near the hive.

Sugar Syrup Bee Feed:

 

When you’re learning how to feed bees in winter, you will realize that most beekeepers use sugar syrup. This mix of sugar and water can simulate the nectar that a bee would typically collect from a flower. The ratio of sugar to water that’s used can serve different purposes as follows:

 

  • Man Feeding bees in winter in their hiveThe 1:1 Ratio: This is equal parts sugar and water to resemble the sugar concentrations found in nectar. This ratio is usually used in spring and early fall to give the bees a quick energy boost to stimulate comb building and brood production.
  • The 2:1 Ratio: This is two parts sugar to one part water and the higher sugar concentration simulates honey. This is typically used in late fall and winter because the lower water content is less likely to cause fermentation. The extra sugar also gives the bees more energy to survive and thrive throughout the winter months.

 

Sugar syrup can supplement the stored honey to make up the difference when the opportunities to forage naturally are limited.

There are four simple steps to feed bees sugar syrup in winter:

 

  1. Preparation: The sugar is dissolved in warm water with equal parts by weight for a 1:1 ratio and two parts sugar to one part water for a 2:1 ratio.
  2. Specialized Feeding Containers: A beekeeper will use a top or frame feeder that’s placed in or on top of the hive. This gives the bees easy access to the syrup and it minimizes the risk of intrusion from other hungry colonies.
  3. Establish a Feed Schedule: The colony strength, local climate and access to food stores will determine the winter feeding timing schedule. The bees need to be fed before the honey stores are fully depleted. This will ensure that they have sufficient time to take in the syrup and process it into food they can eat.
  4. Regular Monitoring: The beekeeper will monitor the sugar syrup level to ensure that the colony has sufficient food to survive the winter.

Using Fondant as Winter Feed:

 

 

Some beekeepers may feed the hive fondant in a solid, semi-solid or paste-like format. This is similar to the sugar used for cake toppings, but it can be an important source of energy for a hive to survive and to maintain the internal temperature of the hive. Beekeepers may use fondant in four ways:

 

  • Regular Feeding: A pattie or block of fondant can be placed on the top frame bars inside the beehive. The fondant should be accessible by one narrow side only to prevent the bees from getting their legs stuck in the sugar.
  • An Emergency Food Source: If the honey stores are running low, a beekeeper may supply fondant because it’s concentrated energy that can sustain them without breaking their cluster formation which retains heat.
  • To Control Moisture: The lower moisture content of fondant in comparison to sugar syrup means that it will not contribute to any excess moisture in the hive. It’s important to keep the moisture levels low to prevent mold growth to maintain the hive’s health.
  • Easier Handling and Long-Term Storage: The fondant can be easily handled and stored for long periods with virtually no risk of spoiling. This makes fondant a good option for beekeepers who need a ready source of high-carbohydrate food on hand to feed bees.

 

Making Fondant to Feed Bees

 

A beekeeper can make fondant to feed bees with a mix of granulated white sugar and water with a 4:1 ratio by weight. The sugar is dissolved in warm water and then left to cool and crystallize to create a semi-solid block of sugar that can be formed into shapes. Fondant doesn’t replace the nutritional benefits found in pollen and nectar. Fondant should be regarded as a food supplement and various factors, including: hive health, colony strength, and weather, should be considered before it’s fed to bees.

 

Pollen Substitutes For Bees:

 

When pollen is scarce during early spring and late fall, a beekeeper may feed their bees a pollen substitute. This is less common during winter because the bees are not rearing broods and they don’t need pollen to feed larvae. The hive is focused on maintaining the internal temperature, conserving energy and consuming stored honey reserves. But, there are four reasons why a beekeeper may decide to provide a pollen substitute in winter.

 

Firstly, to strengthen the colony. If the bees are struggling to survive winter the beekeeper may provide a pollen substitute to improve the strength and health of the hive. Pollen may also be used if the winter is mild and the beekeeper wants to stimulate early brood production to increase the colony size they may provide a pollen substitute.

Click for More Information about Bee Pollen Substitutes

 

It can be helpful if a colony is managed in a heated or indoor environment, as it may be desirable to maintain a healthy level of brood rearing during winter. Finally, providing a pollen substitute a few weeks before the natural pollen sources are available can get the colony working on the brood rearing before the foraging season begins.

 

A beekeeper will assess the condition of a colony to determine if a pollen substitute is necessary or beneficial. When the colony is more active, pollen is essential, but during winter most beekeepers are unlikely to provide a pollen substitute.

 

Best Practices for Winter Feeding:

 

When you’re feeding bees in winter, it’s important to pay attention to the health of the colony and make adjustments as required. Let’s take a look at eleven of the best practices that you should follow:

 

  • Carefully Assess Conditions in the Hive: Before you feed your bees check the condition of the hive to determine the colony strength and health and how much pollen and honey is stored for winter.
  • Choose the Correct Sugar Syrup Ratio: if you need to feed the bees use a 2:1 sugar to water ratio by weight to give them a boost of concentrated energy that’s less likely to spoil. This is important when the weather turns colder when the bees need to conserve their energy to stay warm.
  • Minimize Disturbances During Feeding: During winter the colony is at rest and any disturbances can stress the bees and cause them to expend energy.
  • Bees Feeding off plateProvide Proper Ventilation: The hive must have proper ventilation to prevent a buildup of excess moisture which can cause disease and mold growth.
  • Check Consumption: If you have provided food check to see if the bees are eating it or storing it for later.
  • Evaluate the Colony Size: A small colony will need less energy and this should be considered when you’re providing food.
  • Don’t Overfeed the Bees: Providing too much food can cause problems and storage issues.
  • Check the Hive Health: The hive should be inspected for pests, diseases and other problems that can be addressed before they become serious.
  • Check for Excessive Heat Loss: A warmer hive will help the bees to conserve energy, so it’s important to check for drafts and other problems.
  • Consult with Local Beekeeping Resources: The best practices may vary based on the local conditions and climate. Consulting with local beekeeping associations and beekeepers can give you good advice that’s pertinent for your region.
  • Preparing for Spring: When spring arrives check the food supply and conditions in the hive to ensure that there are sufficient resources to support early brood rearing and foraging efforts.

Feeding Bees in Winter: In Conclusion:

 

As you can see, feeding bees in winter is an important aspect of colony management that can be overlooked by new beekeepers. Providing sugar syrup to a colony that is reaching the end of its stored honey reserves may be necessary. Providing a pollen substitute is not required most of the time because brood rearing is not taking place. But, there are times when a beekeeper may provide a pollen substitute to boost the health of the colony or to start early brood rearing. A healthy colony will have a better chance of survival and it will be well prepared when spring arrives.

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