Autumn Management: Feeding Your Bees with Sugar Syrup

Colder months are upon us. Feeding your bees during autumn may not always be necessary, but if you find: 

  • Harvested too much honey
  • Lack of honey stores for bees due to weak nectar flow
  • Signs of weakness or early diagnosis of diseases

If you have one or more of these signs and have decided to feed syrup, you need to do it before winter arrives. Once the climate is too cold, the bees would not be able to dehydrate the syrup to a moisture level suitable for capping. Syrup or nectar that is left uncapped may ferment, and fermented substances are not good for the bees. 

Due to recent rains, we have been lucky with the abundance of nectar flows from red gum, marri, mess mate and so much more. Before harvesting honey in this period, monitor the efficiency of honey production. 

If you weren’t so lucky, you may be wondering what type of sugar to use or what to feed your bees. There a range of sugar products available to bees including raw sugar and white sugar. 

Sugar’s Role in the Beehive

Sugar feeding is a technique that’s been used over the years. It is used to supplement beekeeping activities including: 

  • Providing food for bees during drought and nectar dearth
  • Stimulating bees to increase the amount of reared brood to increase population
  • Stimulating the bees to collect more pollen than nectar to enhance pollination of specific crops
  • Stimulate brood food glands in young nurse bees to ensure best possible nutritional conditions when rearing queen bees

Feeding Doses

There are differing views about doses of the correct amount of sugar syrup. Some prefer a ratio of one part sugar to one part water (1:1). Others prefer a denser dose giving 2 parts sugar and one part water (2:1). Actually, the 2 different doses are used in particular reasons. 1:1 is generally used to supplement honey stores, stimulating the colony to rear brood and encourage drawing of comb foundation especially in spring. The 2:1 dose is used to provide food when honey stores in the hive are low. Monitoring the nectar flow and honey production during autumn is essential to see which dose you need. If the reason your feeding this season is due to the lack of honey stores, you may have to go for the 2:1 dose. 

Making the Syrup

The procedure is simple! Heat the water in a container large enough to hold both sugar and water. As soon the water starts to boil, remove the container from the heat. Mix in the sugar and stir the mixture until all sugar crystals are dissolved. Never boil the mixture as the sugar may caramelise and may make the mixture indigestible and toxic for the bees. Let the syrup cool to room temperature before feeding. 

Methods of Feeding

Shallow Tray

Place the sugar syrup in a shallow tray under the hive lid. Bees needs to be able to reach the syrup without falling in and drowning. You can put in grass straws or pieces of wood to act like a landing pad. It is important not to put in any item that has been treated or been in contact with chemicals hazardous to bees. 

Frame Feeder

Place sugar syrup in a frame feeder. This is a container, the same size as a full-depth Langstroth frame. It has an open top and will sit in the super just like a normal, full-depth frame does. The feeder will require a floatation material that will allow the bees to access the syrup without drowning. 

Top Feeder

Place the top feeder on the top of the hive. It’s great to use to feed bees during any season. It prevents the bees from drowning due to an easy-access system through each corner. Pour in the syrup on the shallow tray. It is supported by a wooden frame that will allow you to easily install the feeder on the top of your boxes. 

Now the only thing left is deciding how often to feed your bees. For colonies that have no honey stores and no nectar flow, the feed will be determined by the colony size and sometimes the size of the container used to hold the syrup. It is better to over-feed than having bees die because of starvation. An ideal initial amount is at least 1-3 litres. If your colony does not have enough syrup to boost their stores before winter, they may not survive winter. 

It’s also important to know that sugar in combs must not be extracted as honey. The sugar will contaminate the honey and will not conform to the Food Standards Code. Usually, the amount of sugar will be fully eaten by the bees by the time the hives will have honey flow. Before feeding, make sure you have reduced your entrance as part of your autumn prep, and have installed robbing screens.