How to know when to feed your honey bees pollen supplements or sugar syrup.
Feeding honey bees sugar syrup and/or pollen (or pollen supplements/substitutes) is helpful under several circumstances. These can vary from season to season and location:
- Bees aren’t foraging and/or flight is restricted. E.g. in cool weather (sugar syrup can often be used to boost foraging, see below)
- When a colony is small and weak – these will have fewer forager bees by design. It’s also not uncommon to use pollen just before spring, to boost colony numbers early.
- When a small colony is in the process of building numbers – the majority of bees will be tending brood and carrying out nurse bee duties so foraging will likely still be low
- When in doubt of the pollen quantity available. E.g. In Australia, many eucalypts provide great honey flows due to high nectar, but yield limited pollen
- When in doubt of the pollen quality available. E.g. Eucalypts like White Box (NSW) or Mallee (WA), or agricultural crops like sunflowers or almonds offer pollen of lower quantity.
- When there is a general dearth of quality floral resources in your area
Many beekeepers feed sugar syrup when:
- Honey stores run out during winter – a beginner beekeeper may misjudge their bees’ honey store requirements and over-harvest at the end of summer. Most sugar syrup feeding takes place in winter to replace honey
- Spring-flowering is late – nectar may not be available when wintering bees emerge (less of an issue in Australia where many natives flower throughout winter)
- You need to encourage foraging – as mentioned, sugar syrup can stimulate bees to forage again and to forage further
When it comes to suburban, backyard beekeeping one of our most experienced customers, Kim Newbold, explains that you likely won’t need to supplementary feed your bees:
“There’s always something flowering… particularly in older suburbia, there’s no need to feed at all. In the newer areas where there’s not established gardens and bigger trees, yes you may need to watch and use a bit of sugar.
Pollen’s main use is so that [beekeepers] can grow bees. So just during winter time and at the end of spring is the time to use it.
But if you’re just watching the hive you can see what’s in there. Generally, that’s the first notification that springs here, they start bringing pollen and the hive gets going. But if you want the hive to be bigger and stronger before that happens then I suppose you would use pollen”.