When to feed... Apart from which hemisphere you keep bees
in, there are differences in natural pollen and nectar sources that
will modify the dates locally. There are considerable differences in
attitude, beekeeper to beekeeper, I have generally fed bees later in
the season than most, I have not noticed any ill effects from this
(this does not mean that my bees have never suffered from dysantry)
but that I have been unable to ascribe late feeding as the cause.
Feeding Honey Bees for Winter
I myself stopped feeding for winter as a matter of routine
in the late 1980s and have sometimes left a partially empty shallow
super to receive any ivy honey and provide a reserve that the bees can
use or ignore according to their needs. I commonly winter in only one
National sized brood box, and providing they store 15 or so kilos of
honey I will not feed further.
What to feed... Some beekeepers feed only honey and others
feed mostly sugar syrup. There is no right and wrong because it
depends on what race of bee is being considered and their suitability
for the conditions that they are being wintered in.
'Normal' nectar is mainly sucrose and water and as it is
concentrated by evaporation, the bees add enzymes that invert the
sucrose into mainly levulose and dextrose with a small amount of
sucrose left uninverted. The concentration of the resulting honey is
so strong that it does not support mould growth.
When bees pack away sugar syrup it is already fairly
concentrated and their opportunity to add enzymes is limited, but a
small amount of inversion does actually take place.
The difference between stored honey and stored syrup is the
ratios of the sugars in the mixture and that stored syrup contains
much less pollen grains and a smaller amount of the other minor
constituents of honey.
Bees that are adapted well to the conditions that they find
themselves in can cope allright with the pollen and as a result they
winter OK on honey.
Bees that are not well suited to their wintering conditions
tend to suffer from dysantry as the build up of pollen husks causes
them to void within the hive. If these bees are fed syrup instead of
honey they are better able to survive wintering in the conditions
There is a further complication in that bees consuming
stores consisting of mainly sugar syrup lose body fat in the process
of assimilating the sugar. Depending on whether this fits or not with
the weather pattern and spring development of the type of bee, this
may or may not be a "problem". As an example... Many Italianised
strains of bee that are kept to the south of where I live (the UK
midlands), will suffer far fewer losses when wintered on syrup than
they would if they have only honey stores. My local "native" bees are
well adapted and manage perfectly well on honey (which is mainly what
How much to feed... This is another factor that is
dependant on the race of bee being considered. In my area my bees
manage with 13 kg - 15 kg of honey yet a few miles away another
beekeeper with Italianised hybrid bees will feed his colonies until
they weigh 40 kg or even more. In really cold conditions in Canada I
have heard of weights of 70 kg being required. From these wide
variations it is obvious that you have to get to know your area and
prevailing conditions by asking other beekeepers, in your locality,
what, and how much, they expect to feed.
What feeder to use... I favour overall wooden feeders that
are the same size as the hive that they are intended to fit. I find no
difference between "Miller" "Ashforth" and "Bro. Adam" types or any
of the many variants. I use mainly Bro. Adam type myself with a
plastic pudding basin as the shroud to a central wooden pyramidal
cone. I have many half width ones that are similar and many of these
have two cones. I can thus feed two 5 frame nucs or even four "baby"
nucs using the same equipment. By using half width ones in pairs for
winter feeding, I utilise the equipment to the full.
Written... 19 December 2001
Revised... 09 March 2002