Once the honey flow starts to recede and the honey boxes are coming off, many beekeepers will start to feed their colonies to prepare them for colder temperatures. Fall feeding is a crucial step for your hive’s survival through winter, as mentioned in our blog: How do I prepare my hive before fall? We want to make sure you’re equipped with the right knowledge and tools to have a successful wrap to your beekeeping season.
There are many reasons as to why you should feed your bees during the fall. It could be that the weather didn’t allow them to forage as much as they needed and they don’t have enough stores for the winter. It may be that the stores they did have were used up by the hive for food or drawing out comb. Maybe you over harvested honey hoping that the flow would provide the hive with the rest. Regardless of the reasons, if you weigh your hive and it does not have a weight between 140lbs - 150lbs, you need to feed.
It’s important to make sure your hive has enough stores for the winter, so that your colony will have enough energy to keep the hive warm. During the winter bees will cluster around the queen and move up the hive as needed. The average temperature of the cluster is 70F/30C. Later in January/February your hive will be preparing spring brood to take over for the winter bees. Brood can not survive in colder temperatures, hence your bees will need to expend even more of their energy to keep the hive warm. What better carbohydrate than honey to keep them going!
Now you know the why, here’s the how. Best way to feed your hive is with 2:1 syrup given to them in a frame feeder or a top feeder. The 2:1 syrup refers to 2 parts sugar, 1 part water. The reason for this ratio is to reduce the amount of time and energy your bees will spend dehydrating the syrup, allowing them to cap it much quicker. Make sure to use only regular granulated sugar when preparing your syrup. Do not use powdered sugar, brown sugar, or organic sugar as it may contain particles that are indigestible for bees. For more information on how to make your own syrup, please see: Are you ready for overwintering?
You will know how much syrup the bees will need after weighing your hive. This number will determine the type of feeder you will be using. A 15kg top feeder is best for feeding lots of syrup to hives with drawn out frames. Using a 5kg top feeder, or inside frame feeder, is best for hives that need a small amount of syrup or have new frames that aren't drawn out. We recommend top hive feeders, they are less intrusive and are easier to refill without opening the hive. The top feeders also help to keep robbing under control. Be sure to switch out your syrup often as bees will take warm syrup over syrup that has cooled off. For more tips on feeding and fall management watch video.
Another thing to add to your feeding is pollen patties. Pollen patties are the meat to the potatoes that is honey/syrup. It will ensure that your spring bees will get the proper nutrition, to give your colony a strong start after winter. Pollen patties should be removed after September 30th as keeping them in longer, or overwinter, can damage your hive's health and reduce their chances of surviving.
To recap, your total hive weight (2 brood boxes, 1 lid, and 1 base) should weigh about 150lbs by September 30th. If not, you will need to feed heavy syrup until the weight is sufficient. It’s better to feed now while the days are still hot and nights are not as cool. Pollen patties can be fed to your bees between now and Sept 30th. If there are any leftovers, discard them. Do not leave pollen patties in the hive over winter, as it will damage your colony's health. We hope this information helps and we wish you luck in getting your bees through the winter.
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