feeding bees honey bee management

Autumn feeding of honey bees

Fall feeding of bees may be necessary for several reasons:

  • The beekeeper harvested too much honey
  • Weak nectar flows or bad weather prevented the bees from collecting enough stores
  • A colony—such as a newly installed swarm—got a late start and didn’t have enough time to collect enough stores
  • The beekeeper wants to treat for Nosema and needs syrup as a carrier for the antimicrobial product

If one or more of these conditions exist and you decide to feed syrup, you need to do it before the average daily temperature drops too low. Once the temperatures are too low, the bees are unable to dehydrate the syrup to a moisture level—about 17%—that is suitable for capping. Syrup or nectar that is uncapped may ferment in the cell, and fermented substances are not good for bees[1].

Also, syrup that remains in the feeder will eventually mold, and it will cause excessive moisture to accumulate inside the hive. Once bees stop taking the syrup in the fall, any remainder should be promptly removed.

While spring syrup is made in the ratio of one part sugar to one part water, fall syrup is made of 2 parts sugar to 1 part water (weight or volume, it doesn’t matter). In case you forget which is which, just remember that spring syrup resembles nectar, which is thin and lightly sweet. Fall syrup resembles honey, which is thick and very sweet.

In areas where there is little chance of a fall nectar flow, it is best to take off the honey supers and start feeding early. What little nectar the bees bring it will be mixed with the syrup they store, and all of it will help them get through the winter.

Considerations for fall feeding include the following:

  • Entrances should be reduced to protect the colony from robbing bees and yellow jackets, especially during a nectar dearth.
  • Feeding stimulants added to the mixture, such as essential oils or Honey-B-Healthy, help the bees find the syrup and cause them to store it more quickly. They also retard mold growth and provide nutrients to the bees.
  • If you use Fumagilin-B for control of Nosema, mix it into the syrup following the manufacturer’s instructions so that it gets dispersed evenly throughout the feed.
  • Never feed syrup in an open container because the bees will climb in and drown. Many types of feeders are available that will deliver the food yet keep the bees from harm.


[1] Fermented nectar and syrup are easy to detect: bubbles can be seen in the liquid and it has a distinctive “yeasty” odor. Eventually, a light-colored foam may ooze out of the cells. If the weather gets too cold before all the liquid is capped, beekeepers sometimes shake the frames to dislodge the liquid before it has a chance to ferment.

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  • Hi..thanks for all your info…can u tell me around what temperature that the bees stop taking the sugar water?..

    Thx in advance

    • Margaret,

      Bees can drink syrup until the syrup itself (not the air) drops to about 50 degrees F.

  • My view on sugar ratios is I don’t think it matters on whether you feed one to one or two to one sugar water to bees in the spring. I feed 2-1 all the time and they take it in and do what they need to with it. No difference in brood build up at all. I haven’t found any real science/study to back up different sugar ratios for different seasons stimulates the bees differently. My view is bees take in nectar with a variety of sugar concentration – and what do they do to it? They use if for what they need if for. 2-1 is the easiest for me to mix and dissolve the sugar and delivers 2Xs the concentration of a 1-1 ratio. Make it easy on yourself and the bees, stick with 2-1 and trust the bees to know what to do with it.

    • Tom,

      I make it even easier. I take some sugar and mix in some water. I long ago stopped measuring anything. But you have to remember that new beekeepers like to have guidelines, and until they understand honey bees and nectar supplies well enough to come to their own decisions, they feel more confident having a recipe to follow. I certainly understand that, and it certainly doesn’t hurt anything.

  • Hi, how do I know if my bees have enough honey for winter? I have 2 10 frame boxes mostly full of Brood and honey, but they never touched the supers I put on. Do I need to feed them this fall? Thanks!

  • My friend seems to think that once we start autumn feeding, we shouldn’t stop feeding. He doesn’t know why, he just heard that somewhere. I have never heard this, and I would think that once you have fed them enough sugar, you can stop feeding and they can survive until spring. Your thoughts?

    • Dan,

      That’s the idea. Autumn feeding is used to top-off their stores so they can get through winter without feeding. I would still check on them, though, just to make sure they are doing okay. I usually do my first check at year end. They go through food faster after that, so it’s good to check.

  • Hi, Rusty. I’m located in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky. Last year I installed two packages of bees. They swarmed several times, including twice in September, and I started the winter with five hives. In the Autumn I fed quite a bit of sugar syrup and the hives were heavy going into winter. I lost two of my five hives this past winter; in both cases there was a warm period and the queen started brood, the weather turned very cold and the bees didn’t break cluster to access stores, and died with food just several inches away. What I have is frames of stored honey and frames of stored sugar syrup. I’ve cut the cap off several frames of sugar syrup and spun out the syrup. Should I keep this extracted syrup (and a little honey in it) and feed it back to my surviving colonies? Should I feed it to new colonies from splits or swarms? Should I dump it? Thanks.

    • Rick,

      To me, frames of capped syrup and syrup/honey mix are valuable assets. Since they are capped they keep forever, just like honey. When you need winter feed, or spring feed, or even summer dearth feed, you just drop those in the hive. No need to mix syrup, use feeders, or worry about mold. They are perfect fast food with no storage issues. When I have frames like that, I just mark the top with a marking pen so I don’t get them mixed up with extracting honey. I would have put those frames in with the new colonies, slits, or swarms instead of feeding.

  • I saw in a post above that you do save some capped frames for winter feeding of weaker hives. Where/how do you store them? Or, do you immediately place them in a hive?

    Thank you

  • Rusty,

    I, being a new beekeeper (3rd yr). am fascinated by the girls. Hence, I often (in addition to in-hive, secure feeding) will set out a cup or so of syrup in a shallow tray with straw and watch the action. I recently was alarmed to see many of them become so bloated that as they walked away to compose themselves and whatever, they rested so long they eventually died there. Is it the 2:1 (many of the dead had crystallized sugar covering them)? Is it the Honey B Healthy I added? Something else, or just natural attrition?

    • Gerry,

      Wow. I’ve never heard of that. But, yes, I think 2:1 might be too heavy for flying. Usually when you feed syrup that heavy, the bees don’t have to go anywhere except down into the hive. Try 1:1 or less and see if that works better.

  • Hi,

    I am a new beekeeper, and when fall comes I would like to feed the bees with their own honey. Can you explain the process to me? I live in Iowa, I have two 8 frame deep boxes, nuc was installed 5/16/20 (we have been feeding with syrup and pollen until yesterday 6/11/20 when we installed the 1st super) Our main focus is for the bees to survive not for us to harvest the honey. Thank you very much for your help.

  • Thank you for the many informative posts on feeding technique and products. Really helpful.