feeding bees spring management

Must I feed a new package of bees?

This is a new beekeeper question—and a very good one. If you install your bees on drawn comb with a good supply of honey, you probably don’t need to feed. But if you are installing that package on fresh-from-the-box woodenware, read on.

Picture this. You and your many sisters are scooped up by a gigantic, flightless, hairy malcontent and put into a wooden crate with a nasty stepmother who is locked in a cage next to you. Her perfume reeks. Your box is shipped halfway across the country in the back of a giant truck with hundreds of other such receptacles. You’re given some watery syrup to keep you alive. You sip this half-heartedly and even share it with the nasty stepmother as you and yours are jostled around in the airless, dark, smelly container. It’s hard to hang on as you sway this way and that. Some of you fall off and die.

Eventually, after changing vehicles a few times, you are sprayed with cold syrup (that’s right, you get sprayed with your dinner) and then dumped in a large two-story box with wooden frames hanging like empty picture frames on parallel clotheslines. What gives?

Over the next few days you become accustomed to your nasty stepmother who no longer seems so nasty. In fact, she’s really not bad at all . . . even her perfume is becoming tolerable. You groom her, feed her, and keep her warm as best you can through the odd screened cage. Then one day the hairy malcontent throws off your roof, lets in the cold air, and releases your stepmother. It’s all so hard to comprehend.

Now pay close attention. The days are balmy, plants are growing, and you are working your asses off trying to build a nursery, bring in supplies, feed the family, take care of the babies, and get ready for the coming winter. But there isn’t enough food for everyone. Some family members are hunting all day long, bringing home everything they can find, but it’s not enough. It’s not sufficient for a family that started out with nothing in the pantry, especially when they first had to build the pantry. Some of your siblings are exhausted from overwork; the weakest ones are falling dead. The family is shrinking. Step mom is pregnant, but there’s not enough food to raise all the kids. Things are looking bleak. What you really need is a food bank.

Then one day the hairy malcontent returns, more malcontent than ever because his high-priced box of creatures is disappearing. He has brought a companion—also hairy but definitely quicker on the uptake—who installs a temporary food bank just above the nursery. You and your siblings give thanks—with this little boost to your diet you will be able to “catch up.” You will be able to get that nursery completed, the furniture installed, the kids fed . . . and maybe convince step mom to raise some sons. And if you’re lucky, you will be able to fill the pantry before winter.

So to all you first-time beekeepers out there, the short answer is “yes”—feed that new package of bees. You will be glad you did.


Creatures in a box. This could be you! Flickr photo by Joe DeLuca.

Discover more from Honey Bee Suite

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.


  • This is a brilliant post Rusty. I often feel sorry for bees who get transported long distances, it must be so confusing and uncomfortable.

  • Once again, Rusty, you’ve done an excellent job of portraying perspective. Reading this I thought, ‘I must share this with our bee club at our next meeting’. Then I thought, ‘Why haven’t I insisted that Honey Bee Suite is required reading for our bee club’. I intend to remedy this at our February meeting.

    Best Regards
    Harry Malcontent

  • Hello Rusty,

    First let me tell you how much I am appreciating this site.

    My husband and I just launched ourselves into beekeeping in quaint Nixa, MO. We got the box a week ago and were surprised at the number of dead bees that is until we found the feeding can’s holes were plugged and the bees were basically dying from hunger in droves…at least this is our supposition.

    We initially did not want to feed the bees because it’s been raining and there are flowers galore, however, under the circumstances, we felt compelled to help with the feeding having estimated that about a third of the bees had died. The quart-sized syrup feeder was emptied in 4 days and the second quart should be empty by tomorrow. We plan on feeding them for one more week; is that fair?

    We had a few ant problems but cinnamon took care of that. Reading your post, the one about whether to feed new bees, brought us full circle as we were presented with their perspective. We’ve been visiting the girls every morning and we are thrilled by their coming and going; the first time we spotted a pollen laden bee, we just about burst with pride!!!!

    We almost got the kids to work out the courage to approach the hive; should they?

    Glad we supplemented their gathering but we are now debating whether to place a reducer during this bountiful summer. Needless to say, the feeder is making the store bought reducer not a viable option.

    This whole thing is becoming very overwhelming albeit worth it once we know what we are doing. We have yet to buy a bee suit or be stung; when are the bees most aggressive to necessitate protection?

    We read a ton of books and thought we were ready but nothing prepares you to the reality of the bees when they are in residence. It is very overwhelming when it comes to diseases, their prevention/cure, and the winter feeding but We plan to join our beekeeping society on their next meeting and we shall find a perfect medium to all involved…if our bees don’t take off on us, don’t die during the winter, aren’t victims to any pests, etc. Yeah…we only bought one package and it did not come until Father’s Day half starved.

    On that note, I bid you a good day and a season of plenty.


    • Hala,

      For future reference, I would have brought the dead bees to the attention of the seller. A third of your bees should not be dead. You are paying for a queen and a cluster of bees large enough to get started. I believe you should have gotten a replacement package or a partial refund. I won’t accept a package with that many dead ones.

      They need to be fed, especially since the package was incomplete. There are not enough bees to do all the work. We are already passed the summer solstice and days are getting shorter. I would feed them for another month, at least.

      Of course your kids should go out to see the bees. Most kids will fall in love with them, just as you have.

      The reducer has multiple purposes, one of which is to protect a small colony from robbers, yellow jackets, and other predators. A large colony can take care of itself, but a small one can usually benefit from a reduced entrance that is easier to protect. In nature, colonies go for surprisingly small entrances.

      Bees are most likely to become aggressive in the late summer or early fall, especially during a nectar dearth. Certain things enhance aggressiveness, and the presence of robbers or waps is one of those. There are more, and I have several posts detailing that. But certainly not all hives will become aggressive . . . just some hives some of the time, and it usually doesn’t last very long. You may not need a bee suit at all, though it is nice to have a veil from time to time.

      It is true that there are many diseases out there. But the thing to address first is varroa mites. Learn as much as you can about them and then select some method of dealing with them. There are many options and you should pick one that suits you.

      It sounds like your bees are doing well in spite of the initial set back. Good job . . . keep it up.

  • Slightly off topic, but you mentioned this was the best way to get your attention. Rusty I need to requeen a couple of hives one is queenless. I know it’s early but I was wondering if you have a local source for queens that you would be willing to share? I’m in Sequim but would not think twice about driving to Olympia or beyond.

    • Gregg,

      I actually don’t have a source. I try to raise my own and I give some away now and then, but like you say, it is early. But maybe not too early. I see lots of drones in my hives, which means you probably have them as well. Steal a frame of eggs and nurse bees from the one hive and give it to the queenless hive. They will probably raise a new one in no time.

      I’m working on a series about queens and queen genetics, but I’m not done yet. But really and truly, what I’m going to explain is that your best queens will be the ones you raise yourself, suited to your own particular microclimate. Give it a try.

  • Rusty,

    I am a new beekeeper and am finding your website a daily “must visit”. I installed 2 packages a week and a half ago. I have been feeding 1:1 sugar syrup and they are going through it extremely fast – 1 qt/day. They are gathering pollen and apart from removing the queen cages after the first week, I have not disturbed the hive. My questions:

    When should I check the frames for brood, eggs, etc? The articles I’ve read said let them be until settled but curiosity and preventing problems are also a consideration.

    How long should I continue sugar syrup? I don’t know if I am hampering by making them “dependent” or doing a good thing supplying food.

    I’m surprised how enjoyable just standing there watching them has been. Now I need to learn more so I “know” what I’m seeing. Thanks

    • Cathy,

      There’s no harm in doing a quick check at this point. Just look for eggs and/or larvae and as soon as you find some, close up the hive and leave them alone.

      Bees generally lose interest in the syrup once a nectar flow begins. No, you are not making them dependent, but you are helping them make brood comb which is important when starting a new hive. When the syrup starts to linger, then stop feeding it.

  • Hi Rusty,

    I also have a question about feeding. I have plenty of capped honey from two hives that did not make it this winter. My new bees will be here soon and I would like to feed them some of this honey along with feeding medicated syrup. Let me mention that neither of the dead out hives died from anything as nefarious as AFB or nosema. I did send samples to the lab in Beltsville, Maryland. I am wondering what is the best way to feed capped honey and where to place it in the brood box. I don’t know if I should replace position 1 and 10 or move the honey closer to where the queen will lay her first brood. I welcome any thoughts.

    Thank you,
    Jen from Brunswick, Maine

    • Jennifer,

      My preference would be to put it closer to the brood nest, especially while it is still cool at night. I would use positions 3 and 8, or 2 and 9, depending on how much space the bees are taking up. If the honey gets in the way, they will move it.