feeding bees honey bee management

Never feed syrup during a nectar flow

I’ve recently had a number of questions about sugar syrup and its effect on honey. To clarify, a beekeeper should never feed sugar syrup to bees when they have a honey super in place. Never. As I said in an earlier post, sugar syrup is a short-term answer for bees that have a food shortage. It is used to boost colony strength in early spring, or to add to winter stores in the fall.

If a honey super is in place when the bees have sugar syrup, they will store it in the comb just like honey. They do not know the difference.

If a colony is strong enough to warrant a honey super, it should have nothing else in the hive: no syrup, no fondant, no candy boards, no medicines. I can’t stress this enough. Furthermore, if a colony is strong enough to warrant a honey super, it doesn’t need any supplements. A strong colony will collect everything it needs plus more. A weak colony should not be given a honey super in the first place.



    • Sarah,

      You are not ignorant, you are learning.

      Beekeepers put their honey supers on the hives during a honey flow so that the bees will store honey in them. The honey in the honey supers is what will be harvested for human consumption.

      If the bees are fed sugar syrup while the honey supers are in place, the bees will store the syrup in the supers along with nectar they collect from the field. Then, when you go to harvest your honey, it will be contaminated with sugar syrup. That is not good.

      The rule of thumb is simple: when honey supers are in place, do not feed syrup. It is the best way to avoid contaminated honey.

      • So it is not harmful to the bees. I just don’t want to eat it. I ask because last year was my bees’ first year and I fed them during the honey flow.

  • Thank you for answering my question about the honey super being on while feeding. So, If there is a “honey super” on now and I have been feeding can’t I just remove it when the honey flow starts and put another super on with drawn comb or maybe with un-drawn comb and call it the honey super, Don’t the bees need room to move around and store up something for food. My bees have un-drawn foundation in the brood hive now. Should they? How do you handle a situation like this? Thanks

    • Tricia,

      First let me say that there is no one right way to keep bees. There are certain principles that can help you make decisions, but most of beekeeping depends on the individual beekeeper, his goals, and his location. So I’m not saying you need to do things a certain way. Okay?

      Generally, beekeepers overwinter their bees in the brood boxes. The cluster of bees live in these and it is also where the honey and pollen for winter are stored. Depending on the size of the colony, winter temperatures, etc. a beekeeper may overwinter in one, two, or three brood boxes. The honey supers generally go on when the honey flow starts, and are all taken off at the end of the season.

      Now, some beekeepers may keep supers of honey on their hives during winter to assure their bees won’t starve. There is nothing wrong with this practice if that is what you want to do. The only important thing is that you don’t contaminate your honey with syrup, especially if you intend to sell it. But syrup mixed with honey won’t hurt the bees, and if you want to keep a super on for them while you’re feeding them syrup or Honey-B-Healthy, just mark it so you know which one it is.

      So, the answer to your first question is yes; you can put a new super on when the honey flow starts and save the old one for the bees. If you are going to save it all summer, you’re going to need to protect it from wax moths and hive beetles–freezing works for this.

      Before your bees store much honey in the supers they will probably draw and fill the frames closer to the brood nest. If they still have un-drawn frames they have plenty of room to “move around and store up something.” It sounds like you are doing fine.

    • Hi Rusty. We are new to beekeeping and have a few questions. We have two supers with a pretty strong hive. We added the second super when the first was about 70% full. We Live in Ohio and it is now the beginning of august. Do we put a honey super on now? Will they fill it with honey over the winter? We have not fed any sugar water as nectar is plentiful now. So I guess my question is, feed them or put on the honey super? And do I take it off over winter? Thanks

      • Sandi,

        Wow, you’ve got me confused. I think you’re calling your brood boxes supers, so when you say you have two supers and want to know if you should put on a super and ask if they will fill it…well, I don’t know what you’re saying. Please read “English for Beekeepers.”

        I can say, however, that your bees cannot fill a super over winter because there are no flowers and it certainly will be too cold to fly in Ohio. As for what to do in August, they will probably not find much, especially if the weather is dry. They may find some fall flowers. In my opinion, you should not be feeding a colony that has expanded into a second brood box (I think that’s what you mean) because they should be plenty strong enough to find nectar.

        I also recommend you read some beginner books. You need the basics.

  • Hi,
    I have fed my bees candy on advice from someone, and I think they have brought it into the super (I am new to this!). If this is the case is there anything I can do to rectify it? If anyone can help me, I have a picture of one of the frames in the super, as being inexperienced I’m not entirely sure what I’m looking at!

    Thanks in advance!

    • Fiona,

      There is not much you can do at this point because it will be spread throughout the cells. It just means that you have some sugar syrup in your honey. Since you are a beginner, I suspect you will not be selling any honey, so just don’t worry about it. It is one of those things that happens, especially before you have a good feeling for what goes on in the hive and when. Your honey will still taste delicious.

  • Hi! I am so happy I found this site. I am a new beekeeper and need some advice….quickly! I was just heading out to give some sugar-syrup to the bees and now I don’t know what to do. Our bees were overwintered with two hive bodies and two honey supers….mainly because we realized too late that the bottom hive body was not really being used and it was too late to try to manipulate the hives. So, we left both supers on to ensure the bees would have enough honey for winter. The bees have moved up to the top super at this point.

    It is still too cold to do a full inspection or to manipulate the hives so we decided to feed them some sugar syrup before the nectar flow begins. But now I realize that this will contaminate the honey supers….but the bees (and I’m sure the queen) are LIVING in the honey super! Is there any way to undo this? What do you recommend? Should I feed them or give them honey-b-healthy? I think we really messed up our first winter! Thanks for any advice.


    • Sarah,

      I’m not sure what you are trying to accomplish. If you’ve already turned the two honey supers over to the bees to live in, the addition of sugar syrup won’t hurt anything.

      If you want to save some of the honey for yourself, you can remove the extractable frames and replace them with new frames. If you do this, you will have to feed continuously from now until nectar flow.

      You will have to wait until warmer weather to get the bees out of your honey supers. One way is to put the queen down in a brood box and put a queen excluder on top of that. Some of the colony will soon move down to be with the queen, especially if nights are still cold. Another way to do it is put the queen in a brood box and put a bee escape board between the brood boxes and the supers. Once the colony goes down to be with the queen they won’t be able to go back up into the honey supers.

      The problems with all these methods is the brood remaining in the supers. Part of the bees will go where the queen is and part will stay with the brood. So if it gets really cold, you’re spreading the resources very thin and may end up damaging the colony. All the brood will have to hatch before the bees will abandoned the upper boxes. Also, you will have to feed like crazy.

      Another thing you could do is put all the frames from the honey supers in the brood box and then remove the supers. The bees will eventually build comb in the empty space below the frames, but it will work. (I’m assuming the brood boxes are larger than the supers.)

      As I said, it depends on what your main concern and goal is. Just be careful that you don’t chill your brood or kill your queen . . . and if you remove honey, don’t forget to feed.

  • I am very glad to find such a website that helps new beekeepers like me. I have a small question and I would be grateful if I get the answer as soon as possible.

    I fed my bees 3 weeks ago (8 March). And on the 30th of March, I put the queen excluder. Most probably, I will take the honey in the supers 2 weeks from now because it’s the spring right.

    My question is that: will the honey extracted after 2 weeks be considered natural 100% or will it be contaminated? (Remember, I will extract the honey after 5 weeks from feeding the bees). I know an expert and he told me that I should feed them in order to let them expand and feed their new born bees. In addition, he told me that all the honey made made from the feedings will be eaten by the new bees. But I would like to check from you please.

    P.S. The hive is full and is estimated to have 25000 bees in it.

    • Ziad,

      You should never put honey supers on a hive that is being fed sugar syrup. This is because the bees will store it in the honey super as if were honey and end up contaminating the rest of the honey.

      Your friend is right that much of the syrup will be consumed by the bees as they expand their nest, but any excess will be stored in the honey supers. It is not worth it to risk contaminating your honey. So just remember, you can feed or put on honey supers, but not both at the same time.

  • Hi there and thanks for so much info! I am a new beekeeper in the arid mountains of NM. My question is about when to stop feeding: I will be getting 2 packages in about a month. I will feed them while they are getting settled, but when should I pull the food off? My hive (a weak colony due to problems with my queen) last year got decimated by robber bees in the fall, and I want to do the best job of supporting the development of healthy colonies this year (I will be using robber screens as robbing is rampant in our area). Thanks for your thoughts,

  • Why do you use the word contaminated? I would say that the honey isnt pure honey but it isnt contaminated with anything dangerous. Just sounds too dramatic to say its contaminated I feed my bees until full honey flow.then after I remove the supers.

    • Jeff,

      Contamination is the presence of a minor and unwanted constituent (contaminant) in a material. It doesn’t have to be dangerous. Sucrose from syrup is a contaminant because it did not come from nectar. Nectar is made primarily from the monosaccharides glucose and fructose, while table sugar is a disaccharide, sucrose. Excess sucrose in honey dilutes its taste, fragrance, nutrient profile, and value. If you want to eat it that way, go ahead. To sell it as pure honey is called “fraud.”

  • Hi, I’m searching the web for answers to my big problem, and here it goes:

    Basically, my bees won’t draw out the medium honey super I put on top of the hive body this year. They colony came to me spontaneously last August, made it through the winter, and have been productive all this season and last with mostly worker brood, and drawing out frames with honey. It was time for them to expand; I added the honey super on top in May, but the bees will only walk around on it and occasionally add propolis to the edges of the foundation.

    Rusty, do you have any advice for me? Is it just because of the odd summer we are having?

    • Adam,

      What you are describing is completely normal behavior. The bees know the super is there; they have inspected it and fixed it up to their liking. But if the nectar flow isn’t strong enough, they won’t even start on it. I’ve had bees walk around in supers for a year and never touch them. At other times, they will fill a super in under a week. There isn’t much you can do about it and, yes, it is probably due to the weather more than anything.

  • Rusty, I am a new beginner in beekeeping, but I want to try to do everything right, so here is the question. I have 2 hives and 1 of them is very strong, and the other doesn’t have a lot of honey. Should I feed the strong one over the winter months or just let them feed on the honey? I know to feed the other ones, thank you very much.

    • Elaine,

      I would not start feeding bees unless they need it. Honey is the best food for bees and it will keep them healthy over the winter. However, when you get a warmish day you should check on them to make sure they have enough. If they start to rise to the top of the hive and seem to congregate there, you may have to move frames of honey closer to the cluster where they can find it. Or, if they are running out of food, you will have to start feeding them. In my experience, even a strong hive my start running low in December or January.

  • Rusty, I got 1 hive late but they are doing good but not much honey. I bought a top sugar feeder; should I feed them all winter or should I add anything to the sugar water to make them more healthy? please try to get back to me. Thank you very much.

    • Elaine,

      If your late hive doesn’t have much honey, you will probably end up feeding them most of the winter. They still have some time to store away the fall nectar flow, so let them do that before you start feeding. Depending on your climate, you may have to switch to hard candy instead of syrup once the weather gets cold. You don’t say where you are, but bees can’t drink syrup that is below 50 degrees F. You can give them something like Honey-B-Healthy to add essential nutrients if you want. Usually, I don’t add anything until after the winter solstice (Dec. 21) because that is when brood rearing starts increasing. They need more nutrients when raising young than they do the rest of the time. The main thing is to watch them and make sure they always have enough to eat.

  • Hi,

    Will feeding the bees sugar syrup cause the queen to begin laying brood? Also, at what temperature should one stop opening up the hive?

    • Les,

      No, especially if you feed 2:1 syrup, which is recommended for fall feeding. I try not to open the hive much when it is below 60°F, although if you’re quick, it is fine to open it now and then.

  • Hello. This is my second year of beekeeping, and I’m learning all the time, so please forgive my ignorance. I’ve been feeding my bees sugar water basically since day one. I have top feeders to do this.

    Questions: how do I know when the honey flow is on exactly? From what I’ve read and been told, honey is usually harvested between mid-August to mid-September. If this is correct, and today is July 11, have I already ruined my honey that I will be harvesting because of the sugar water? Lastly, can I still harvest the honey I have right now?

    Thank you!

    • David,

      We feed bees to help them through lean times or to start them off on the right food. But bees store sugar syrup just like nectar. By definition, honey is made from nectar, not table sugar, so nectar mixed with syrup cannot legally be called honey.

      “Ruined” is a relative term. The product can certainly be harvested and/or saved to be used as winter feed. You can taste it, and if you like it, it is perfectly edible. However, don’t sell it. Most people probably wouldn’t know the difference, but it is still fraudulent to sell it labeled as “honey” if it contains sugar syrup.

      As far as harvest dates go, that depends. Personally, I harvest at the end of June but that’s because I take the early crop of comb honey and leave the later stuff for the bees. So it depends on where the beekeeper lives and which part of the crop he is interested in taking. Of course, if you harvest early, you may end up having to give it back in the fall, depending on what the bees are able to store.

      In one version of your comment, you asked if you should limit feeding to the winter. That’s also difficult to answer. Under ideal conditions, you should never have to feed sugar. Sugar is a crutch, but it is useful for helping bees through a rough patch. Still, it’s not the best food for bees, and they certainly don’t have such a supplement in nature.

      In any case, syrup usually is not fed in winter because bees cannot drink syrup that is below about 50 degrees F. So for winter supplements, sugar cakes or granulated sugar work better.

  • Rusty, I am a first year beekeeper and just added my first honey super (July 23rd). Upon inspection, the top brood box (I have two 8 frame deeps) had 2.5 frames that were not drawn out. 2 frames with great brood, eggs, larvae. The remainder had honey and nectar. Should I have waited to put the honey super on? Should I take out one of the nectar filled frames and replace it with a new frame for the queen to lay? I’m loving this hobby, but find it very confusing… everyone I ask has a different answer!! Thanks in advance for your help!

    • Ann,

      I think you’re fine. I usually add a super when the box below is 70-80% full. If you want to give your queen more space in the brood nest, remove one of the empty frames from the outside of the box and put it beside the brood nest, then slide the other frames over to the edge.

      • Rusty, Thank you SO much for your advice! Your website is an invaluable resource for beekeepers of all levels – especially ‘new-bees’!!

  • I am puzzled on your “never feed with honey supers on” I think this depends on what the honey super is being used for. If you plan to harvest then yes I agree. However with as cold and brutal as the Ohio winters have been, I have at least one “honey super” on each hive. I am will probably need to feed as some of the colonies are younger and feed the resources. I have the med supers marked however so I know which ones would contain the unpure honey.

    • Dave,

      Yes, of course, but most people think of honey supers as the ones you harvest. We don’t have a good word for “honey supers” that you leave for the bees.

      • I set up my hives as a deep and a medium reserved for the colony, with a queen excluder between that section and any honey boxes I stack on as needed. Usually, those honey boxes (OK, “supers”) are mediums.

        So I call mine “this is where the bees live” and “this is where I optionally get to steal honey.”

        Yeah, this is a fairly old post, but it was cross-referenced somewhere in the series of rabbit holes I dived into this morning. And rampant misuse of the word “super” has been annoying me lately. Grumble.

        • As far as comments go, the age of the post doesn’t matter. New comments pop up as they come in regardless of the post date.

          Anyone rampaging on the misuse of the word “super” is my hero. I do worry about old posts in regard to beekeeper English (especially hive vs colony) because I’m pickier about it now than I used to be. After seeing so much confusion over the years, beekeeper vocabulary is my first priority. “Honey boxes” works for me: perhaps I should adopt that term.

  • In which super should you put the feeder? The one closest to the ground with the brood or in the super above that. Lost my hive last winter and I will start out this spring with a nuc. I am in Alberta so the main honey flow does not start until June. There is still some honey that I left in the hive for last winter but only about 30 pounds. with thanks Bob

    • Bob,

      Part of the confusion is terminology. Brood boxes hold brood. Honey supers (short for superstructures) go above brood boxes. So basically, you are not going to use a feeder while you are using a honey super, unless you intend to leave the honey super for them to overwinter on. If you are using an internal division board feeder, you can put it in either brood box (the top one is easier to get to) or you can put it in a honey super if you are intending to leave the super for them to overwinter on.

  • I have a question, I am getting my package bees on April 23, and was wondering if I should feed them sugar syrup. I am wondering this because I will be getting them in the middle of one of South Carolina’s main honey flows. I have been doing a lot of research on this and I am left at a dead end. so any advice would be great.

    • Joseph,

      They have a lot of work to do in the hive and they can’t be two places at once. There is certainly no harm in feeding them for a few days until they have some combs well underway. By then, they will probably prefer to forage and you can stop feeding. There’s no right or wrong way; you’re just trying to optimize their chance of success.

      • Okay, makes sense. If I do feed them is there any homemade natural sugar-water and herb recipes I should use.

        • Joseph,

          I would use plain sugar water. They will get all the nutrients they need from the nectar and pollen they bring in.

  • Rusty,

    I fed my young hive sugar syrup with Honeybee Healthy in the fall for overwintering. They came through beautifully. In fact, they have 8 frames of capped honey (i.e. sugar syrup) left. What do I do with this now that they don’t need it in late March?

    I have one deep and two mediums. The lower deep and medium have brood and capped honey and the top medium as all honey.

    Love your blog. It has been a great help to me.

    • Neil,

      I would save those frames for the fall. Just wrap them in plastic, freeze a couple of days to kill anything that might be on them, and then store in a mouse-proof container.

  • Hi Rusty

    I am a very new beekeeper! A bit overwhelmed as well with the learning curve but I want to learn best practices. We have 3 hives total, 2 standard hives and a log hive (built by my son). Last fall we fed the 2 standard hives sugar syrup but not the log hive. The reason for feeding was because of swarming and the hives seemed weaker afterwards. But when we winterized the hives the 2 standard hives had an abundance of capped honey comb. We harvested a few frames (leaving plenty for overwintering). Now realizing they may have had sugar syrup within them. The honey is for family use only.

    Unfortunately both those hives did not make it thru our Maine winter. We are now cleaning out the hives and harvesting the honey. Of which I’m thinking may also have sugar syrup within. Is it just best to harvest honey in June/July and leave the rest for the bees? You mentioned taking supers out as well? But what’s to be done honey-wise when a colony dies as ours have? Too many questions?

    I appreciate any advice. Thanks

    • Karen,

      Why not keep the honey/syrup frames for your next colonies, assuming you will have more? It’s perfect bee food and will get a new colony off to a fast start.

      The best time to harvest will depend on the nectar flows in your area, so it’s hard to say. Some folks harvest in spring, some in fall. Of course, if you would prefer to eat the honey, then you can harvest it, as long was it wasn’t in the hive when (if) you treated the bees with a pesticide for mites.

  • Thanks Rusty. All good advice. We do have more colonies coming later in spring. What’s the best way to store those frames while were waiting for our bees?

    • Karen,

      The very best thing is to wrap them in plastic and freeze overnight to kill any wax moths or hive beetle eggs. Then leaving the plastic on, store them in a place away from mice. I usually do a few frames at a time until I get them all done.

  • Rusty,
    I rarely seem to get my bees to eat the sugar syrup I provide. I find it starting to mold. It is an expensive waste. What can be some reasons for this? I suspect they have found nectar, and prefer it. What say you?

    • Like you say, they probably found a good nectar source. That’s great and so much better for them than syrup.

  • I am planning on starting a small bee farm – maybe with about five hives. I have a half an acre land in a rural area. Do you have any good advice for a beginner?

  • Rusty,

    First year beekeeper from NE Wisconsin. I have two hives, both started from purchased nucs. One hive is strong, 2 deep brood box and I just added a second honey super last week. The other hive is weaker and should be requeened…

    I was thinking about purchasing 2 queens, splitting the strong hive and requeening the weak hive. Any reason I shouldn’t?

    If I go ahead with this plan, I was going feed the new split and the weak hive. Is that recommended? My concern is that the strong hive might rob the weaker two.

    What do the robbers do with the honey they rob? Could sugar water honey end up in the honey super of my strong hive even though I didn’t feed them?

    My other thought was to take a frame or two of brood from the strong hive and put it in the weak one with new queen, but that leaves me with one less hive than the other plan… I’m hoping to get up to 5 hives for my second year.

    Thank you,

    • Frank,

      1. There is no reason you shouldn’t split your strong hive and re-queen the weak one, if that’s what you want to do.

      2. I don’t know the schedule of your nectar flow in Wisconsin, but feeding weak or new colonies is usually appropriate.

      3. Robbers generally store the honey they harvest from other hives. Could sugar syrup end up in the super of a strong hive? Sure. But generally supers are removed in dearth periods, and dearth periods are when robbing is most likely.

      4. Equalizing brood between two hives is probably the easiest solution to a weak hive. Are you sure the queen needs replacing? If the colony is weak for some other reason and there were few nurses to raise brood, any queen would be limited in her ability to raise a large population. Population increase is restricted by the number of workers able to care for brood, and extra eggs will be consumed.

  • It seems I may be in a similar situation as Frank Reimer. 1 of my 2 hives is very strong, 2 full deep brood boxes boiling over with bees. I’m most concerned about making sure that this hive stays strong and does what it needs in preparation for winter. I don’t want it to be a flash in the pan.

    The second hive seems to be struggling. The brood pattern is poorish and the overall number of bees is less. Initially I thought maybe I had a robbing situation but after multiple video examples of robbing it doesn’t really seem that way. The front is very active and bees are spaced on the outer walls, not exactly a beard which we see on the other hive. There is no fighting and no dead bees on the ground.

    I’ve been feeding both hives with a baggie feeder weekly since NUCs were installed 8 weeks ago. The bees seem to have moved predominantly into the upper box in both hives.

    I really have 2 questions.

    1. Should I do anything more to the strong hive? Another brood box? Honey super? Frame rotation? I’m also concerned about swarming.

    2. Is there something wrong with the second hive and what suggestions are there for correcting any problems?


    • Josh,

      You don’t say where you are, which hinders my answer.

      Hive 1: Since we are well past the summer solstice, your colonies are contracting not expanding. There is no sense in adding more boxes or supers if there is space in the bottom box. I would check inside the hive. If the bottom is empty you could switch the two boxes, or you could put most of the brood in the lower one and arrange the honey to the sides of the brood and the rest overhead, and make sure they have some empty frames to fill. Swarm season is basically over; it generally spans about 2 months in spring. Swarms can occur outside of swarm season, but they are far less likely.

      Hive 2. It is hard to evaluate a colony without seeing it, but two colonies are seldom equal in strength. Try to judge it by itself instead of comparing it to your strong colony. If you think it is too weak, you can add some brood from your strong colony. This of course offsets the strength of one and boosts the other. However, many beekeepers like to equalize the strength of their colonies before winter, and it does tend to reduce robbing between the two.

      • I’m in Southern Maryland. We are having regular 95°F days and the nights aren’t getting below 80.

  • Hi Rusty,

    This is my second year of keeping bees. I live in Central Florida. The first year I got my nucs in early April, put the hives in my residential yard, and by mid-June I harvested lots of honey. Shortly after that, the county sprayed for mosquitoes and managed to kill my bees. Very discouraging. This year, I got nucs in mid-April and put the hives on rural acreage I own. This area is surrounded by citrus groves, but citrus isn’t blooming now. There are no houses in the area, therefore no flower beds. I think my bees are starving. I put on honey supers based on what had happened last year, but the supers are empty. Lots of bees on them, but no build out of any kind. I have started to feed them, which seems weird in the middle of summer but being hungry is all I can think of as to why they aren’t making honey. I am considering moving the hives to a friend’s property that is big enough to be away from sprayers going down the street, but close by a fairly big subdivision with lots of flower beds. Do you think this would be the thing to do and do you have any suggestions about moving hives.

    Thanks for all your help. Linda

    • Linda,

      There are so many variables it is hard to know why the colonies are not storing honey. It may have nothing to do with the location. This is a different year with different weather. They are different bees with different genetics. The queens are different. The nectar flow isn’t the same from year to year even in the same location. There are good honey years and bad ones. It’s just the way it is. You can try moving your hives to a new location, but that doesn’t guarantee things will be any different. On the other hand, there is no harm in moving them. If the distance is more than a couple miles, just lock them up in the evening and move them the next day, leaving plenty of ventilation so they don’t roast.

  • I caught a swarm this year it is my first time beekeeping. I have been feeding them to help build comb. I put a honey super on since they filled both deeps. Out. I just noticed that they stored some of the sugar water in the comb in the super. I just put anther super on it and put more sugar water on so they can build it out. Is that the right thing? Should I have let them use the syrup in the first super? Will they use that first to build or with that end up contamination on my honey?

    • Matthew,

      Bees treat sugar syrup and nectar the same. They don’t know the difference. So they drink it to get energy, but when they have extra they store it. Once they built the comb in your first super, they started to fill it. Like I said, they do they same things regardless of the source of the food. They will probably continue to store the syrup in the first super, and I doubt they will build much in the second super. They won’t take the syrup out of the first super, especially since you gave them more. I don’t know your climate, but I would remove the second super and the syrup and let them store some honey in the first super.

  • Rusty,
    I just want to say thank you for this site! It’s great to find a place where new beekeepers can ask questions without the fear of judgement or ridicule. Believe me, I’ve seen so many experts respond in such a way that the new beeks don’t want to ask anything ever again. 🙁 Your respectful responses are very much appreciated! Thanks again!

  • Second year beekeeper. My first year in mid September we had a privet bloom (we have a ton in our area) which allowed me a fall harvest. This year has been very dry. No spring harvest and drought continues to fall. Last week I decided to feed. They drank like mad. Gallon a day thirsty. Well today I noticed the privet bloom just started ( a full month later than last year) and the bees are all over it. Is it too late to stop feeding and put a super on to collect a harvest? I’m in North Georgia and the next few weeks show highs in upper 70’s. I also read a beekeeper that kept supers on till first frost. What do you recommend?

    • Scott,

      If you want to try to collect it, you certainly can. But from your description it seems like your bees could use that bloom for overwintering. It would be better for them than syrup, and if the colony is taking that much syrup, it sounds like they are short on winter stores. I guess it depends on how much you think they’ll harvest from now until frost.

  • Sir,

    I’m sure you have answered this already but don’t have time to read it all! I have honey supers on some of my hives but I also have new hives that I am having to feed syrup. Is this ok? The new packages have to have syrup. I have reducers on and notice no robbing.

    • Ma’am,

      If you notice no robbing, it must be working okay. If you begin to see robbing, you may have to add robbing screens. As long as your established colonies are collecting nectar, they usually stay happy. If you go into a nectar dearth, then it may be a problem.

  • Hi Rusty,

    I have some crushed comb from a dead hive that to the best of my knowledge wasn’t caused by nosema or AFB.

    I set the crushed comb out in my veggie garden like I’ve done in the past to let the bees clean up the remaining honey and so I could process the wax. They aren’t touching it. Not a one.

    Now I’m concerned the honey I harvested is bad (is there such a thing?) or that I was wrong about the cause of the colony death and shouldn’t have installed a nuc in the hive.

    I live near Vancouver, WA. The blackberries here are just starting to bloom. Could it be that there are plenty of nectar sources that the bees just don’t need the honey remnants?

    • Karen,

      There is nothing wrong with the honey. As you guessed, honey bees are hard-wired to collect nectar when it is available. Save the crushed comb in the freezer to feed during the summer/fall nectar dearth and they will clean it up in a jiffy.

  • Thanks! I thought that was probably it. I’ve only ever put crushed comb out in late summer and they’ve always cleaned it right up. Didn’t put it out earlier as there wasn’t a bee in sight until a few weeks ago. What a brutal fall-winter-spring we had here. I lost both my hives.

  • Hi,
    Can I put a honey super on a hive that has chalkbrood? And, if I am feeding one very week hive sugar syrup … can it affect my other hives that have honey super on?

    • JP,

      You can put a honey super on, certainly, but I don’t know why you’d want to. Chalkbrood can be a serious disease and colonies that have it are often weak and not up to storing honey. If one weak colony is being fed syrup, there is a possibility that your other colonies will rob it and store it. This is especially true if you are in a nectar dearth. Whether you are in a nectar dearth depends on your local area.

  • Dear Rusty,
    I’m afraid we have messed up big time. We fed our bees sugar syrup with the supers on a couple of times this summer. Because our hives are 100 miles from our home, and we are weekend warrior to the tasks involved with bee keeping. They are in a remote area so there was really no way to remove the supers and store them when it was necessary to feed. When the farmer who cuts the 35 acres of hay fields cut the same weekend that we had to cut the 6 acre restoration wildflower meadow in keeping with our grant, it left nothing for them to gather. So we fed them the next weekend. By the following weekend the clover was beginning to appear again, but not in great quantity so we fed them again. We had lost a number of hives the year before and felt we had to keep the colonies strong no matter what. However, now we have lots of honey evidently ruined by some syrup that may have been used for supers or may have been used for feeding or storage, who knows. Can we sell this honey with a disclaimer? Do we have to just “keep it in the family”, or feed it to the bees this winter? The major problem is our “bee fund” is in the red due to having to replace the hives we lost last year and trying so darn hard to do all we can for the bees to fight pest and replace bottom boards with the type built for beetle traps, buying new feeders, etc. etc. etc. If we can’t sell the honey I fear we may have to get out of beekeeping altogether. We can’t afford to stay in. I am going to have many disappointed people who buy my honey every year. I am stuck between a rock and a hard place. Please advise.

    • KB,

      That’s a legal, ethical, moral issue that you will have to sort out for yourself. I can’t tell you want to do.

      However, I’m surprised you opted to feed your bees in mid-season with the honey supers on. Just for future reference, you mention cutting a total of 41 acres in the vicinity of your hives. Since a bee colony can easily forage a 5 mile radius, which is 50,265 acres, I can’t imagine that cutting 41 of them will make much difference to the bees. From a human perspective, forage may have appeared short, but I doubt that was true for the bees. But they won’t go out looking for that forage if they have someone feeding them.

      The other issue is that apparently they were foraging and storing honey before the fields were cut. That means they most likely had plenty of honey for the lean times even if there was nothing in the fields. Their entire modus operandi is based on storing in times of plenty so they can survive in times of dearth.

      Sugar syrup can be used on nucs and startups or for emergency feed in winter, but it should not be part of the diet of a healthy colony in a normal season.

      I’m sorry if this sounds like a lecture, but you asked my opinion. If I had to deal with it, I’d probably just save the honey/syrup for bee feed. I know that doesn’t answer your financial dilemma. I don’t see an issue selling it with a disclaimer, but I can’t imagine you could get much for honey mixed with sugar syrup, or even honey possibly mixed with sugar syrup.

  • Thank you Rusty. It did not sound like a lecture, but the sound advice I needed. I did not realize that they would fly up to five miles to forage. I’d always heard 3. But was stunned so to hear that a five mile radius is 50,265 acres! In the future I will not panic when or if everything near is cut and all blossoms disappear.

    I will just take this honey and feed it to the bees this winter. I can’t in good conscious do anything else.

    May I please have further advice on how to feed it to the bees. We have nice top feeders that we can keep on all winter so we do not have to get into the hive to feed when it’s quite cold. I assume we can just pour the honey we have extracted into those feeders and all is well.

    As far as the supers we have not extracted, It would be great if we could just use them as feed frames. But we treat with apiguard, fumagilin-B, and tetra-B. If we just put the supers in for them to eat, I assume those supers would not be able to be used for honey collection again because they would be contaminated with the fumes of apigard and powder of tetra-B. Is that correct? If so, Oh Well. We have been thinking of trying a hive made of super boxes for brood because we are OLD and picking up brood boxes containing a lot of honey frames is becoming increasingly more difficult. We thought if we would just use smaller boxes, our task might be easier.

    Again. I am to the point where I’m just about to give it all up. I am a nervous wreck over losing hives when we try so hard to keep them strong. In our fervor to keep them fed we ruined a season’s honey. Plus living 100 miles away from our bees is becoming logistically impossible since there is no safe storage there. We would have to lug supers home 100 miles, store them in the kitchen until we could return them to the hive a hundred miles away.

    But now that I have the grasp of acreage they can forage. I will not panic again. Thank you for that. Okay, another question has popped into my head. You must think I’m a lunatic. How long and where should I store the extracted honey? We have it in the plastic buckets with a honey gate right now. How long can we safely keep it there? As to the supers we have NOT extracted…How in the world do we store them? I fear wax moths, and other pests if we just store them in the cellar with a lid on top and bottom. Should we go ahead and extract them and store them in the buckets? Would that be best? Thank you for any tips on how to let this honey be of some good to the bees.

    • KB,

      Bear in mind that honey bees will forage as close to the hive as they can, but as food becomes more scarce, they travel further. Traveling the further distance is not energy-efficient, but it can save a colony in the lean times.

      Yes, you can put extracted honey in feeders, but I don’t know what type you have. If they have small holes, they can get clogged. Just bear that in mind.

      Most of those chemicals give instructions on adding supers, such as “allow 30 days before adding honey supers” or something similar. If you are past those thresholds, you can safely re-use the supers and frames in spring.

      Completely cured honey in a covered plastic bucket with a gate should last a few thousands years or so. It’s the plastic bucket that will give out first. Remember, edible honey has been discovered from ancient times, still perfectly edible. I keep honey in the house or in my garden shed. As long as it’s covered and protected from pests, it should be fine.

      Unextracted frames should be wrapped in plastic, frozen a night or two, and then allowed to thaw while still wrapped. Store at room temperature in a place safe from predators and infestation from moths.

      The other thing I want to mention is that beekeeping is supposed to be fun. It shouldn’t cause anguish, stress, or depression. It’s supposed to cure those things.

      • Hi Rusty. We have the Mann Lake top feeders. We have been very pleased with them after using the Max top feeders for a few years that ants seem to love to burrow into. I will try to attach a picture of the one we have now that is easy to clean and that we’ve had not problems with ants getting into so far. I just wonder about the thickness of honey. Certainly the screen is wide enough for honey to go through. I think it will work for winter feeding of honey to the bees. What do you think?

        Well can’t seem to add the picture. It is a plastic insert for a shallow super sized box. There is a screen in the middle where bees come up and feed through the mesh which is more like hardware cloth really than mesh. You may be familiar with it.

        • KB,

          Yes, I am familiar with them. The honey should work as long as it’s not so thick that it doesn’t flow to the screen.

  • I have been feeding honey bees sugar water for 3 months now from plates on my back porch. Please tell me what to do to stop them from coming back.

  • Hi Rusty. I live in Spain. It’s December and the other day I saw what I thought or think was a honey bee. I thought it was too cold for it, so I put out some honey from my old jar and some on the lid of the honey jar. Out on my terrace table and today two days later I had 3 little bees eating the honey. I don’t know much about them but I know we need them, so giving honey to them is that ok? I don’t know where their nest is. We get a lot of wasps here and I heard in the news that wasps kill the bees. Is that true? How can I help protect the bees in my garden? Also by me putting honey out for them will that help them survive through the winter? I’m fascinated that they come to eat the honey. Can you advise me about what I have started doing? Thank you Ann

    • Ann,

      There are many kinds of bees but not many are active during the winter, so it very well could be honey bees you are seeing. If it is warm enough to fly, they will find and drink sweet liquids like honey or syrup. Feeding them may or may not help a colony survive, depending on how far away it is and how much food they have stored in their hive.

      Some wasps kill bees, although that is more apt to be a problem near to the hive where there are lots of bees to pick from.

      If the bees are benefiting from your honey and the hive is close by, you could have hundreds visit on a warm day. You may or may not want to deal with that. Sometimes feeding bees honey can be detrimental to their health because it can transmit certain bacterial spores between colonies. If you want to continue feeding them, plain sugar syrup may be a better choice.

  • I’m not but have since a kid wanted to raise honey bees. Early efforts age around 12 had a wild hive I was trying to get out of a tree (cutting the hive from the branches of a tree) nearly cut free when the old structure I was standing on began to crack and when it broke I grabbed the branches I was cutting, but the weight broke loose the hive and to the ground it went with me landing on top of it…ouch it stung a lot.

    I survived and now near 77 yrs. old I plan to buy into a small home farm where I hope to have one of my Grandsons come and live with us start his new family (now expecting) but I want to provide a new way of life called farming for a living and to that end I hope to introduce honey bee farming. So I plan to study beekeeping following your site as I like how you help and it seems very accurate. You know how to advise for those who really listen and think about what you are saying…not just grabbing what they want or expect to hear. I won’t likely have much to say because I don’t have bees but not only have I read your starting bee keeping intro. I like what you tell others as they encounter problems…some I will not be able to understand as I don’t have bees to study and understand what you are telling others to look for.

    Just thought you might like to know someone out here who has no bees is trying to learn so he can introduce bees to his family. I would like one question answered or directed to sources for me to consider. I of course love honey, but my concern is the loss of the bees their life is difficult and I feel there needs more care because climate change seems to be getting frigid and should we cover our bees to keep them warm or how to we care for bees much like an orange grove farmer protects his crop when temperatures drop below freezing. My concern is the bees let them keep the honey if that helps them survive as it’s better than sugar water.

    • Larry,

      You have packed many questions into that last paragraph. The first lesson to remember is “all beekeeping is local.” So without knowing where you are, it is basically impossible to answer questions about overwintering, covering hives, how much honey they need for winter, and so forth.

      Except in extreme climates, an average-size healthy colony can keep itself warm if parasites are controlled and it has plenty of food. Honey bees are by nature hoarders and can produce many times the amount of honey they need, which is why we can harvest a crop and not hurt the bees.

      For more specific answers, please put your location next to your name in the comment box, something like “Larry in Timbuktu.”

  • Hi Rusty,

    I got my 5 frame nuc May 25th. I think they are progressing well. They’ve drawn all but three sides (1.5 frames) as i’ve been feeding them sugar syrup to help them out. Since they have tons of brood about to hatch i thought it would be a good time to add a super to give them some room. Since the super contains empty frames couldnt i still feed them in order to help them build comb quicker without them taking already stored honey from the frames below? I agree with your rule of thumb about not feeding when supering but couldnt i still feed in this instance since they have plenty of comb still to build?

    Also, i’m noticing less bees coming back with pollen when entering the hive. Is it accurate to assume the bees carrying pollen are also carrying nectar? Also, is it safe to assume that all bees coming back to the hive without pollen are most likely carrying nectar? Do they often go out searching and dont find anything?

    Thanks and love your site. I’ve learned so much already!

    • John,

      1. Whether or not you feed with a super in place depends on what you plan to do with the super. If it’s for the bees, no problem. If it’s for human consumption, no one I know likes eating sugar syrup. The problem is the bees don’t build all the combs and then go back and fill them. Instead, they usually fill them as they get built.

      2. Most bees carry either pollen or nectar. A few carry both, but others carry water or propolis. Bees in a nectar dearth may not find anything to bring home.

      • Understand. Perhaps I’ll check this weekend and note which frames may already have sugar syrup stored in them in case I want to harvest honey. I could stop feeding and see how they progress in building out the rest of the comb. Guess I’m just hoping to get a little taste of honey as a new beekeeper :). Thanks for the reply.

  • Hi Rusty,

    Since your post I removed the sugar syrup from my hives because I don’t want sugar syrup in my honey super. Looks like they are still drawing comb which means they need the room for their excess honey stores 🙂

    What about feeding with pollen patties? Would that work as a good food source in lieu of sugar syrup while they are still drawing out the rest of the comb?

    Since the the queen can’t lay in the super is it possible they may still store the pollen in the super in addition to eating it?

    Even if they did store some there, a little pollen mixed into my honey wouldn’t be a bad thing right?

    Thanks again.

    • John,

      When there is ample pollen available, I find that bees will not pay any attention to the patties. I think pollen patties are best for late winter and early spring supplements.

      Occasionally, I’ve seen bees store pollen in the honey supers, but not often. When they do, they store it at the edges of the frames. And, no, a little pollen won’t hurt the honey. It already contains quite a bit—just look at your honey under a microscope.

  • Don’t mean to harp on this subject but my deep honey super is very close to being full and all I can think about is tainted honey with sugar syrup. I’m not going to sell it but definitely want to give some away. How much do you think made it into the super? I’d have to think they were eating a good deal of it and not just storing it in the super. Also, since it was only a 1:1 ration mixture, doesn’t that mean that the volume that was actually stored is a decent amount less since technically the water content would be reduced down to 15-17%. So 8 ounces of syrup would only end up being stored as 4.6 ounces (1 cup of 1:1 syrup = 4 ounces water, 4 ounces of sugar. Water gets reduced down to .6 ounces yielding a reduced amount to be capped of 4.6. Is that a good ball park figure? If a ten frame deep can yield 5 gallons of honey then if all 6 cups of sugar were stored then my harvest would only contain about 5% sugar syrup. I guess that’s not bad right and that’s assuming they stored it all and didn’t eat any of it. Sorry, I’m just paranoid. Luckily I added a second super (medium) and they are already drawing out comb and storing nectar there. Maybe that batch will be more “pure” 🙂

    • John,

      “All I can think about is tainted honey” and “I’m just paranoid.” I’m not a psychologist, so I can help. You recognized a problem, you took steps to fix it, now move on with your life. You can eat the honey or feed it back to bees, but stop worrying over it.

  • Rusty,

    This site is so helpful. Thank you for what you are doing. My nine year old son is the beekeeper, and I’m writing this for him so he can make some decisions. During an inspection today we noticed areas of the wax foundation chewed out. We looked it up, and it seems that they are doing this to move wax because of the dearth. He has two brood boxes and two honey supers. The bottom box still has three frames undrawn. The second box is honey and brood, and the third box (first honey super) has 6 frames full of honey, but not all capped. 2 additional are drawn. The top honey super is empty. (He has two hives, and this one is far behind his other hive). Based on the chewed holes he thinks he needs to feed sugar syrup. But here are his concerns:

    1) Golden rod just started to bloom, and you aren’t supposed to feed with supers on

    2) he is afraid to take the supers off and harvest the honey because we haven’t gotten much rain at all and he is worried that golden rod might not be strong.

    Can you help us make decisions?

    Jack and Amy

    • It sounds the the bees are doing fine. There is no reason in the world that two colonies should behave in exactly the same way and exhibit the same strength. I would leave them alone.

  • I have a lot of capped honey in the deeps. About half the frames have honey on them. I asked another internet bee source about this and they said to put the honey supers on with a queen excluder and they will move the honey up there so the queen will have room to lay eggs. I asked if I should still feed sugar water and they answered yes. How do I get rid of the honey on the deep frames? Their reasoning sounded logical. If I get any honey in the supers with the sugar water on then I will extract this honey and feed in the fall.

    • Jeffrey,

      First of all, I do not believe honey bees move capped honey. If bees have honey in the wrong place, they use that honey first and store new honey in the preferred place. This may appear like they are moving it, but bees are too energy efficient to spend time moving honey around the inside of a hive.

      You say, “If I get any honey in the supers with the sugar water on then I will extract this honey …” If the bees are taking sugar syrup, the result is not honey. It is stored and capped sugar syrup.

      I don’t know why the honey on the deeps is so worrisome. It is in exactly the right place for the workers to feed to the brood as it grows. As it is used up, there will be more place for the queen to lay. I think you are imagining problems you don’t have.

  • Hi Rusty, I’ve been reading your posts regarding when to stop feeding syrup and how not to feed when supers are in place. I am trying to interpret all of this as it pertains to top-bar hives. I fed syrup this spring and it is sort of difficult to know when to stop. I was told if they have capped it, then you fed too long. Well, I can definitely say they had not capped any syrup when I discontinued but how do I know if some of the cells were topped off with nectar and then capped as “adulterated” nectar? How do TBH beekeepers manage this? Should one only rely on newer combs filled once the summertime flow is on as being 100% honey?


    • Rhonda,

      One thing you can do is mark the top bars that were in there while you were feeding, and put new unmarked bars in when you stop feeding. Then those combs will be unadulterated.

  • My father has been keeping bees for several years and has been selling local honey for most of them. I’ve helped him remove swarms for others but have paid little attention to the honey processing and harvesting process. He has recently had some medical issues that have kept him from being active and I have not wanted to disturb him with queries about this. I did not notice at first when I visited him, but there was a Pyrex pitcher on a stove that was set “low” but may have been too warm(?) and probably far too long in an uncovered setting. There was some honey and some comb that it seems he was trying to get the last portion of honey from? I would like to return that honey to the bees if they will take it. I realize that now is not the time. I can freeze it until winter, but our winters are generally not severe at all. There can be exceptions, but we’ve not seen a truly cold one for years and I’ve seen that the hives tend to remain active year-round. Is there a best way and best time to return the honey to the bees? From what I am reading, they will not likely process it again? Will they remove dust and other normal airborne contaminants (from inside a home)? It is not a huge amount, but I hate to waste it if it might be used. Thank you. John

    • You can use it. The bees will clean it up, and because it’s such a small amount, the heating won’t be much of a problem.

  • Hello Rusty,

    I fed my bees a 2:1 syrup over the last two weeks of September. After consuming about half, they stopped taking it. When I checked I found the screen gummed up with a layer of caked sugar syrup. One of the pails had an entire layer of caked sugar.

    Was this caused by possibly exceeding the 2:1 ratio? I tried to do it by weight but estimated only. The weather here in SW Wisconsin has been seasonably mild, so not due to overnight freezing.


    • Bob,

      I’ve had that happen even with 1:1 syrup. I think it may occur more easily if some sugar crystals are not dissolved. They end up sinking to the bottom and then grow in size until crystals jam the openings. If you can lift the feeder without breaking the air seal (depends on equipment type) you can sometimes poke holes through the layer and get it flowing again.

    • Sara,

      You can’t easily tell. The best thing to do is buy honey from a local beekeeper who is proud of his honey and who will answer your questions. Other than that, you would need to get the honey analyzed in a lab. The labels are often useless; anyone can buy labels that say “pure honey.”

  • Hi Rusty,

    Can you feed too much? I’m a first-year beekeeper in Alberta. I have a deep brood box with (now) mostly capped brood, some larvae, and some eggs, and a medium box of uncapped and capped honey which I’m leaving for winter. They’re still bringing in pollen–I have no idea from where. I’ve been pail feeding 2:1 syrup since early September and they’re taking it but surely they must be running out of space? The last time I looked, there was room on some of the brood frames and a bit on the top super. I plan on looking in this week if we can get a warmish day. If they keep feeding on it, should I continue?

    • Lynn,

      Estimate how much they will need for winter and compare to what they’ve stored. Once you reach that goal, you needn’t feed them more. They may be using it as daily feed instead of storing it, or they may be packing it away as the brood nest shrinks.

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