feeding bees

What’s wrong with this picture?


While cleaning out my shed, I discovered several hard sugar cakes which I had removed from my overwintered hives back in February. I had thrown them in a bucket and completely forgotten about them. Since we are into a nectar dearth—and my honey supers are off—I decided to put the sugar cakes out in the yard for the bees to finish.

In just a few minutes the cakes disappeared beneath a teeming mass of honey bees, but no one seemed to be fighting. The bees were just gorging themselves on the windfall, so I took a couple of photos.

While looking through the camera, however, I realized they weren’t all honey bees. Right in the center were two bumble bees of two different species.

I watched these bees throughout the afternoon. The honey bees and the two bumbles crawled over each other eating, grooming, flying off, coming back, and eating some more. They had no animosity toward each other at all. When I finally went in for the night, they were still out there and the sugar was almost gone. Bees never fail to surprise me.



Now that we’re in a nectar dearth, the honey bees are eager for something sweet. © Rusty Burlew.


It seems that honey bees are not the only ones willing to take a hand-out. © Rusty Burlew.

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      • My apologies for mistaking your “yard” for a “bee yard” when you said you “put the sugar cakes in the yard”.

        I promise to only read and send questions when I’m more observant.

        • Larry,

          No. I firmly believe miscommunication between writer and reader is nearly always the fault of the writer. I should have been more clear.

  • Every time we put out bowls or comb with honey for them to clean up bumblebees always show up too. I’ve also seen bald-faced hornets and eastern yellowjackets taking advantage of the free food. All of them enjoying the honey peacefully.

  • Wait long enough and the yellowjackets will be part of the horde that’s consuming the sugar.

    • Toni,

      I harvest by June 30. We’re in a nectar dearth from now until September or October. If I don’t take it off, they’ll use it or steal from each other.

  • It always seems there is more interspecies – not exactly co-operation, but – accommodation, than the “Tooth and Claw” Victorian naturalists would have us believe. Maybe that’s why my bees pay no attention to the inevitable wolf spider in a corner of the ventilated cover.
    Shady Grove Farm
    Northern Kentucky

    “The miracle is not walking on water. The miracle is walking on the green Earth.”
    Thich Nhat Hanh

  • I imagine several will remain there throughout the night. When I’ve put 5 gallon feeders out in September many would pass out at the bar in the chilly twilight only to be awakened by the sun the next morning.

    • So it’s normal for bees to overnight at a sugar station? It got into low 40’s to high 30’s last night here in SC and I got very worried when I saw this 30 minutes ago. There are several piles of bees spilling out of the pan and singles laying on the rocks. I don’t have a hive but I do put out sugar water in winter and spring since not much is blooming yet. This is the first time this has happened.

  • I do not have a hive, but my mother had one for her high school biology class and I helped take care of it… so I have no fear of feeding bees… my question has to do with feeding behavior like your picture.

    Last year about this time I had bees at my hummingbird feeder, so I got them their own feeder and I had about 8 bees who would drink and fly back to their hive (wherever it was). This year, I had about 30 going nuts trying to get to the feeders. I went and made sugar/water for them and poured it in pans with rocks so they could feed and not drown. I had to keep adding pans… I had up to 80 bees just sitting in the pans drinking and not flying back to their hive. This is the forth day of feeding them and they don’t seem as desperate. What is this all about? I live in AZ, usually the “record high” city in America, but it is colder than usual this winter… is that why they are desperate? So I feed them all winter? Remember AZ is dry and most of the honey bees are for the crops around here. (Really cool, they put their bees in insulated coolers… the cheap white ones. Transportable, keep the bees cooler). Last year I thought them a wild hive, this year with so many around, I know they have been handled.

    I googled about feeding bees in case I needed to change the formula of my sugar water. I also searched for why the bees would be acting like this, but could find nothing! BTW, yours is the best written, most understandable site I have found by far.

    Excuse me for not reading everything on your site, you may have my answer… but I am the type person who reads the last pages of a book first. 😀

    • Margaret,

      Usually when bees are eager for sugar syrup, it’s because nectar is in short supply. Nectar can be scarce due to unusual weather such as excessive heat or cold or dryness. When bees are out foraging and they find nothing but sugar syrup, they will gladly take it.

  • Hi Rusty,

    As a first year beekeeper, I read your blog nightly before bed. Thanks for the wealth of information. However, after reading about the nectar dearth, I am confused; do I feed them sugar water? Also, after storms am I to feed them or wait until the weather is better suited for them to forage?

    Thanks for all that you do!

    • Andre,

      Bees store honey so they will have food during shortages. Dearths and storms are normal, and most healthy hives will sail right through.