feeding bees

The best ways to feed honey bees during winter

Freshly poured candy cakes made from sugar, water, and a few drops of anise oil.

Sometimes conditions aren’t right for much honey production. At such times, even though you didn’t harvest any honey, you may have to feed your bees sugar to get them through till spring.

Inside: Once your internal hive temperature dips below 50 degrees, it’s best to feed your bees solid sugar instead of syrup. Liquid syrup can chill the bees to where they can’t move.

Ideally, honey bees should eat honey in winter

In a perfect world, honey bees would not need to be fed in the winter because they would have plenty of stored honey. But sometimes nature conspires against us and our colonies get plunged into winter without enough honey. How much they need depends on the local climate and weather, the size of the winter cluster, and the variety of bees.

Sometimes bees can’t get to the honey stores

Even with plenty of honey in the hive, bees sometimes starve because they can’t get to it. I’ve seen clusters starve with full frames of honey on both sides of them. I have also seen them survive on nothing more than sugar cakes for many months—and flourish the following spring.

Many colonies make it through a long, hard winter only to die in early spring. If a colony makes it past the coldest part of winter, it is easy to relax and not worry about spring. After all, since they made it through the worst part of the year, they can certainly make it through spring.

However, honey bees often use up their stores during the coldest months and then starve as the weather gets warmer. Warmth can deceive because it can happen before the nectar starts to flow.

Be especially vigilant about feeding during that “in-between” season. Here are some tips for winter feeding of honey bees.

What not to feed overwintering honey bees

  • Never feed bees honey that comes from an unknown source. Honey can contain the spores of diseases such as American Foulbrood.

  • Never feed bees sugar with additives. Brown sugar contains molasses. Commercial fondant may contain flavorings and/or colorings. Any of these “extras” could increase the chances of honey bee dysentery.

  • Although many commercial beekeepers use high-fructose corn syrup, be aware that it may contain hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF)—especially if the syrup is old or has gotten warm. HMF is poisonous to bees.

The best feed for overwintering bees

  • If you don’t have extra honey from your own apiary to feed the bees, the next best thing is sugar syrup made from white table sugar. The syrup used in fall and winter should be roughly in the proportion of two parts sugar to one part water by either weight or volume.

  • If the temperatures in your area are going below 50°F (10°C), it is best to use fondant, sugar cakes (see candy boards), or granulated sugar rather than syrup.

  • Because table sugar lacks the micronutrients found in honey, you can add a feeding stimulant with essential oils such as Honey-B-Healthy or Pro-Health to give them some added nourishment.

How to feed sugar to bees

  • If your temperatures are warm (above 50°F) you can use liquid feed and one of the internal feeders so your bees don’t have to go outside to eat. Also, you can consider a mold inhibitor.

  • If your temperatures are going to be cold, you can use a candy board, a mountain camp rim, or an empty shallow super filled with sugar cakes.

When to feed your bees

  • If a hive feels light in the fall, you should start feeding liquid sugar syrup (2 parts sugar to one part water) as soon as possible. When the temperature starts dipping below 50°F, switch to one of the cold-weather methods.

  • It doesn’t hurt to feed sugar proactively. I sometimes give sugar cakes as soon as the weather gets cold. In this way, they eat both honey and sugar simultaneously throughout the winter, and the honey supply lasts longer. I think this is better than having them eat only honey, and then only sugar because honey contains essential nutrients.

  • In any case, check the hives on the occasional dry and sunny day. Move frames of honey closer to the cluster, if possible, or add feed if necessary. Do not get lulled into thinking that they have “made it” just because the temperatures are warming in the spring.

Cane sugar or beet sugar?

Whether the sugar comes from cane or beets really doesn’t matter unless you oppose genetically modified organisms. Sugar beets may be genetically modified to be “Round-Up Ready,” although nowadays, your cane sugar may also be genetically modified.

Honey Bee Suite

About Me

I backed my love of bee science with a bachelor’s degree in Agronomic Crops and a master’s in Environmental Studies. I write extensively about bees, including a current column in American Bee Journal and past columns in Two Million Blossoms and Bee Craft. I’ve endured multiple courses in melittology and made extensive identifications of North American bees for iNaturalist and other organizations. My master beekeeper certificate issued from U Montana. I’m also an English nerd. More here.


    • Before you delete honey from your diet, please understand that sugar syrup and high-fructose corn syrup are for winter feeding of honey bees that are low on winter stores. Neither the sugar or the HFCS are given to bees that are storing honey for human food.

      Also, not all bees, commercially raised or otherwise, are fed syrups. These are used for “emergency rations” only, but beekeepers have to know how to feed syrup and sugar in case they get in a situation where they might lose their colonies. In fact, bees won’t even eat the syrups if there is “real food” like good quality nectar available to them.

      Please trust your local beekeeper and enjoy eating honey: it’s an excellent high-quality food with many nutrients.

        • Ronnie,

          I don’t understand your question. You can feed bees any time they need it. Why would it not be okay? If you clarify your concern, perhaps I can answer.

      • Rusty,

        I have been feeding my bees uncapped honey that I extracted last. I store it in jugs in the basement. I don’t know if that is my problem or not but I lost all three of my hives in the last two weeks. Check the hives this morning and had my gallon bags of honey to feed. I put holes in the top of the bags and place them flat on top of the hive body panels. The last feeding was still there with honey still in the bags.

        I insulated the hives so I am not sure why they died out. We haven’t had real cold temperatures yet so did my feeding kill them?

        • Dave,

          My guess is the honey had nothing to do with it. Honey is the best food for bees, especially honey they collected themselves. Were you up-to-date with your mite treatments? The most common causes of wintertime colony loss are starvation, queen failure, and varroa-mediated diseases. So if we eliminate starving, then it’s probably mites or queen loss. Mites can also cause queen loss, so that is where I’d start my inquiry.

        • Ed,

          Okay, I just ran out to my shed to get my newest bottle of Pro Health. It’s brand new this year, never been opened. It says, “Ingredients: Sucrose, Water, Spearmint Oil, Lemongrass Oil, Lecithin and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate.” So if they are advertising that it doesn’t contain it, they must have changed their recipe within the last month. Do you want a photo of the label? Nevermind, I’ll e-mail it to you.

  • Hey Rusty,

    Sorry I haven’t responded quicker. (I’m not good about checking forums frequently.) I just noticed your post this evening. After reading it, I checked the bottle I ordered around the time I made my original post, and there’s a big note on the front that there’s “No Sodium Lauryl Sulfate!” Also, it doesn’t show up on the ingredient list on the back. So you’re right, they must have changed the recipe between the time you bought it and the time I bought it.



  • We just bought this place in Late February. It has a large oak tree along the edge of property. On the north side of the tree at the trunk is an area the 30” x 36” tall that has bark off and many small holes. It looked like someone tried to put liquid spray foam in the cracks and holes of this area. When spring came I saw why they must have did this. It has a colony of honeybees inside it. I don’t have anything against honeybees at all. Dug out what I could of the spray foam and enjoyed viewing the colony all summer. At times there where hoards of them buzzing in and out of the nest. Should I put them out some kind of feed before winter to be sure there ok by spring? Also been thinking about installing a camera to watch them from my computer for next spring.

    • Hi Michael,

      It sounds like the honey bees were busy and populous—and it sounds like you didn’t take any honey from them—so they should be just fine until spring. I don’t know where you are writing from, so I don’t know how cold it is where you are.

      It is possible to put out liquid feed in an open feeder, but there are plusses and minuses to doing it. Sugar feeders attract other animals, such as racoons, skunks, possums, and wasps—none of which you want around your bees. Wasps, especially, can easily raid a honey bee colony and steal the honey and eat the bees.

      So, if you do put out food, it shouldn’t be near the oak tree because you don’t want to draw the other critters to it. It should be at least 50-60 feet away at a minimum. Also, if the temperature of the feed is below 50 degrees F, the honey bees can no longer collect it because their core body temperature will drop too low.

      If you do feed them something, it should be plain white sugar dissolved in water at the rate of two parts sugar to one part water (by weight or volume). Never give wild bees honey because it can carry bee diseases which could wipe out the colony. Also, bees will drown in syrup unless they have something to stand on. You can float wood chips on the surface of syrup, or you can pile small stones in it.

      That said, if it were me I would just leave them alone and enjoy watching. You won’t see much during the winter, but on warm days they will fly outside briefly to relieve themselves and quickly go back inside. The camera sounds like a fun idea.

      Fill free to write if you have more questions.

  • For few days now I’ve been feeding bees on the picnic table, sugar water, corn syrup and honey I’m in Louisiana and the temperature is about in the 50 at night time. Do you think they have a hive somewhere … they leave at sunset and return the next day looking for food. Should I call someone to pick them up or what can I do… they eat a lot.

    • Helene,

      Unless you know where the hive is there not much point in calling someone. If they are honey bees the hive could be a very long way from where you live–miles even. If you don’t want them to come around any longer just stop feeding them. In a few days they will give up and go elsewhere.

  • Hi, Rusty!

    Back on December 13, it was 50 and sunny here so I checked all 7 hives and gave everyone a sugar cake. Since then the weather has, to borrow the young folks’ expressive phrase, sucked. Rain, lots of snow, cold enough to slip the drawers all the way in, a few daytime freezing temps.

    Two of the new (May) splits were really going after their sugar cake. The third was like, Ho-hum, so they must have had enough honey. The mature hives were taking varying amounts. I would really like to check everybody and refill sugar cakes, but the best we’re looking at for the next 2 weeks is 40 and partly sunny, Thursday.

    How cold is too cold, just to lift the moisture quilt & slip a cake on bars in the feeder rim?

    I also left baggies in because it was a warm weekend and I guess I oughta get those out, whether or not they’re empty. Thanks! This information about temperature and feeding has been truly useful. Thanks!
    Shady Grove Farm
    Corinth, KY

    PS – where do you get the snowflakes effect?

    • Nan,

      I will slip a sugar cake into the hive with the temperature in the 40s, as long as I’m quick about it. It’s one reason I like the quilt-over-feeder-rim arrangement.

      The snow is a WordPress option, under settings. It will continue until January 4 . . . or so it says.

  • In the paragraph below, is that 50°F,day or night? My nights are close 30’s right now, but the days are 60’s, with a warm day or 2, up into the low 80’s…

    “If a hive feels light in the fall, you should start feeding liquid sugar syrup (2 parts sugar to one part water) as soon as possible. When the temperature starts dipping below 50°F, switch to one of the cold-weather methods.”
    Thanks, C B

      • Loved the sugar syrup temp. and conversion into simple sugars articles. My first year/ caught swarm has put up at least 10 Lbs of sugar comb since the disastrous robbing/ bee war with another local hive more than a month ago cost about that much honey. They should be done then, and need to huddle up now, I gather. And some sages and mint/nettles are doing a second bloom right now because our spring was so unusually dry. And short to keep them busy on the nice but short afternoon fly time. Robbing was the topic here last month. THANKS!

  • Hello Rusty,

    I need to make sugar candy for the first time this year.
    I was pondering the idea of mold inhibitors.
    It struck me that I use a couple of inhibitors in the all natural lotion I make – one of the inhibitors is cinnamon. At a ratio of 1% per volume.
    Is cinnamon safe to use in the sugar candy for the bees? I don’t think I would use the oil – may be too hot for them. However a controlled tincture would be far milder.
    I don’t have the experience behind me to know if it is safe to try on them.
    Thank you!

    • Monica,

      I do not know if cinnamon is safe for bees; I’ve never read about it being one way or the other. But if you are referring to hard candy, it doesn’t need a mold inhibitor.

  • Am going for the slurry mix – not candy – not syrup. The in between stuff.
    I have read a couple case study reports where scientists where studying the effects of essential oils and the varying degree of protection given by certain oils (ie. HBH or any of its counterparts.)
    However I am looking for a practical application with cinnamon not a scientific application.
    Guess I will let the girls tell me if they like it or not – 1 baggie regular and 1 with cinnamon.

    The other idea for the pollen patties in the early spring was to mix them with a organic non GMO, pure vegetable glycerin. Do you have any info on the use of VG and honey bees?
    VG is a all natural humidicant – so the idea would be it would keep the pollen from becoming hockey pucks, and it is really sweet so the bees may like it.

    Thank you

    • Monica,

      As much as possible, I try to feed my bees their natural diet of honey and pollen. Sometimes I add sugar if I think they may fall short of honey, and to the sugar I add a drop of essential oil to help them find the sugar in a dark hive. Other than that, I let them fend for themselves, something they are very good at. They can deal with the hockey pucks. Sometimes bees will eat things that aren’t so good for them, so just because they eat it doesn’t mean they should. If I were doing research it would be different, but I’m just a small-time beekeeper and I don’t have enough hives to do controlled studies.

  • So what’s the best way to feed honey back to your bees? Straight or watered down?

  • I have lots of honey I harvested but not using for myself because it’s from swarm hives I was building up. They were being fed sugar syrup/Honey-B-Healthy. Well it’s fall and I’m making candy boards for winter for the hives. I won’t give to them till November. I want to feed back their honey. Oh the reason I took super off, I winter in only 2 deeps. Before it gets freezing is this the best time to feed them back their honey? Or wait till later in winter, and how should I give it to them in winter? It”s not in frames. I was thinking I could put in jar feeder this way they won’t drown in honey as they would in an open pan in the hive. Any ideas on how to use jar? Or any gravity feeder? Taking into the fact its 38-45 degrees at night, 71 in the day right now here in northeastern Maryland. Or I could save till spring and give it to them?

    Thanks Robbin

    • Robbin,

      I always leave the honey in the frames so I don’t have much experience feeding liquid honey back to the bees. When honey granulates in the jar, I just take off the lid and put the jar on its side above the frames. But if it’s liquid, I imagine I would put it in a jar or pail feeder, surround it with an empty super and add the telescoping cover. Anyone else have advice?

    • Can I feed bees 97% glycerin or should I mix with water or not feed at all?
      If I can feed it what is the ratio or just feed straight?

  • Rusty,

    I have noticed that there are some honey bees eating the food I have in the humming bird feeders. Is that type of food okay? It’s the bottled kind from the hardware store (Lowe’s/Home Depot). I want to make sure I’m helping the colony not destroying it.

    • Paul,

      It is usually made of sugar, minerals, and food coloring. It won’t hurt the bees, especially in the small quantities they can get from a hummingbird feeder. Based on my mail, I’d say much more hummingbird food goes into the mouths of bees than birds.

  • Hi there,
    So I think this is a good place as any to drop in this question about HiveAlive.
    So I have read all I can about HiveAlive on the net, but that is basically what Vèto-pharma had put out there on thier product.
    I am wondering about personal experience? Have you or do you know someone who had used or recommends this product.
    I like the science behind the product and of course thier chart on thier said success. I finally found a source in the states, but no one has posted reviews on the use of the product.
    So it boils down to trying to find someone with practical application or me just biting the bullet and buy the product and see if there is a difference in the health/production of the hive.
    Do you have any thoughts?

    • Monica,

      Personally, I have no experience with HiveAlive. It contains macro-algae extracts, thymol, and lemongrass, but that’s all I know. Has anyone else used it?

  • I lost 2 hives this winter but both had honey stores in the medium super. I intentionally left them on the hives for winter and didn’t harvest any. My question is, can I use that honey, capped on the frames, to feed my 2 new package bees coming this spring?

  • So I’m this little ole lady in South Africa and I put out sugar water for the garden birds but the wild bees have taken over the bottle feeders now at the start of winter. The little beggars drown once they go down the spout so I’ve put a piece of lace material in the spout to allow water through to the spout but no bees through to the bottle… All well and good, if bees need feeding, they need feeding but now they’ve annexed even the very weak sugar water solution bottle so the birds aren’t getting any water and this frustrates me. Any ideas on how to keep the bees happy without depriving my garden birds of their sip of sugar water?

    • Beverly,

      I don’t know. I’ve seen hummingbird feeders designed especially to keep bees away, but I don’t know about song and garden birds. Maybe someone else reading this has an idea?

  • Rusty,

    I was wondering if I wanted a hive of bees just to pollinate my homestead and didn’t take the honey would this work. Just let them do their thing and I don’t interfere.

    • Joan,

      You still have to take care of your bees whether you harvest honey or not. You need to be able to check for a healthy queen, monitor for diseases, take care of mites, make sure they have enough stores for winter, make sure they don’t get robbed or invaded by other predators, and make sure they are prepared for winter, etc. If you just leave them unattended, chances are they won’t survive more than a year or two.

  • Rusty,

    Rescued a hive of bees from a hollow tree; the county boys were going to spray and kill them and I said “are y’all crazy? That’s what makes the world go around !!” So I picked up this 12 ft. section with my grapple bucket and took it 1/2 mile down to my woods and placed it next to a tree with a big hollow in it but they are still in log section. Since then (about 2 months ago), I have relocated 2 thirty-year-old hives from great grandfather’s farm. My #1 question is how to transfer to new hive boxes from log and rotting hives I brought home without killing colonies or queens? And should I wait till late spring or what? Am feeding all 3 hard candy cakes. Have LOTS of bees and no experience but am pretty good at making it up as I go. Could you please give me some pointers on this stuff? Am in east Texas and loving this new hobby!!! My wife says great grandfather ,grandfather, and her dad would be proud.


    • Randy,

      To transfer the combs from trees or rotting frames, you need to cut the combs at the attachment points and tie them into new frames. You can use strings or rubber bands. The bees will attached the comb to the frames and dispose of the strings, etc. You may want to catch the queen and keep her safe before you begin and re-release her when you are done. just to keep her safe.

  • Can you tell me how to keep bees alive in my greenhouse please. They flew in and I didn’t know, today it was warm in there (20) f and going up. They were flying around and landing on flowers, I don’t let the temp go below 10 f at night but I want to save them. Any ideas would be helpful they seem very happy. Thanks you Katie.

    Please email me your reply.

    • Katie,

      It makes a difference what kind of bees they are. Do you know? Also, do you have your temperatures right? 10 F (-12 C) at night and 20 F (-7 C) during the day is cold for flowers.

      I will email you this time, but I’m not a servant!

  • I just read some of your posts about honey bees and hummingbird feeders. You answered my question. This is Oklahoma in still in the 70’s. Will the bees leave when the weather gets cold? They are swarmed around my hummingbird feeder all day and gone at night.

  • Rusty,

    My wife and I are new this year to beekeeping. Recently a friend helped us harvest honey from the top super. We decided to let the bees clean up what was left in the frames so we left them near the hive. Big mistake. The robbing started very shortly.

    I have put a screen cover over the entrance that is about four inches tall. The top of the screen is open so my bees can get in and out but the robbers don’t see that opening; they are focused on the hive entrance only. It’s been over a week and there are still robbers trying to get into the hive. Any suggestions?

    Also, we live in central Utah and the nights are already in the thirties. Should I feed my bees sugar in a small super or just leave them alone until spring? I think they have plenty of honey to get them through but again…I’m a rookie.

    Thanks for your help.


    • Ken,

      1. So you’ve probably figured this out by now, but it’s best to put the wet, sticky frames in a super and put the super back on the hive in the regular way. Your bees will go up and clean them out.

      2. I would leave the robbing screen on until the bees stop flying. No harm in leaving it on. Some people leave them on all winter.

      3. Sometimes the placement of the honey stores causes a problem. So let’s say you have 80 pounds of honey in the hive, but it’s beside the cluster. The whole cluster may move up (not sideways) so they miss the food. You can help this along by rearranging the honey so it’s above the colony. Or you can add a sugar board above them in case they “lose” the honey. It’s best to check on them periodically. If the cluster stays down low in the boxes, it is probably fine. If it moves up substantially and there is no honey above them, you either have to add sugar or rearrange things again. An IR camera is really helpful to see where they are, if you happen to have one.

  • If I add a sugar board in a couple of weeks just as a pre-emptive measure would that be a problem? It sounds silly but I hesitate to open the hive when it’s cold. Also, an IR camera sounds expensive. Where do you find something like that?

    Thanks for your previous response and for taking the time to follow up with me.

    • Ken,

      1. No problem adding a sugar board before the bees need it.
      2. Most people I know use a Flir camera that fits on an Android or iPhone. They keep changing the models, but I think they run about $200.

  • This is off topic a bit, but I’m not sure where to put a newish question. (New for me, probably asked a thousand times) this is my first year.

    With the warm days just recently, my hives [bees] are flying and bringing in a huge amount of pollen. The girls can hardly fly, funny to watch them land!! It is yellow orange. Not the vibrant orange of a few weeks ago.

    Any idea what the pollen source is this late? I’m in the foothills, mostly mixed hemlock and deciduous trees, very native natural W Wa….very little agriculture near enough to be significant.

    • Oh dear.

      No. By definition honey is made from the nectar of flowers, not from anything else. What bees make from molasses cannot be called honey.

  • Rusty,

    I have read your page for a few years, but am just writing my first comment. I live in New England, where we have been enduring record cold–yesterday was the coldest on record for January 6 since the 1800s!

    Anyway, I keep checking my hives and am pleased to find them still buzzing, though plenty of dead bees appear daily on the snow outside the hives. Although I expected that the stores of honey would be sufficient, I am considering offering them a feeding if this cold breaks (forecast suggest possibly hitting a balmy forty later this week.)

    I like your idea of feeding crystallized honey, and am thinking of perhaps laying it out on the same kind of paper (on top of the frames) that I have used for fondant in years past and letting the bees eat through the paper. I don’t want the honey to be too liquidy so that it might pour down upon them, but I like your idea of crystallized honey as an alternative to fondant. Any thoughts? Could also follow your suggestion and place a jar of crystallized honey on its side and hold that in a small super, but I wonder if the extra space might affect the internal temperature of the hive.


    • Andy,

      A couple of points to remember are that bees die of hunger, not cold. And second, the bees make no attempt to keep the hive warm, only to keep the cluster warm. They are very good at this. Adding space for a feeder should not be a problem, especially if there is insulation above it such as a moisture board or quilt. The warm air that rises from the cluster condenses on the crystallized honey and makes it edible. The warm air above the cluster is also what encourages them to search for food in that area. The areas immediately below and to the sides of the cluster won’t be as warm, so the bees are less likely to explore those areas.

  • Hi Rusty,

    It’s January 8 and today here in Central Ohio the temp went into the 40’s so I very quickly popped the lids off my two hives, pulled back the burlap in the Vivaldi board (burlap was dry) to see many bees all over the fondant and winter patties placed in there. It wasn’t depleted much, almost like they were just getting started on it. This is concerning considering it’s so early in January and there’s a long winter ahead. (They had a lot of honey going into winter but there were a number of warmer days in November and December.) Should I assume that because they’re already eating the supplemental food, they’re out of honey? Now my plan is to check every week until spring and be ready to replenish, regardless of the outside temps. Thanks, Lorie

    • Hi Lorie,

      When I see bees up on top, I have to assume that they either ate the food or they “lost” it. In other words, instead of looking from side to side for honey stores, they looked overhead. This is natural because the space just above the cluster is the warmest. So, yes, that is what I would do. Feed them continuously unless you get a day warm enough to open the hive and move frames around.

  • Thanks, Rusty. Thursday is supposed to be 54 degrees so may be the perfect opportunity. I also have a couple of capped frames that I had in the freezer, was saving them for spring but I’ve thawed them as they may come in handy now to pop in there if their honey is gone. Hoping I can just rearrange full frames as you’ve suggested but if there’s nothing to reconfigure, then won’t hurt to add one or two. Will also replenish the fondant/winter patties and keep peeking in there every 7 – 10 days. Going to be a busy winter!

  • Rusty, one other question. Today (January 9) the sun came out for awhile and temp went up to 50 degrees so the bees were out. Is it possible since they’ve broken cluster (at least some of them) they may now be able to locate honey in the hive that they may have missed while they’ve been tightly clustered and not mobile?

    • Lorie,

      Yes. The warmer days allow the bees to roam around inside the hive and find things. However, it’s still a good idea to put the full frames as close to the brood nest as possible because even if they’ve found the food, they might not have many chances to get it.

  • Hello Rusty,

    First years beekeeper. Here in Louisville Ky it was about 60 degrees today so I checked on my bees. I have sugar patties above top hive body and bees were eating patties. In the top hive body I had ten full frames of stores and lower hive body had about 3 frames left. The cluster wasn’t as big as I thought it would be. And below the cluster was about two full cups of dead bees. Do you think that was a average about of dead bee? The dead bee were in about a four frame area. FYI the hive this fall was really big.

    • Dave,

      Colonies expand from the winter solstice to the summer solstice, and they shrink from the summer solstice to the winter solstice. The colonies shrink by attrition, so you will always have dead bees. But bees die all they time, no matter what the colony size is doing. On an average day in spring and summer you will lose about 1000 to 1200 per day. In winter you lose fewer, perhaps several dozen to a hundred. Two cups of dead bees is nothing, especially if it accumulated over more than a few days.

  • Hello,

    I was wondering if it made a difference at higher elevations. I live in Southern California and I’m having a really hard time finding resources about raising bees at higher elevations (4,500). We have warm winter days, with very cold nights. Do you have any suggestion for these location specifications or resources for this? I want to make sure I’m prepared before starting a hive. Thank you!

    • Melanie, I’m in TN now, but I used to live in NM at a much higher elevation than you (7500 ft), and have friends who keep bees there. I’ve also seen several comment threads on this site from people in Santa Fe (also 7000-ish) and Albuquerque (about 5000 ft). I believe the issues are more related to general climate than altitude. For instance, if your area is considered “high desert” like most of NM, you may never need any of the moisture mitigation that is so crucial to Rusty’s apiary. Large temperature swings are also typical of high desert, and the bees will likely figure it out for themselves. So I’d focus on bee references related to your climate, and of course, look for a local bee club.

      My local bee club members like to say that the bees don’t read the books anyway. So whatever you find, try what makes sense to you, and keep what works.

    • Kate,

      Air temperatures just offer a rough guideline. Technically, it is the temperature of the syrup, not the air, that is important. When the temperature of the syrup drops below 50 F, the bees will refuse to drink it because the cold syrup drops their body temperature too far. If you have large colony and the liquid feed is above the cluster, the syrup will stay warmer than the outside air.

  • I left my 2-1 ratio on my hive. Now we have a cold snap of 11 F. Should I open the hive and remove right away or wait a couple of days when our day time temps should be back in the 50’s?

  • Hello
    I very much enjoy your advice. I have two hives, both were strong in the fall, but one was stronger. My boxes are all 8 frame and I live in south central Pennsylvania. I left a honey super on each hive (2 deeps) in the fall. The stronger hive had a super that was 100% full of capped honey. The other hive had a super with an average 60% of capped honey (some frames in the middle were 100% capped honey). I gave both hives fondant and pollen patties in late December on a 63 degree day. My question concerns the amount of fondant I should be feeding. On 1/11/20 both hives got 1/2 lb of fondant. Today, (45 degrees) some bees were flying. The weaker hive had consumed all the fondant while the stronger hive still had fondant left. How much fondant should I be giving the bees? (The pollen patties are not being eaten). It seems that the weaker hive needs the fondant, but I would like advice on how much to give them at a time. Thank you!

    • Pam,

      The stronger hive probably has more honey stored somewhere. Give the bees as much as they can use. If they run out, they may die. I’d give at least five pounds, maybe ten, to that weaker hive. It’s only January.

  • Thank you, Rusty. I did not realize they would use 5-10 lbs of fondant. I have a follow-up question. When I added fondant yesterday (43 degrees) to the super in the weaker hive , the top of the super was full of bees feeding on the 1/2 lb of fondant added previously. Does the presence of so many bees on top of the super in 43 degree weather necessarily mean that the winter cluster is now at the top? Or is the queen likely still down in one of the two deeps? Thank you for the valuable help.

    • Pam,

      Hard to say. If you have a queen excluder under the honey super, the brood nest and queen will remain down in the brood boxes. Retriever bees go up, collect food, and take it back down to the nest. If you don’t have an excluder, the queen and everyone else will probably move up, at least at some point.

  • Thank you, Rusty.

    I don’t have a queen excluder. Following your earlier suggestion, I have been using a kitchen instant thermometer in the shim over the super (under the Vivaldi board with burlap). The fondant is on top of the super frames. Just, now, with air temperature 38, the temperature over the super was 86.9 in my weaker hive of bees. The stronger hive of bees had a temperature over the super of 48 — those bees have not consumed much of their fondant. So, the weaker bees may have moved their cluster up to the super? (one super over 2 deeps). Friday, when it is supposed to get to 44 degrees, I plan to add 5 lbs of fondant (they have about 1 lb in there now). I’ll let the fondant spread out so it is thinner, but do I need to worry about squashing the queen when I place the fondant. The bees are all over the top of the super where I have been placing the fondant. Thank you very much.

    • Pam,

      If you don’t want to smoke them down, you can lay a piece of flat paper towel directly on the bees. They don’t like that, so they scoot down between the frames. You can even press on it gently to get the last few stubborn ones to go down, and then lay the fondant directly on the towel. The queen most likely isn’t there, but just be gentle.

  • Thanks for your help with this, Rusty. As you recommended, I fed my weaker colony (measured 84 degrees over the super yesterday) 5 lbs of fondant at the end of January and then gave them almost 5 lbs 2 weeks later (much of the first 5 lbs was eaten). My mentor thinks that hive is a “deadout” based on the evidence that the cluster is at the top. If there are many bees are in there eating the fondant on the super, can I hope the queen is still alive down in a cluster the deeps? (I have 2 deeps and a super).

    • Pam,

      I wonder why your mentor said it was a deadout. I see bees at the top of colonies all the time, and it usually just means they ate their way through the food supply. I’ve seen beekeepers keep colonies alive throughout winter and spring (many months) in that condition. Once spring comes, those colonies can thrive. Yes, the cluster stays below and the retriever bees go up, get the food, and take it back down.

      The important thing is to make sure they don’t run out of sugar. If the colony is depending on it, and growing larger, they will continue to need a good supply until forage season begins, especially as the colony grows.

      I’m really curious at this point. Please keep me posted on this colony.

  • How do I feed my bees some of their own honey? I have a small swarm in a nuc. The queen is laying eggs but the workers don’t appear to be making honey. I don’t know how they’ve survived through the summer, but now it is September and they still haven’t got any honey stores. I’ve got some leftover honey from the hive next to them which I could feed, but do I just pour it over the frames? If I put it in the syrup slot of the nuc (it’s a styrofoam nuc) I won’t be able to clean it and I fear it might go mouldy.

    Thanks – ps I’m writing from London England

    • Catherine,

      No, don’t pour it over the frames. Put it in any style of bee feeder and they will finish it in no time. I wouldn’t worry about a little mold because starvation is your major concern. Mold is only a minor issue.

  • Hi Rusty (and Happy Thanksgiving):

    I live in MT and the winters here are cold and long. From temperature sensors in the hive, I can tell my girls have moved up from the bottom deep to the top deep, and it is seems a bit early. The next week looks pretty nice so I want to add some extra food on top. I have plenty of honey that I bottled which has now crystallized (stored ~60F). The honey jars are plastic, so they would be easy to cut away. Can I just add this solidified honey to the top bars as if it were a sugar cake?

    • Christine,

      Yes. I often just open a crystallized container and lay it on its side in an eke or feeder rim. The bees are always elated.

  • Could someone explain: with any (fall, winter, or spring) sugar syrup or candy feeding – if the bees will have any of it left by the start of the flow – does it mean that the following season’s honey going to be diluted with a sugar and how to avoid it?

  • Hey Rusty,

    After two unsuccessful winters, the frustration is growing. It’s difficult because it seems like there are 1000 different ways that people winterize or manage their bees, in general. I live in the Seattle area, and moisture seems to be a common problem for beekeepers here. Anyway, I’m curious what you think of this idea of mine. I want to combine the tricks that I’ve read from several sources including this website.

    For winter, I’m thinking of placing winter patties on the frames of my top brood box, followed by the inner cover, and then I’ll build a top feeder board that will have a few holes for sugar syrup mason jars as well as a vent hole above the inner cover vent hole. Now, because some choose not to feed sugar syrup in the winter because bees don’t like it when temps are below 50 degrees F, I have “quilt boxes” that will encapsulate the feeder jars. Within this quilt box (and surrounding the feeder jars will be woodshavings to help with moisture as well as insulation.

    It may seem overboard, and it probably would be if had a ton of hives, but I only keep 2 per year. I figured I’ll do whatever I can to make it work. I guess I’m just wondering if there’s anything wrong with that plan??

    As I said, I’m getting frustrated. When I autopsy the hives, it appears (to a newbie beekeeper) that they mostly died of starvation, although surrounded by the food supply, whether it be honey or granulated sugar (as I tried the “Mountain camp method” this year). One of the hives I believe was actually lost to colony collapse disorder

    Thanks for your help!

    • Devin,

      If the wood chips prevent warm air from surrounding the feeder jars, the syrup will be too cold for the bees to consume. I realize it doesn’t get very cold in Seattle, but I believe it’s too cold for liquid syrup.

  • It is no-brainer there should be no feeding once super(s) installed. I was talking about excess sugar syrup stored in the brood box (from winter or spring feeding) that they may move into the super.

    • Alex,

      I’ve never seen bees move honey from a brood box to a honey super. Why people believe bees move honey is hard to understand. Observations show that if bees don’t want honey in a certain place, they use that up first and store new supplies elsewhere. You can test this yourself by dying your sugar syrup with food coloring. It’s a “no-brainer” as you say.

  • Hi Rusty,

    A very frustrated beekeeper for over 10 years. I keep between 2-4 hives a season here in southeast NY. I have an ok location; the bees do really well most all summers; I do my splits, etc. My problem has always been getting through the winter. Is it only me lol? I mean I do everything possible to get these gals what they need. This year again had 3 hives going into November. Once some cold came I lost one, plenty of honey and sugar. I started feeding early in the fall nd the next hive fell in January. The hive was wrapped, plenty of stores, and had treated for varroa on all the hives in the fall I should mention. The last hive I had high hopes it may make it but the dead bees outside the hive daily started adding up and was just too much I guess (maybe 20-30 a day, less some days). That hive made it to February, so really bummed.

    So I buy more bees each year but they’re getting more expensive and I’m almost ready to give up. I love having them and enjoy the summer honey. Is there any confident words or advice you could give? I know there’s not a lot of info I’m giving and everybody’s circumstance is different, but I do really try to do everything possible. Thanks for listening Rusty, I’ve been reading your posts here for years.

    • Scott,

      Thank you for being a regular reader. I love to hear from people like you who find some value in my posts.

      That said, I feel bad that you are having so much trouble overwintering. It’s the toughest time of year for most beekeepers and, as you say, every situation is different.

      Based on what you said, though, my first question is when do you treat for mites? You said fall, but I’m curious about exactly when, and here is why:

      Mite calamities occur in late summer, specifically in August throughout much of North America. That’s because the bee population is dropping at that time of year, but at the same time, the mite population is rising. When this happens, the number of mites per bee goes up fast. For example, if you had five mites per 100 bees in spring, you might suddenly have 20 mites per 100 bees. The pattern of bee populations dropping while mite populations increase varies with where you live, but August seems to be a pretty consistent tipping point.

      When I first began writing about this, researchers suggested having mite treatments completed by August 30. But after a few years, the recommendations changed to August 15. Now some say August 1. This treatment is important because you want the bees born in September and October to be as free from mites as possible. The worker bees born in those months will be the so-called winter bees that carry the bees through until spring. They have extra large fat bodies that allow them to care for brood throughout the winter.

      But varroa mites eat the fat bodies of bees, and if the newly emerged worker bees have their fat bodies depleted or if they get viral diseases from the mites, the colony will probably not survive. I think there is nothing more important than treating and retreating (if necessary) to get varroa numbers down in August. Shoot for the first half of August, if possible.

      It sounds like you are doing a good job of winter prep. Your bees sound warm and well-fed, so I assume this is mite problem. If you are already treating in August, let me know and I’ll mull over that. If not, give it a try if you decide to keep bees another year.

  • Hi Rusty,

    Thank you for all the wonderful information provided here! I’ve been reading through the posts and comments and I think I now have a plan. I live in Utah and it’s been an extremely cold, snowy winter. I’ve already lost 1 hive and my other 2 hives are nearly out of food.

    I have some crystallized honey so I believe I can lay some of that on top of some newspaper or paper towels directly on top of the frames? Right now, I have a “hot box” on top of the hive so I don’t think I can put jars on top of the frames without removing that box.

    It warmed up a little bit yesterday and the girls came out for a few hours foraging in the grass and drinking water so I gave them some pollen powder, which they seem to be loving. Although I’m not certain that is the best thing for them right now?

    I’m planning on putting the honey in this weekend when the temps will be higher and the sun will be out.
    This winter has been rough!

    • Corina,

      Yes, you can lay some paper down and put the crystallized honey on top of the frames. That should work. Also, it’s fine to give them pollen now: ’tis the season. It sounds like your bees are doing great.

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