Feeding Bees in the Fall

Feeding Bees in the Fall

feeding bees in the fallIt’s that time of year when beekeepers are ramping up winter preparations for their beehives. We’re inspecting hives for colony strength, putting entrance reducers and mouse-guards on hives, applying mite treatments and feeding to ensure colonies have adequate stores to overwinter on.

I have 15 hives going into winter and some of them are incredibly heavy with bees and honey stores, but others are still alarmingly light. To prevent the bees from starving during the long Maine winter I’m feeding my colonies.

Read more about preparing your beehives for winter.

fall nectar sources
Japanese knotweed is a great fall nectar source.

Here in Maine we’ve been struggling with drought conditions all season long, which meant that the flowers were not producing much nectar if any at all. It wasn’t until the tail end of August and the beginning of September when the goldenrod and Japanese knotweed came into bloom that there seemed to be anything available for the bees to collect. I held off a bit on fall feedings to ensure the colonies were filling their combs with honey first, which is the ideal food for bees.

Last week though I opted to put the syrup on the hives in order to make certain there’s enough time for the bees to process the syrup and turn it into honey while the temperatures are still warm enough for them to do so. Excess water in the honey can cause dysentery and may lead to nosema in colonies, so ensuring proper processing of stores is vital. I asked Peter Cowin, Maine’s reknown Bee Whisperer, what the cut-off point for fall-feeding is and he said that he recommends hives be full by mid-October.

Generally the MSBA advises beekeepers to have 65-70lbs of honey stores on their hives going into winter; that’s with a 2-deep hive body configuration. Mike Palmer of French Hill Apiaries devotes 2-deeps and a medium to his hive bodies and says he prefers his hives to weigh in at at least 160 lbs (read more about Mike Palmer’s methods for overwintering hives in the north).

Mike has a scale that he uses to weigh his hives and he simply tips them over onto the scale to determine their weight, but if─like me─you do not own a scale you can gauge the weight by counting the frames of capped honey. Typically a deep frame will hold about 8lbs of honey, while a medium will hold about 6.

feeding beehives syrup in the fall

making bee syrupFall sugar-syrup for feeding honeybees is made at a 2:1 ratio. That’s two parts sugar to every 1 part water. We were able to avoid heating the syrup on the stove earlier in the year when we were making syrup at a 1:1 ratio, but with this much sugar it’s more easily dissolved if it’s heated on the stove. Once it cools we then pour it into gallon jugs to transport it out to the apiaries.

For more info about making syrup or candy for feeding bee colonies check out the MSBA’s online article.

Thmason jar feederere are numerous methods for feeding sugar-syrup, including the boardman-feeder, the plastic division feeders, pail feeders and baggie feeders. At this point I still prefer my mason jar feeders, which is a quart mason jar with a perforated lid that I’ve made. I simply place the filled jar upside-down on the opening of the inner cover and inside a medium or deep super (depending on what I have available). This method makes it easy to access and refill the jars when necessary without having to be too invasive.

The goal is to ensure the hives have enough food to sustain them during their long winter incarceration. At this point in the season time is running out, so if you haven’t performed fall inspections I strongly encourage you to make it happen because once the temperatures drop you won’t be able to get in your hives to correct any issues or deficiencies. All too often in beekeeping and farming timing is critically important, and this is definitely one of those times.


  1. Brittney Fairfield

    Thanks for all the tips! How many full frames of capped honey should be in each deep super? I’m going to feed them this weekend if their storage doesn’t look sufficient. Do you use a moisture board inside your hive over the winter? Thanks Sam!

    1. Samantha Burns

      You should have 13-15 frames of honey and 3-5 frames of pollen. The majority of brood should be in the center of the bottom box with pollen on either side and a frame of honey on either side against the wall of the box. In the upper box you’ll want to have at least one frame of either brood or open comb in the center, then maybe a frame of pollen next to it, and the rest should be honey. Be sure to remove and undrawn foundation or excess empty frames; it’s better to have an empty space then comb they can’t congregate on. Have fun and Good luck!!

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