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Feeding bees in the fall

Deep frame

Front bee feederI started feeding sugar water to our daughter hive a week ago because I figured they just weren't going to sock away enough honey before weather cools to the point that the bees won't be able to dehydrate nectar.  My philosophy on feeding bees is well summed up by the quote below, and by the website I snagged it from, but sometimes you've just gotta do what you've just gotta do.

"The best thing is never to feed them, but let them gather their own stores. But if the season is a failure, as it is some years in most places, then you must feed. The best time for that is just as soon as you know they will need feeding for winter; say in August or September. October does very well, however, and even if you haven't fed until December, better feed then than to let the bees starve."

 --- C.C. Miller, A Thousand Answers to Beekeeping Questions, 1917


Bee brood and capped honeySince my goal is to get as much honey into the hive as fast as possible, I've been feeding a roughly 2:1 sugar to water solution made by dissolving 3.5 cups of sugar in just shy of 2 cups of water.  I heat the mixture gently on the stove until the sugar dissolves (being careful not to let the sugar caramelize, which can harm the bees), then pour the syrup into a quart jar with a special top.  Finally, I up-end the jar into a front feeder.

The feeder is a simple but elegant design that allows me to see how much syrup the bees have taken (they tend to use up a quart in 24 hours) and to feed our hive without putting on a bee suit.  Meanwhile, the feeder doesn't stimulate robbing since it opens directly into the hive and isn't accessible to neighboring bees.
Bee feeder
Two weeks ago, the daughter hive had 12.25 pounds of capped honey, and after feeding them around 11 pounds of sugar (plus water), they've gained 15.5 pounds.  Since the unfed mother hive gained 8.5 pounds of honey in that time, I suspect the sugar water turned into about 7 pounds of honey.  (You do tend to get a bit less weight of capped honey than you put in as sugar.)

With 38.5 pounds and 28 pounds, respectively, of capped honey in the mother and daughter hives, we've still got a ways to go if we want to meet the bare minimum 50 Feeder from inside hivepounds required for winter survival in our area.  We're currently having a nice fall nectar flow and there is quite a bit of nectar dehyrating in both hives, but it still might require another week or two of constant feeding to get the daughter hive up to weight.  I'll do another honey count next week and might even start feeding the mother hive if she's still low --- I'm bound and determined to send two healthy hives into the winter.


Our chicken waterer never spills or fills with POOP.


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Good topic. Bees are one of the things that I want to start on my own homestead. I probably won't start them until Spring 2013, though. I don't feel I have enough forage to support them. But this is still great info to read. I'll be able to refer back to here once I get the hives set up.
Comment by Greg Smith Thu Sep 29 09:52:54 2011

I highly recommend bees. They are less intuitive than other types of livestock, but they also take so much less time. If I were a new homesteader, I'd probably get livestock in this order:

  • compost worms
  • bees
  • chickens
  • maybe other livestock if you can handle it.

One thing to keep in mind is that you don't need to provide all of the forage for your bees. They regularly fly up to a mile and will fly up to eight miles if necessary to get fed. A quick glimpse of your website suggests that you've got some wild areas closeby, and these areas do tend to provide quite a bit of spring and fall nectar and pollen. Chances are, you've got plenty of bee food closeby for a hive or two.

Comment by anna Thu Sep 29 14:50:32 2011