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How long to feed a package of bees

Honeybees on poppy

Back when we installed our package of bees, a reader admonished us to "FEED, FEED, FEED".  The biggest question with a package is...when to stop feeding.  Our reader (Mike) made the argument that you need to feed for at least seven weeks, since that's how long it may take for the newly laid eggs to hatch out, finish their duties as house bees, and then go out into the world to gather nectar.

Other potential stopping points some beekeepers use include:

  • When the bees stop taking sugar water.  This is dicey since some bees will keep sucking up sugar water even if there's a nectar flow.
  • When the bees start to produce capped honey.  I've used this guideline in the past, but it doesn't work so well for a Warre hive since I can't look inside to tell if there's capped honey.
  • When you see the first orientation flight of new worker bees.  Despite Mike's math, I started seeing new worker bees going out to forage about four weeks after package installation.
  • Bee gathering pollenWhen you're in the middle of a nectar flow.  Our area has a summer lull at this time of year, so if I used that standard, I might have to keep feeding until the asters begin to bloom, or at least until my planted buckwheat flowers.  As you can see from the photos in this post, our bees are currently going ga-ga over breadseed poppies, but the bees are only getting pollen from that source.

With so many contradictory opinions on when to stop feeding bees, I thought I'd submit the question to the internet hive mind.  When do you take away the sugar water and let your new package fend for itself?

Our chicken waterer keeps hens hydrated so they can focus on hunting bugs and laying eggs.


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I was told that once you start it, to continue it for the first year through their first winter and stop as the trees begin blooming in the late winter/early spring. That is what I'm planning to do with my package bees.
Comment by Ro D Sat Jun 9 08:43:48 2012

In the past I have made a habit of feeding new packages of bees until cold weather started to come in. This year I installed a package in a top bar hive. They stopped taking sugar water after only two weeks. Whatever works best for you works best of all. No two packages of bees are the same and no two seasons will be the same. Since you cannot check in on your Warre hive I guess I'd keep food available until fall starts to get chilly.

Will Green, zone 6b, TN.

Comment by Will Green Sat Jun 9 11:35:19 2012
Ro and Will --- Wow, both of those are much longer than I'd heard anyone else suggest! Will has a good point about each colony being different, so I guess we'll eventually just have to make a judgment call and play it by ear.
Comment by anna Sat Jun 9 20:38:21 2012
We installed our package of bees the 1st of May...and I too have received conflicting/confusing information/advice..feed as long as they take it(ours have never stopped), feed all season, don't feed at all, feed only during dearths and on and on...We have frosty nights thru the middle of June(eastern WA). In fact we had 40 degree nights the day before the 4th of July I have been feeding sugar water all along(quart jar every couple days)..they have not stopped taking it(I wish they would). We have two deep hive bodies and I just added a shallow body/super(we don't plan on taking any honey this year, want our hive to have enough to make it thru the cold winter). I am wondering if they just need the extra feed for drawing out the comb. I feel like a bad mother feeding her children junk food(I try very hard to keep my own dtr away from refined white sugar, now why would I want to feed my bees that)...I know that nectar is the best for them. I wonder if they are still taking it because they have to produce the wax on the frame. They are active and bringing in pollen/nectar. I went in a week ago and their 2nd hive body was drawn out nicely so that's why I decided to added the a shallow hive body(trying to keep ahead of them so they won't swarm). I am giving them another week before I check the progress. Anyway I am trying to let go and may just stop feeding for a while and see what happens. Glad to see that I am not alone dealing with the sugar feeding conundrum. Halley
Comment by Anonymous Sat Jul 7 18:40:33 2012
Anonymous --- I finally stopped feeding a few weeks ago when sourwood, white clover, and the buckwheat in my garden all came into full bloom at the same time. Lack of sugar water didn't seem to slow our bees down any, but I'm ready to start back up if there's another lull. Good luck with your new package!
Comment by anna Sat Jul 7 18:58:33 2012

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