Supplemental Feeding: Should I feed a new package of bees?
When you get your package of bees, it usually comes with a can of sugar syrup (also called sugar water). Once you have installed your package of bees in their new home, this is what you will feed them.
To feed or not to feed is a subject that has been talked to death and many articles have been written on the subject. There are a lot of different opinions on supplemental feeding honey bees and new beekeepers may end up confused. Let me say up front that honey IS the best food for bees because of all the vitamins and minerals it contains. But honey is not always available.
It is possible you have read comments and articles about the wrongness of feeding bees sugar water and are convinced it is the biggest faux pas a beekeeper can commit. You may even have decided you will never feed your bees sugar water. You may have decided to feed only honey. Maybe you have decided you will just let your bees fend for themselves.
Consider this if you have decided to let your bees fend for themselves.
A new package of bees going into a box with absolutely nothing in it will struggle, especially if there isn’t a strong spring nectar flow. Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate and provide our bees what they need when they need it. It is up to you to help get new hive established. If you do not your bees may be very slow to:
- Build comb
- Build up stores
- Rear brood
- They could possibly die of starvation before the first year is over with.
Established beekeepers can install that package in a hive with frames already drawn out and with plenty of stores of pollen and capped honey (from their own apiary) and they should be good to go. If this is the situation you are looking at, I don’t think you need to supplemental feed!
A new beekeeper does not necessarily have this option. You may have access to used equipment and frames already drawn out or frames with capped honey and pollen stores but how do you know they are safe? How do you know the equipment is safe? Understand, you are introducing your bees to whatever was going on in the hive those frames came from. I recommend proceeding with caution if starting out with used equipment.
If you have decided it would be in your bees best interest to feed your bees, you may be wondering WHAT to feed them.
- The best option is capped honey, from a strong healthy hive in your own apiary.
- Raw honey
- Crystalized or not crystalized honey
- Undiluted or diluted honey (diluted honey spoils quicker)
- Refined white sugar
- Organic sugar
- Sugar water/syrup made with refined white sugar or organic sugar at a 1:1 ratio
NOTE: Honey can carry AFB spores. Only feed honey from a trusted source. Chances are you could get a frame or two of capped honey from an established beekeeper. Just please be aware of the possibility of introducing pests and disease to your apiary. I do not recommend feeding bees honey from a different apiary nor do I recommend feeding them store bought honey.
DO NOT FEED YOUR BEES CORN SYRUP!
There are also different opinions about when to STOP feeding your bees. Definitely STOP feeding when you add the first honey super.
Here at 1115, I feed until they stop taking feed and/or when I start seeing capped stores on several frames. Timing is critical because I don’t want the bees to fill all their brood frames with sugar syrup/honey. This also helps me decide when to add my first honey super.
Each package of bees will need a lot of supplemental feeding to help build comb, raise brood and put up stores for winter. In having compassion on our bee friends, I feel it is very important to help them out during their first year.