Feeding bees is all about stretching the food stores so that bees don’t starve from lack of nectar, especially during the cold winter months. Feeding bees is essential at different stages of keeping bees.Newly installed bee packages also need a boost of sugar water until they get their house in order. As a gardener and a beekeeper, I am careful to plant very early and late boomers to provide much needed foraging for pollen and nectar when very few flowers are blooming. For early nectar sources, go to my post Early Spring Bloomers and for late bloomers, Autumn Super Stars. And don’t forget, when you use a honey jar up, there is always a little bit left which I give to the bees.
Set your empty honey jars on top of your hives so your bees can extract every bit of honey from them
Helleborus or Lenten Rose is one of the first late winter bloomers in my garden
But for times when there is absolutely nothing blooming in my garden, late November to early March here in the mid-Atlantic region, I need to supplement feed, either sugar syrup or fondant. When I have some days in November or December that temperatures rise over 50 degrees Fahrenheit, one of my hives can suck down at least 2 quarts of sugar water.
Mixing up 2:1 sugar water solution and adding HoneyBee Healthy, an attractant
Fondant to the Rescue in Winter
But for the really cold days when the bees aren’t flying and are using up winter stores, try making up a fondant as a supplemental food source. Fondant is simply a thick paste made of only sugar and water, with no additives. Commercial fondant that is used for decorating cakes usually has other chemicals added to increase shelf life so I make my own. I have seen many recipes for fondant that require boiling the sugar syrup using a candy thermometer to hard crack stage, then kneading it…..this is way too much work for me! Instead, I have used this home-made no-cook fondant that you can whip up in 10 minutes for years and the bees love it!
Home made fondant covered with bees on the inner cover
Fondant Recipe for Feeding Bees
Starting with a full bag (4 pounds) of sugar I dump 2/3 of the contents into an disposable aluminum pan – mine measured 14″ x 10 1/2″.Spread the dry sugar evenly across the bottom of the pan. Mix the rest of the sugar in a measuring cup and add water until the mixture is just wet through. The sugar solution will be very thick, but pourable. Pour the solution into the pan and mix with a wooden spoon until all sugar is saturated and there are no dry sugar crystals left.
Pouring the super saturated sugar solution into the aluminum pan of dry sugar
Rinse out the measuring cup with a little bit of water and pour the remainder of the sugar solution into the pan to get every bit of sugar. The mixture should be pretty solid as you jiggle the pan. If the mixture is too wet and slurpy, sprinkle some dry sugar on top. The end product should be candy-like in texture, very like fudge.
Cracks will appear in the block as it dries
I keep the aluminum pan in the kitchen for about a week drying out and cracks will appear, but that is just a sign that it is drying out with excess water evaporating. When dry, you can break up the chunks and place them on top of the inner cover for the bees to access.
Break up the chunks and place on top of the inner cover-here the bees are starting to emerge from the hole in the inner cover
Checking under the outer cover about once a week and refilling with more fondant keeps my bees well fed during the winter and increases the chances of surviving to become a more productive hive next spring.