I think spring is finally here to stay. We’re still getting cool weather, but for the most part we’re above freezing. We just had the last maple syrup boil of the season and the insects and spring bulbs are starting to appear.
Early spring is a critical time for honey bees. Their honey stores are at their lowest and even though the weather is warming up and they may appear to be active, there isn’t an abundance of flowers in early spring.
It’s important to offer your bees an additional food source to ensure that they don’t starve during this last stretch of cooler weather.
Feed Until the Dandelions Bloom
There are many trees and other plants that flower before then, but sometimes these flowers are difficult to distinguish and identify. (They aren’t an obvious flower like a daisy for example.) So to be sure that our bees have enough nectar to collect and prosper, we offer supplemental food until the dandelions bloom.
You can also judge to see if the bees are no longer consuming the supplemental food. Then you know they are out foraging successfully
The best food to feed the bees is some of their own honey that you’ve harvested the season before. However, this isn’t always possible. If you have a new hive or a hive that didn’t produce a good harvest, you will have to feed your bees an alternative food.
There’s a lot of debate right now in the bee keeping community about what to feed bees. Some are adamant about not feeding sugar water and say that honey is the only appropriate food. Others say that feeding honey from other hives can increase the chances of spreading disease. We’ve always had success with feeding sugar but you will have to make an educated decision as to what is best for your hive.
Recipe for Sugar Syrup
We feed a 1 to 1 ratio of water to sugar.
Measure the sugar and water and heat in a pan until the sugar is completely dissolved. Let cool and store extra syrup in the fridge.
Check out this video to learn more! Feeding Bees in Spring
There are a few different methods to feed your bees. Each method has positives and negatives.
Mason jar entrance feeder– This feeder is convenient in that you don’t have to open the hive to provide your bees with food. You can easily see if the feeder is empty, you can track how hungry your bees are and change the feeder often. Unfortunately they are fairly small and need refilling often to keep up with demand.
Entrance Feeder available through Dadant
Mason Jar Cap with Feeding Holes
Poultry Waterer in the top box- Some people suggest using a poultry waterer filled with food in an empty box above the frames. This methed is good in that the waterer will hold a lot of feed. But you will need an extra box to make it work. This method doesn’t work well in very cold weather because the bees have to keep the extra space warm.
Frame Feeder– a Frame Feeder is a wonderful way to feed your bees, but there are some drawbacks. They are nice because they don’t take a lot of room and are easy to fill. The bad part is that they tend to drown bees even though most are designed not to and if you let one go empty they will start building comb in it.
Candy feeder– It’s not hard to convert a spare internal cover into a candy feeder or sugar board. This type of feeding is better for wintertime, but will work in the spring as well.
if made incorrectly the candy once heated in the summer can drip onto the frames below. These boards also tend to attract ants.
External Feeders – External feeders provide food outside the hive. It’s very convenient for the bee keeper but they tend to attract unwanted guests.
If you have an established hive then the amount of additional food your bees consume in the spring is a good indication for you to adjust your harvest amount for the following fall. If your bees are very low on honey reserves, then you harvested too much the year before and should leave them more honey the next time you harvest.
For more information about how we feed our bees check out my articles over at Grit and Iron Oak Farm
Feeding the Bees
Care for Bees in Early Spring
Jeff, Here is a website that send me e-mail newsletters – thought you might like to read them. 🙂 Janice
Hello Jennifer, I know you mean well but your spring feeding syrup is one the worst thing you could do to for your bees. Did you harvest honey last fall ? How much did you get? What ever you took you need to give it back to them. You see the way you and most backyard beekeepers learned to keep bees was based on the commercial system. Did you know how feeding sugar water to the bees started ? Check it out and you will find that the commercial beekeepers realized how cheap sugar and corn syrup was so they robbed the honey to get a high price and then fed the bees sugar water in the spring. How long do your hives last before they die out? Are you buying bees every couple years? That is because honey is the one main source of the bees food. It is so packed with minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, etc…that the new baby bees need to be “healthy”. Have you compared the nutritional value of refined sugar to honey. Every backyard beekeeper that adopts the sugar water feeding is slowly killing their bees. Weakening their hives till they collapse. What should you do ? Only harvest honey in spring after you check the long term weather forecast and know how much you need to leave for your hive. There may be years you don’t harvest at all. If you are in this for the money people wont like hearing this. I am in this for the bees.
feeding bees sugar is not at all why they are collapsing. lack of forage can be a problem in some areas and hence feeding your bees may be necessary. i don’t advocate taking their honey and replacing it with invasive sugar feeding but if you have bees that have gone through their winter stores or new bees that have nothing, it won’t hurt them to give them something. it’s going to rain here for the next few days and i just started a new colony. i’ve put a few gallons of sugar water in the hive so they don’t starve. once the weather is good again, they can forage for nectar. feeding sugar water is not the worst thing if you are doing it appropriately.
Take off the hive lid, put an empty box on top of the top board, and invert a mason jar with holes punched in the lid over the hole in the top board. Better than a poultry feeder because bees don’t need to keep the top box warm. Sun doesn’t spoil the liquid, ants aren’t a problem.
I live in Alberta and I have two separate hives that live under a building with cement footings. I do not have access to the areas but the bees have come out earlier than usual due to some very warm weather for the time of year. There is nothing for them to get pollen from and due to the decimation of bees I want to give them a chance to live. I didn’t know what else to do so I made a sugar food that I found directions on the internet for in regards to the one hive. They have been out for a week and have been feeding well off the screen covered plate I have been using. This morning I discovered that another hive on a different corner of the same building have come out and are desperately looking for food. Can anyone provide me with advice they appear hungry even going into my poultry feed and eating on the feed. Do I continue with the syrup or can anyone give me any direction. I have provided them with some sugar water as well but would prefer to be getting some good advice
The bees thank you! Your one feeder will most likely bee feeding all nearby bees. Some people recommend against this because it can spread disease from colony to colony, but in the scenario that there is currently no forage for them, you are probably doing the most right thing. Keep an eye out for forage becoming available, they are opportunistic and may keep visiting you as opposde to doing their jobs as pollinators.