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How To Feed Honeybees

How To Feed Honeybees

Feeding is essential for maintaining healthy colonies during times when nectar is scarce, immediately after harvesting honey, or when starting a new colony from a package, NUC, or split.  You will feed different concentrations of syrup depending on the time of year.

In the spring when you are trying to build up the colony you want to feed sugar syrup with a one to one ratio of sugar and water.  This concentration of syrup will be viewed as if it were nectar coming into the hive and signal the queen to increase egg laying and brood production.  When nectar is available the colony has to collect it quickly before the flowers stop blooming.  Increasing the size of the available workforce is the best way to collect the maximum amount of nectar possible.

In the fall when the goal is simply to maintain the colony it is best to feed sugar syrup with a ratio of two to one.  A two to one ratio will resemble that of honey and the bees will not respond to it by increasing brood production.

The general rule is to promote good strong colonies but this can have a down side as well.  A strong colony will produce much more honey but they will also consume much more honey.  The key is to have good strong colonies during times of honey production (spring) and allow the hive to reduce its population naturally during times of honey consumption (winter).  Increasing brood production in the fall could have a negative impact on the colony during the winter by causing it to run out of food.  Likewise having a weak colony when nectar is available could cause the hive to be less productive.

When it comes to feeding work with nature and you and your bees will benefit.

When to feed

For new hives start feeding immediately.

In the spring start feeding three weeks before the first honey flow.  This is where joining a beekeeping club or association can be helpful.  Other beekeepers in your area will be the best resource you can get for learning when the first honey flow is likely to begin.

Feed in the fall after harvesting honey or when the brood chambers are low on reserves.

Types of Feeders

There are many different types of feeders.  Choose one that you like based on personal preference.  They all have the same impact in the end and the only real difference is how you as a beekeeper prefer to feed your bees.

Top Feeders are added to the hive like a honey super.  They hold relatively large amounts of syrup and few hives would be able to handle one that was completely full.  A benefit to a top feeder is you can put as much as you think your bees can handle and not have to refill it very often if ever.  The feeder can be inspected by opening the top cover and the bees will remain below the feeder.

Entrance Feeders consist of an inverted jar that sits on a platform that is inserted into the entrance of the hive.  The jar typically used is s one quart clear glass jar available commonly in most grocery stores.  Because the glass is clear it can be inspected from a distance without opening the hive.

Pail Feeders have a screen covering a hole in the lid of a pail.  The pail is inverted and placed on top of the inner cover.  An empty super is placed around the pail and then the top cover is placed on top of the empty super.

Division Board Feeders are the size and shape of a single deep frame or two medium frames.  Division board feeders allow the feed to be placed very close to the brood nest.

Making the syrup

Determine how much syrup you will need based on the size of your feeder and the number of hives you have to feed.  One gallon per hive is usually a good starting point.

Use a larger container than you need for mixing.  For example if you are making one gallon of syrup use a two gallon pot.  The last thing you will want to deal with is sticky syrup overflowing onto your stove or kitchen countertop.

The proper way to make a mixture of this type is to measure both components by mass or weight.  When measuring the appropriate ratios of sugar and water you can use volume or weight.  The reason this works is because the density (mass/volume) of regular granulated sugar is very close to the density of water.

Add the water to the pot and heat it to just under boiling then add the sugar.  Heat and stir the mixture until all the sugar is completely dissolved.  It is not necessary to bring the mixture to a boil however it will likely be close to boiling before all the sugar is dissolved especially if you are making two to one syrup.  The mixture should be heated even if it looks like all the sugar is dissolved.  If you are using an inverted feeder any remaining granules of sugar will clog the pores in the feeder and if the weather is cold they could encourage crystallization.  Allow the syrup to cool before adding it to the feeder.

Additives such as Honey B Healthy and Fumagilin should be added after the syrup is cool enough to touch.

Below are several formulas for making syrup.  Choose the formula that best suits your preferences, desired volume of syrup, and available measuring equipment.  These formulas begin with the desired final volume and then calculate how much sugar and water are needed to reach that final volume.


1:1 Syrup for Spring Feeding

Two Simply Recipes

2/3 Gallon Water + 2/3 Gallon Sugar = 1 Gallon Syrup

2/3 Gallon Water + 5 1/2 Pounds Sugar = 1 Gallon Syrup

Pounds and Quarts

  • Pounds Water = Quarts Syrup / 0.719
  • Pounds Sugar = Quarts Syrup / 0.719

Pounds and Gallons

  • Pounds Water = Gallons Syrup / 0.1797
  • Pounds Sugar = Gallons Syrup / 0.1797


  • Cups Water = Cups Syrup / 1.5
  • Cups Sugar = Cups Syrup / 1.5


  • Quarts Water = Quarts Syrup / 1.5
  • Quarts Sugar = Quarts Syrup / 1.5


  • Gallons Water = Gallons Syrup / 1.5
  • Gallons Sugar = Gallons Syrup / 1.5


2:1 Syrup for Fall Feeding

  TwTTwoTtTwo Simply Recipes

1 3/4 Quarts Water + 3 1/2 Quarts Sugar = 1 Gallon Syrup

1 3/4 Quarts Water + 7 1/2 lbs Sugar = 1 Gallon Syrup

Pounds and Quarts

  • Pounds Water = Quarts Syrup / 1.0785
  • Pounds Sugar = Quarts Syrup / 0.539

Pounds and Gallons

  • Pounds Water = Gallons Syrup / 0.2693
  • Pounds Sugar = Gallons Syrup / 0.1348


  • Cups Water = Cups Syrup / 2.25
  • Cups Sugar = Cups Syrup / 1.125


  • Quarts Water = Quarts Syrup / 2.25
  • Quarts Sugar = Quarts Syrup / 1.125


  • Gallons Water = Gallons Syrup / 2.25
  • Gallons Sugar = Gallons Syrup / 1.125