Beekeepers feed their bee colonies sugar water for various reasons. Still, the primary motives are to provide food for a weak colony in times of dearth or to stimulate the production of workers in anticipation of the first nectar flow of the season.
There are lots of other secondary reasons to start feeding like this.
But how do you know when you should stop feeding your bees sugar water?
When To Stop Feeding Bees Sugar Water
You should stop feeding bees sugar water a week before a nectar flow. Also, if the temperature drops below 57°F (14°C) to prevent the mixture from fermenting or if the colony is strong enough not to need supplemental feeding. In mild winter regions, feeding with sugar water may not be necessary at all.
As beekeepers, it’s generally fairly obvious when your colony needs an energy boost, or a struggling colony needs to be fed to get through the winter.
Feeding bees sugar water is not ideal. This is because the best food for bees is honey (or the nectar and pollen foraged from flowers). So you should not feed them too much sugar water when it’s unnecessary.
In fact, feeding bees sugar water can have the opposite of the desired effect and be detrimental to the colony’s health if it is not done correctly.
So, how do you know when it is time to remove the sugar water feeding supplement to prevent potential problems for the health of your bees?
When To Stop Feeding Bees Sugar Water In The Spring
Beekeepers feed sugar water to their bee colonies in the spring to stimulate the queen to lay more eggs to produce more worker bees.
More food means more energy for the queen to lay eggs. The sugar water deceives the bees into thinking that more food is available for collection. Increased numbers of bees will allow more food to be collected for the colony.
Basically, you’re fooling the colony into thinking that a honey flow has started.
The best time to feed the bees is at the very beginning of spring and only for about the first two weeks. Nectar flows are very localized, and you will need to understand your region to know when the nectar flow typically starts in the springtime in your area.
Start feeding your bees sugar water 3 weeks before the spring nectar flow. Then, feed them for two consecutive weeks, 5 days at a time, and stop feeding them 1 week before the nectar flow begins.
The additional food stimulates the development of new workers that take up to 20 days to emerge as worker bees. The timing of the feeding allows the worker numbers to be strengthened to make maximum use of the nectar flow when it actually arrives and boost the colony’s honey production.
It’s interesting to note that bees realize that natural nectar is healthier for them than sugar water. So once the nectar flow begins, they will often ignore sugar water in favor of foraging for nectar.
When To Stop Feeding Bees Sugar Water In The Fall
Sugar water introduces two components into the bee colony; sugar which the bees can use for energy, and water, which is the delivery mechanism for the sugar.
The additional moisture in the sugar water introduces humidity into the hive, and the bees must evaporate some of that moisture to render the sugar water into usable food.
You should stop giving the bees sugar water when the temperature drops below 57°F or 14°C as the bees cannot remove the humidity and reduce the water content in the sugar water.
This is important because if the moisture content remains too high in the sugar water, it begins to ferment! And if the bees drink the fermented sugar water, they develop dysentery, which can kill the bees and weaken the colony rather than strengthen them.
So even if you start out with good intentions, you can quickly end up doing them harm!
Keep an eye on temperatures inside your hive!
Monitoring hives remotely can be tricky, but fortunately, there are more and more solutions for doing this, like this handy waterproof thermometer and hygrometer. (Amazon)
When Should You Stop Feeding Bees For Winter?
The reason for feeding bees in winter is usually to supplement the bees’ honey supply to get them through a long, cold season. This is also to assist a weak colony through the winter and prepare them for spring when they can take care of themselves.
Feeding bees in winter is not usually necessary in temperate climates, as there are plants that flower in the winter season that provide food for the bees.
Harsh winter regions are different, and beekeepers in these areas often feed their colonies during this season.
Once again, it is vital to stop feeding the bees liquid sugar in winter when the temperature drops below 57°F or 14°C to prevent the sugar water from fermenting.
When the temperature drops below this threshold, you should instead feed the bees sugar candy or via a sugar board. The huge advantage is that this eliminates much of the water content in the sugar.
The sugar candy is not the type humans eat, but rather a candy made for bees.
Essentially, this is made from sugar with less water, using 1 cup of water to 10 pounds or 4.5kg of sugar. After mixing these ingredients, you will have wet sugar, which you can spread on wax paper and leave to harden overnight.
The mixture will harden and can be placed on the top bars of the frames in the hive for the bees to use as they require. This method is not used at other times because bees take liquid sugar more readily than candy.
FAQ Feeding Sugar Water To Bees
If you’re new to beekeeping, you have many questions regarding feeding sugar water to bees and how to perform this vital beekeeping task without compromising the bees or the honey.
Here are a few answers to some common concerns:
How Long Does Sugar Water Last For Honey Bees?
Sugar water for bees is made by heating water and dissolving sugar in the water. It is important not to boil the water, which caramelizes the sugar and makes it toxic for the bees.
If sugar water is left to stand, it starts to ferment, and the sugar produces alcohol, HMF, and other substances that are toxic to bees.
Make fresh sugar water for your bees each day that you feed the bees and only make enough that the bees will consume in a few hours or, at the most, a full day.
You can place excess sugar water in a glass or plastic container in the refrigerator and use it the next day. But do not feed sugar water older than 48 hours to your bees.
Can You Overfeed Bees Sugar Water?
It is possible to overfeed your bees sugar water, which can have dire consequences for the colony.
Sugar water is not a healthy diet for bees in the long term. This is because it does not contain the proteins and enzymes the bees need to remain healthy.
Feeding too much sugar water before a nectar flow can also produce too many worker bees. This makes it harder to collect sufficient resources during the nectar flow to support the increased number of bees. This scenario may result in the workers raising a new queen and the colony splitting.
Does Feeding Bees Sugar Affect The Honey?
Feeding bees sugar water does affect the honey. It should only be used as a measure to support your bees through a tough time rather than supplementing their food throughout the season.
You can avoid the bees producing honey adulterated with sugar for the harvest by only putting honey supers on the hive once you stop feeding sugar water to the bees.
This strategy ensures that all the honey in the super will be from resources harvested in the field from natural sources rather than from sugar water.
How Much Sugar Water Do Bees Consume?
The amount of sugar water the bees will consume depends on several factors. The colony’s size, how hungry the bees are, and how bountiful the previous season was will affect how much your bees will use up.
An excellent place to start is to feed the colony 1 quart of sugar water daily for 5 days and see how they respond. Suppose they are depleting the quart of sugar water very quickly (for example, in an hour or two). In that case, you can increase the daily amount.
A maximum amount should be about 2 quarts of sugar water per day for each hive for 5 consecutive days during the week.
Feeding bees sugar water may be necessary to ensure the colony’s survival through winter or periods where drought or too much rain has limited the resources available to the bees.
While feeding the bees is important, it’s just as important to know when to stop feeding the bees sugar water and let them forage for natural, healthier nectar and pollen 🙂