How to Feed Your New Honey Bees

How to feed your new bees, an overview of feeders - from Oak Hill Homestead

When I brought my bees home last spring, I wanted to be prepared for them, with everything on hand that I'd need at first.

The instructor of my beekeeping class told us to plan on feeding our bees that first spring. Your new bees - unless you bought a complete hive or an established nuc (nucleus hive) - won't come with comb-filled frames and brood. They have to produce beeswax and build comb on the frames to get their colony started. By providing food for them, you are enabling them to spend more time building comb so they can store pollen and so the queen can produce brood. You'll need to feed them sugar syrup and provide pollen patties.

You'll also need to feed your bees during the "dearth" (the height of summer when flowers stop blooming and there's no pollen or nectar available naturally), and over the winter (don't feed 1:1 sugar syrup during freezing weather though).

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How to feed your new bees, an overview of feeders and feeding methods - from Oak Hill Homestead

Pollen patties

Pollen patties are a protein supplement for bees. They are produced in flat "patties" that are basically rectangular.

Small hive beetles love pollen patties. These beetles can take over a hive, especially a new hive that doesn't have a lot of resources to fight them. For this reason, you should cut up a pollen patty into pieces that are about 1x3 inches. You don't need to remove the wrapper, just use scissors to cut right through the paper and patty. Keep the pieces in the freezer until you need to use another one.

Place the pollen patty (affiliate link) piece right on top of the frames in your hive. When the bees eat it all (or nearly so) replace it with another one. Keep supplying pollen patties until your bees ignore it.

Sugar syrup

Have a sugar syrup feeder on hand when you get your bees, and provide a solution of 1:1 sugar and water. I have to admit that I thought that meant measuring by volume, but I found out it means by weight: a pound of sugar to a pound of water. (Need a refresher course on measuring by parts? You can read my post about that here.)

Begin by heating water in a large pot. When the water comes to a rolling boil, add the sugar a little at a time and stir until it dissolves completely. Let it cool before adding to your feeder. You can store any excess syrup in the refrigerator. Continue to feed syrup to your bees until they ignore it.

How to feed your new bees, an overview of feeders and feeding methods - from Oak Hill Homestead


I bought an entrance feeder (affiliate link) first. They are easy to refill since you don't need to open the hive. It's also easy to see at a glance if the feeder is nearly empty. But they do have a disadvantage: it's easy for other bees to rob the hive and steal the syrup, ultimately overpowering and killing your colony. For this reason I changed my mind at the last minute and bought a frame feeder.

Whatever you do, don't try to use an entrance feeder inside your hive, as though it's a frame or in-hive feeder. You'll end up with something like this. (Ask me how I know!)

Frame feeders replace a frame inside your hive. While they are harder to refill than some of the other options, I think they are a better choice.

How to feed your new bees, an overview of feeders and feeding methods - from Oak Hill Homestead

I use this frame feeder (affiliate link). Bees will drown if there isn't a top and mesh "ladders" that go down into the syrup so the bees can safely climb up and down inside like this one does. Some assembly is required to put the ladders together and install them but it was easy. You'll find a PDF with assembly directions here. The two sides of the plastic mesh ladders didn't stay together well, so we used small cable ties like these (affiliate link) to hold them shut.

A photo of the inside, showing the mesh ladders.

I did still lose a few bees that drowned inside the feeder, but it was a very low number. It's also a bit larger than one frame; I had to remove two frames for the feeder to fit inside my hive box. Still, it's my favorite feeder so far.

My instructor demonstrated how to refill a frame feeder without disturbing the bees too much: remove the top of the hive, then move the inner cover over just enough to access the feeder. Pour more syrup in the feeder and close up the hive.

I use a large funnel to refill my frame feeder, and store sugar syrup in empty juice bottles for easy transporting and pouring.

Hive-top feeders are also available. This type sits on top of your hive, inside an empty hive box. Bees also tend to drown in hive-top feeders. I haven't used this type.

The zipper bag feeder is simple, easy and inexpensive; simply lay the bag on top of the frames in your hive. You'll need to add a spacer on top of the hive box, below the inner cover and top, to allow space for the bag. A spacer is easy to build with a 1x2" or 1x3" board cut to the dimensions of your hive and screwed together to form a box. I haven't used this method either.

And finally there are open feeders that are placed outside the hive, a minimum of fifty feet away to prevent other bees from robbing your hive. You'll be feeding wild bees and maybe other beekeepers' bees too, so you'll go through syrup more quickly with this method, but it's an easy option.

How to feed your new bees, an overview of feeders and feeding methods - from Oak Hill Homestead

I'm intrigued by the pop bottle feeder in this YouTube video. I have all the components and need to get one put together.

Always be careful to not spill sugar syrup when you are working your hive or refilling the feeders. Spilled syrup will attract bees from other colonies and, yes, encourage robbing. Be proactive and protect your bees.

This images below contain affiliate links. You can read my full disclosure here.


How to feed your new bees, and why you need to do it.

How, why and what to feed your new bees, an overview of bee feeders and feeding methods - from Oak Hill Homestead

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