Feeding The Bees Honey Instead of Syrup

I harvested more than enough honey to last us until next year, so instead of topping up my hives up with sugar syrup to get them through the winter, I decided to give them back their honey. It saves the bees the trouble of evaporating the syrup down to the consistency of honey; it reduces the risk of condensation building up inside the hive (evaporation creates condensation, especially in cold weather); and it saves me the trouble of having to mix the syrup and mess around with messy feeders — and the honey is much better for the bees than sugar syrup. So if I’m in the position to feed them back their own honey, why not?

A deep frame of honey fed back to the bees. (Oct. 23, 2011.)

I began feeding the bees their own honey from partially capped medium frames that I didn’t harvest from the honey supers. Then I switched to deep frames full of honey that I pulled from the hives earlier in the summer to prevent the queens from becoming honey bound.

A full frame of honey fed back to the bees. (Oct. 23, 2011.)

The inner cover is flipped to the winter position; all the wax cappings are scraped open on the deep honey frame; the frame is then installed inside a deep super over the inner cover; the bottom of the frame passes right over the inner cover hole so the bees can easily climb on to the frame; and the whole thing is sealed in with a top cover. The bees cleaned up the last deep frame in about two or three days. That’s about six pounds of honey. It would take over 20 litres (over 5 gallons) of syrup for the bees to make that much honey stores (or so I heard in an online video).

I also took some pint-sized jars of honey and installed them over the inner covers of some of the hives just like I would with regular jar feeders full of syrup. The bees can’t down the honey as fast as they can from the scraped frames of honey, but they’re doing alright. I can always give them a couple jars at a time.

Inverted jar feeder full of honey. Hive #2. (Oct. 23, 2011.)

Last year when I didn’t know any better, I briefly fed grocery store honey to my bees. But that’s a big no-no. Even super heated tasteless grocery store honey can carry spores that can make the bees sick. The only safe way to fed bees honey is with their own honey.

Here’s the video version:

March 2019 Postscript: I used to make my own pollen patties from pollen supplement powder. These days I just order pre-made patties from a local supplier. It still costs about twice as much as most beekeepers pay in North America, but it’s cheaper than what I used to pay. At any rate, I noticed a mistake in how I used to make pollen patties and install them in my hives. Most of the time, I just put the pollen patty on a piece of paper and that was it. As can be seen in one of the photos above, the pollen patties dry out pretty quick that way. What I should have done is sandwich the patties between two pieces of paper to retain the moisture and then simply scratched an X in the bottom of the patty so the bees could get at it from underneath. For years I did it wrong and my patties would dry up like pizza crusts.

11 thoughts on “Feeding The Bees Honey Instead of Syrup

  1. We got our first bit of snow today. Lovely.

    The last time I did a visual inspection, all the hives seemed to have plenty of honey in the top boxes. I haven’t lifted them to check their weight because I don’t want to pull my back out, I wouldn’t know what a 100 pounds feels like anyway, and I’m confident they have plenty of honey stores

    It would be nice, though, to give them one last minor inspection before we wrap them for winter — if we can just get a break in the weather. A bit of sunshine and higher temperatures wouldn’t hurt.

    They don’t seem to be taking down any more honey, so they might be ready for wrapping now. We’re supposed to have a break in the rain on Saturday.

    If we can inspect them, the inspection will be minimal. We might pull out a couple frames in the top box, but that’s about it. I’ll shine a flash light through the front entrance to check for mice. (And why don’t the bees just sting the mice? I don’t get that.) Otherwise, if they’re looking good, we’ll put a piece of hard insulation over the inner covers, wrap them and not touch them again until late January or February.

    • I haven’t had a chance to wrap the hives and give them one last inspection before winter. I wish they were wrapped now. We’ve got heavy winds, cold blowing rain and hail. I know some beekeepers don’t bother with wrapping. My guess is the hives can take the pounding for a day or two without any major damage. But the next time the sun comes out, they’re getting wrapped. Hopefully in a day or two.

  2. Hey Phil,

    I made up some candy pies today with the pollen patties build into them. I should send you some pics. The next nice day I am going to install them on the colonies and wrap them up. I noticed on Saturday the bee out flying and still using and guarding the bottom entrance. On colony was is bursting at the seams with bees so that is the one I’m going to place the 10 frame nuc on.

    I still have 3 colonies that I need to install mouse guards on to protect the bees overwinter. Still so many things to do.

    • Hey Jeff,

      “Still so many things to do.”

      Tell me about it. Being sick with the flu, bad weather and work commitments have prevented be from getting a lot of stuff done that should have been done by now (e.g. installing all the mouse guards). I removed some of the frames of honey I was feeding the bees this morning. I think they’ve taken down all the honey they have room for, and it’s too cold for feeding anyway.

      “I made up some candy pies today with the pollen patties build into them. I should send you some pics. The next nice day I am going to install them on the colonies and wrap them up.”

      You plan to give them candy right away? I wasn’t planning to give them any sugar or pollen until January. I think my hives are loaded full of honey, but I suppose a little candy doesn’t hurt. Hmm.

      “One colony is bursting at the seams with bees so that is the one I’m going to place the 10 frame nuc on.”

      I wish I had a nuc. Next year I’m definitely starting up a nuc or two to have on hand all year round. I have a feeling the queen in our foundationless hive might not make it through the winter. Having a spare queen around would be nice.

      I feel much better about my nucs, or new hives, this year. Last year’s new hives almost starved to death by the end of January. But this year the populations in both of the new hives, especially the one with the follower boards / dummy boards, are booming and they seem to be heavy with honey. I like this feeling of not being worried.

      I just wish we could get a break in the weather so I could wrap the bees for winter and forget about them until January.

  3. Thank you Phillip for blogging on cold climate beekeeping. I’m in a pocket of cold in central New Hampshire, U.S.A. and it is a challenge to find good info. Two of my favorite books are somewhat outdated and from even farther south than I am, but a local retired Canadian beekeeper told me to not wrap the front of the hive as the sun can heat it up and fool the bees into going out in weather too cold. I have three hives and am going into my third winter with the bees.

    • “…a local retired Canadian beekeeper told me to not wrap the front of the hive as the sun can heat it up and fool the bees into going out in weather too cold.”

      I’ve heard that from other beekeepers, too, though not locally. We only have two major beekeeping operations in Newfoundland, and both of them fully wrap their hives, sometimes in pairs, moving two hives next to each other and wrapping them in a single piece of felt. They’ve done that for years without any problems, so I’ll probably stick to that method for now.

      I took a look at your website. I like it. It’s straightforward and informative. It seems like you have much in common with cold climate beekeepers in Newfoundland. I think I might have to put you on my list. I’ll be checking out your website in more detail as soon as I have the time.

  4. One thing I noticed last winter. When the sun played on front of the colony the bees would first come out and bask in the sun over the felt. The sometimes they would make short flights. If they came back it seemed more bees would come back out. If they didn’t others didn’t fly out. Maybe it is coencidental. The bees that didn;t make it back were sacrifical lambs.

    Also I have my election signs to install on the north side of the colonies to break the wind a little more. With the oversize inner covers I have it allows for the corrogated plastic to fit under the cover and keep moisture out. I can tape areoudn the seems to keep drafts to a minimum and maintain my lower adn upper entrances for ventilation.

    Make up and other 12 kgs of candy cakes last night. Althought I have two colonies that look like they will not need it.

    • I’m friends with a local politician who got elected for the first time last month, which means all her next batch of election signs will have to read “re-elect” instead of “elect.” I’m sure she has some of those big billboard type signs she won’t need again. I’ll see what she can give me. My four hives are well protected from the wind in my small backyard, but I might need to make a windbreak for the new hives, wherever I end up putting them.

      I plan to max out at 8 hives next year. Then maybe double it again the year after that. I don’t think I’d ever want much more than 20 hives. This has nothing to do with what we’re talking about, but next year I plan to expand to the other end of St. John’s instead of out in the country, mainly because it’s more convenient for me to stay in town if I can. If I ever start making money from beekeeping, that’s when I’ll head out to some family land in CBS.

      I’m working from home today. I’m heading out in about an hour to see if I can finally wrap the hives for winter.

  5. On the topic of feeding, I don’t plan to feed our bees again until sometime around January or February 2012 at the earliest. I could load them up with hard candy now just before I wrap them for winter, but as far as I can tell, they don’t need it. I could be wrong, but I think the hives easily have enough honey and pollen stores to keep going strong well into January.

    When I do get around to feeding them, I’ll probably just give them some candy cakes again similar to what I did last winter, and maybe some pollen patties in late winter to get the queen laying before spring kicks in and all that.

    I could also feed them raw sugar as shown in this photo:


    The inner cover is installed with the flat side down so it acts like a container for the raw sugar. The bees simply walk up through the inner cover hold and eat the raw sugar.

    The candy cake method worked well last year, so I’ll probably just stick to what works. But I’m tempted to try the raw sugar method only because it looks so easy. No mixing of syrup, boiling it down do hard candy, pouring and slopping it all over the place. Just pour the raw sugar over the inner cover and be done with it.

    It probably wouldn’t work so well on cold days when the bees can’t easily leave the cluster, so in that way it’s not as good as the candy cake method which provides easier access to the sugar, but it might be worth a try is I’m feeling lazy.

  6. I’ve got my fingers crossed as I don’t think my bees had much in the way of stores. I slaved over the stove making the candy and just filled up the inner cover with whatever they may need, but I really wish I had surplus honey to offer. I like the picture of the frame over the inner cover opening. I’ll try that in the spring. Maybe in time I’ll learn how to anticipate their needs. I’d like to find a good way to offer them water as whenever there is a mild day I always find some bees drowned or stranded near a puddle.

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