The objective of fall feeding should be to help the bees store enough syrup to survive the winter. Once daytime temperatures are in the 50’s or below, bees greatly reduce the amount of syrup they drink. Due to this, fall feeding should take place weeks before temperatures historically drop to those lows in your area. The goal in the southern half of the US is to make sure each of your hives has at least 30 lbs of honey in their second brood box, and 3-4 frames of honey in their lower brood box by the time daytime temperatures are routinely in the 50’s.
In the northern US, the same rules apply, but you should be closer to 50-60 lbs of stores. Once you have achieved that, either by feeding or the bees bringing in nectar themselves, you can stop feeding! Continue to check every few weeks to ensure the hive has sufficient food.
I’m often asked about area feeding. Open feeding has a few pros and cons. In general, I feel the cons outweigh the pros.
- It more accurately stimulates a natural nectar flow, as the bees exit the hive and forage for the syrup. This can help promote more brood production, but only minimally.
- You don’t have to open your hives to feed them.
- Strong hives tend to gather the most, and weaker hives tend to gather very little. Thus, weaker hives still have to be fed internally.
- Bees can share viruses and mites as they congregate tightly together at feeders.
- You are feeding all the bees in the neighborhood, not just yours.
- If the weather is rainy or cool, bees won’t forage for syrup.
Lots of other animals love syrup, as well!
If you do choose to open feed, make sure the feeder prevents the bees from drowning. Typically, a 1:1 syrup works best as bees more readily forage on 1:1, and are less likely to drown. An inverted bucket of syrup with very small holes drilled in the edge of the bucket, allowing the rim to fill with syrup works well. Alternatively, a chicken waterer works perfectly, too!