How Much do We Need to Feed?

Thursday 16 September 2021

Last week we discussed different styles of equipment which can be used to feed supplementary sugar syrup to honey bees. This week, we will continue the discussion of fall feeding, considering the nutritional requirements for the bees and how much syrup will be necessary to achieve these requirements.

Also, see information below on our latest ATTTA podcast.

How Much do We Need to Feed?

Beekeepers typically need to feed bees in the fall to replace the honey harvested from the hive. In Atlantic Canada, it is recommended to overwinter hives with at least 35kg of honey stored. With these reserves, strong hives should be able to withstand the winter. A common way to measure the honey content in a hive is by lifting the hive to assess its weight. If you are able to lift the hive with one hand, it is likely that the hive is too light and requires feeding. With experience beekeepers become very good at assessing hive weight with this “heft” test.

Supplementary feeding may be required at various times throughout the beekeeping season and is done for different reasons. For example, a new colony which does not yet have drawn comb will need to be fed to stimulate wax production. In the fall, feeding is typically for the purpose of stocking food for the winter. For this, a ratio of 2:1 sugar to water is the ideal syrup. Thick syrup is useful for fall feeding because it creates less work for the bees. When forager bees collect nectar and bring back it to the hive, it is then cured within the hive for proper storage. Nectar typically starts with about 70% water content and is stored as honey with about 18% water. Water is removed first through the act of passing the nectar from mouth to mouth within the colony and then further by fanning bees and warm air circulating through the hive. Removing excess water creates a substance with a higher sugar concentration, allowing bees to store more energy efficient reserves in less space and creating a substance that is not capable of spoiling! Supplementary sugar syrup needs the same treatment. By providing bees thicker syrup to begin with, they are more easily able to cure the syrup into a storable form.


How much syrup must you feed your bees? This question depends on how much honey is already in the hive and how much stored food you would like your bees to have. One gallon of 2:1 sugar syrup will be converted into about 3.2 kgs of stored food. Therefore, if you want your bees to store an additional 35 kgs on top of what is already in the hive, you must feed them 11 gallons (41 liters) of 2:1 feed.  It is very unlikely that a normal, healthy hive would contain no honey. Be mindful of excessive feeding, as well. It is possible to overfeed your bees and be left with a honey bound hive. In this case, the queen may run out of space to lay and the population of bees in the spring will be unfavorably low. The bees will also need time to cure the syrup into its storable form. If they are not allowed sufficient time to cure the syrup, it may enter the winter with excessive water content and end up freezing or fermenting, both of which are detrimental to overwintering bees. Here in Atlantic Canada, September is a good time to start with supplemental feeding and normally by mid October feeding should be complete.

For even more information on feeding your bees and getting them ready for the winter, check out the ATTTA Fall Honey Bee Management Guide ( and Feeding Honey Bees ( fact sheets.


What’s the Buzz with ATTTA Beekeeping Podcast 

Episode 8

The Canadian Honey Council (CHC) represents all beekeepers from the hobbyist with one hive through to the largest commercial operation with thousands of colonies.  Nationally, there are more than 10 000 beekeepers, managing nearly one million colonies, supported directly by the work of the CHC.  As the national association of the beekeeping industry, the CHC undertakes many of the big issues related to honey fraud, product labelling, employment and much more.  This month’s episode of What’s the Buzz with ATTTA Beekeeping podcast explores the work of the CHC through a discussion with the association’s executive director, Rod Scarlett. You can find the podcast HERE.

Connecting with ATTTA Specialists

If you’d like to connect with ATTTA specialists or learn more about our program, you can: