Winter Sugar Feeding

As the days get longer your bees can run out of stored honey, January and the next couple of months are vital times to keep checking, traditionally by lifting one side of the hive a few mm to gauge the weight or "hefting". As brooding increases, the bee colony gets through stores to feed the larvae and keep them warm. Outside, early bulbs like snowdrop and crocus and shrubs like viburnum or mahonia can provide a little pollen but not much nectar. Poor weather means the bees cannot even get to what is available, so consider if you might need to feed sugar.

In autumn or spring syrup made with simple table sugar is a cheap and effective supplement to keep them going. But syrup contains higher water levels than honey and can ferment or go mouldy if left on for weeks which causes problems for bees digestion. More compact and a standby winter feed for many beekeepers is fondant. Sealed in polythene it keeps for years, and can be fed by laying sealed slabs on top of a cover board after cutting a feeder size hole underneath. For immediate food shortages it can be rolled flat and laid over the frame bars.

Fondant is a paste of small sugar crystals with a little concentrated syrup to keep it mobile. The HBKA January Sunday education session included making your own fondant from sugar at home, it's cost effective but takes time to make more than a small amount. Commercial "Bakers Fondant" can be bought in 12.5kg boxes and divided into slabs as needed. Delivery charges from catering supply companies can be high for small orders but some independent bakers will sell on a box or two included in their large orders. Sugar companies package fondant for beekeepers under brands such as Ambrosia or Api-invert. It's more expensive and the sugar content is no better for bees than bakers fondant, whatever the marketing claims but it is conveniently packaged in sealed flat slabs that can be used out of the box. Brian usually has stocks for sale at the apiary on Sunday mornings, 2.5kg packs or a 12.5kg box of five packs. If not used this winter a sealed pack will easily keep until needed.

There is more about feeding sugar to bees in this National Honey Show Lecture Video