Fall Feeding for Bees: Preparing Colonies for Winter Survival

As the autumn season approaches, it becomes imperative for beekeepers to ensure that their colonies have an ample food supply to sustain them throughout the winter months. Nutritional preparation of bees during fall is vital for promoting colony health, increasing their chances of survival, and ensuring a thriving population when spring arrives. Similar to humans, bees require a source of carbohydrates, protein, and fat for adequate nutrition.

Feeding Carbohydrates to Bees:

The ideal carbohydrate source for bees is their own honey, so it is preferable to leave a certain amount of honey in the hive after the honey harvest. In addition, you can supplement their food by feeding them syrup or fondant. During the fall, it is recommended to provide a heavier syrup (2 parts sugar to 1 part water) using white sugar instead of brown sugar, which may contain additives like molasses. A heavier syrup requires less energy for bees to remove moisture, preventing excess moisture in the hive, which can be problematic at this time of year.

However, there are some disadvantages to feeding sugar syrup. Firstly, its nutritional profile is not as good as honey. Secondly, it lacks the antibacterial and antifungal properties naturally found in honey. Thirdly, it can ferment in the feeders. To address these concerns, you can choose a feed supplement like HiveAlive, which has been shown to tackle these issues.

 Additionally, if the syrup temperature drops below 50 degrees F, bees may not consume it. In such cases, it is recommended to use fondant as an alternative food source.

Fondant is a solid, sugar-based food that provides bees with essential carbohydrates. Compared to syrup, fondant contains less moisture, eliminating the risk of drying out the feed and preventing excess moisture in the hive.

Another advantage of fondant is that it serves as an emergency food source, even if you believe you have sufficient stores going into winter. As the colony naturally contracts during winter, the bees that die out won't be replaced until closer to spring, causing the cluster to move further away from their food supply. If they are too far or haven't stored enough food, they may starve without breaking the cluster. Placing fondant directly over the center of the colony, either over a hole on the cover board or beneath it, ensures immediate access to food. Opt for high-quality fondants that don't dry out, allowing them to remain in the hive throughout winter, ready for when the bees need them. Similar to sugar, fondant lacks nutrients and antimicrobial properties but there are fondants on the market that contain additives to help address this. Feeding fondant is a small investment that could potentially save your colony. Unused fondant can be melted with water in spring to create syrup. To prevent drying, make sure to wrap up any unused fondant or purchase pre-sealed options.

 Feeding Protein to Bees:

Pollen collected by bees is the best source of protein. However, it may not always be readily available. To prepare for winter, it is crucial to raise strong and well-nourished bees that have a higher chance of surviving the cold season. Bees lacking protein will have shorter lifespans, diminishing the colony's chances of winter survival. Therefore, it is essential to ensure an adequate supply of protein for the brood being reared in the fall.

A recent study conducted by Dr. Vanessa Corby-Harris on behalf of Project Apis M demonstrated that bees fed protein in the fall performed better in the following spring. Colonies with access to pollen fared the best, with increased pollen intake correlating to higher survival rates. This highlights the importance of feeding bees as much pollen as possible before winter, as bees have evolved alongside pollen for millions of years. Among the groups that were fed protein, only those receiving pollen had zero winter mortality. This study emphasizes that feeding bees with abundant pollen prior to winter can significantly enhance survival rates and promote thriving colonies in the spring. In some regions, protein can also be fed to colonies in early fall to strengthen them for potential splits. There are a number of protein patties on the market but make sure to check the pollen content and that the pollen has been irradiated to prevent disease spread.

By following these guidelines and adopting best practices for fall feeding, beekeepers can optimize the nutrition of their colonies, increase their chances of survival, and ensure the overall health and productivity of the bee population.