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Advice on whether To feed or not to feed?

Hello all, I am a new beekeeper with a 5 frame nuc that is now in its 8 frame brood box. I live on the Mornington Peninsula where there appears to be plenty of flowers and food for the bees. I’ve watched them coming in with their pollen sacks full. It has been suggested that I feed them 1kg or so of sugar syrup daily but I’m worried this will be too much and make them too reliant on the supplementary food. Do they only use this food source if there isn’t enough food around or do they gorge on it and slow down foraging? Is this supplementary food to assist them in filling the brood box so that you can add the super and start the process of producing supplementary honey? Sorry for all the questions… so much to learn! Thanks in advance for your advice :slight_smile: :blush:

Flowers do not mean nectar. If it has been dry, plants will still make flowers if they can, and usually pollen, but they will reduce nectar to a bare minimum. They are looking after their own reproductive future, and don’t care about your bees! :wink:

I doubt that they will take that much per day, but they might. If you use an in-hve feeder (and you should, to avoid robbing), they will just take what they want. If there is nectar, they prefer it. Feeding them will not make them them lazy. They are not like 4 year old kids in their food choices, but more like olympic athletes - they will make the best choices for themselves and the colony.

Please keep asking questions if anything is not clear. :blush:

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when you look in the brood box have the bees stored much honey at the top of the frames? If there is a lot of capped honey in the hive then feeding is not necessary. In fact in such a case feeding could be a bad idea… If the hive is very light and you can see they have no stores- then yes- feeding is probably necessary. Bees prefer real food and will forage for it if it is there to be had.

also: don’t feed heavily if you have a super on as the bees will simply be storing sugar in you super… not honey. Ideally you feed up colonies and build them up before you add any honey supers. Honey supers should only be added when their is nectar being collected by a colony that is strong enough to store a surplus.

This supplementary food to assist them to complete building those 3 frames added to the nuc in brood box. It is where feeding stops and requirements reassessed. And it would take them only few days to build those frames from wax foundation.

thanks so much for your reply.

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thanks so much. I’ll do a brood inspection in next few days and then decide (I’m recovering from shoulder surgery and can’t wear my bee suit with my sling :slight_smile:

ok that makes sense now, Thankyou. So if I add the feeder tomorrow, your thoughts are that its only a matter of days till the 3 new frames show strong signs of activity?

And am I right in presuming that all 8 frames should be completely full of bees, brood, honey etc before I contemplate adding the super? and at this time of year in late summer, would you assume that might not be until Spring now?

In ideal circumstances - yes. But we need to understand that bee colony is not a machine where we load sugar at one end and may expect a proportionate amount of wax on the other after so many hours.
There are several requirements for active wax production and comb building.

  1. Young nursing bees - they produce wax most actively when they feed brood.

  2. Flow of nectar - that is why we feed them several days in small portions. This is to simulate a stable flow of nectar that triggers more active production of brood and need to increase the nest to accommodate more brood and stores.

  3. Temperature has great effect on comb building. To make secretion of wax possible at all, temperature of the colony must be above ~16°C. At 25°C bees will produce approximately twice less wax than at 31°C. Wax becomes pliable at temperatures higher than that. It is good practice to put new frames on sides of the nest, but closer to hive wall we move, the lower the temperature inside of the hive. In your area temperature at night drops to 14-15°C. Most likely it is going to stop all work on outer frames till temperature rises during day time again. This is going to delay construction.

  4. Pollen. Bees need pollen to produce wax efficiently. They may use as little as 3.5 kg of honey to produce 1 kg of wax when they have plenty of high protein pollen or as much as 22 kg for the same amount of wax when they work in poor conditions like glass houses where pollen is scarce.

I hope, at this point, you are already realising the complexity of your question :grinning: It may take 3-4 days or a couple of weeks.


I think, it would be very good assumption :slight_smile:
You need to familiarise yourself with honey flora of you area. Unless there is some major honey flow event between time your colony is strong enough and Spring time, super is purely decorative thing to have :slight_smile:


Was the advice to feed your bees from a local, or somewhere else? It would be good to find out what the local beekeepers in your area do at this time of year.

I’m not a fan of feeding unless I really have to. The one time I did feed a long time ago, the colony decided to swarm.

A good colony from a vigorous young queen wont need feeding as long as they have plenty of honey supplied with the nuc., coupled with plenty of forage for the bees to forage on.

I guess if you have to feed, supply them with a slow feeder, then they can take (as @Dawn_SD says), what they want.


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Thanks for all your informative answers and advice. For a newbie, it is quite overwhelming and the differing opinions makes it both interesting and confusing.

I do have a neighbour who has kept bees for years but he is a bit grumpy on hearing i got a hive. He says “its been a bad year for honey’ this year and now that I have a hive, there will be even less honey produced”!! I must admit I was surprised at his attitude as this does seem to normally be a very welcoming and inclusive community. We have a very large garden with lots of flowers that bees love like Culphea and lavender so I’m hoping I’m contributing to the honey flow, not detracting from it.

I have one further question re ants and the hive… I’ve noticed a trickle of ants going into the corner of the hive. I suppose its not surprising as ants will find honey anywhere and there is a strong smell of honey when I walk past the hive. Should I just leave them alone and trust the bees to deal with it. Does anyone else have an ant issue? The hive is a good 70cm off the ground.

Thanks again so much for any/all advice.


Hi Jeff,

The advice to feed was from the forum and I’m not sure where that person lives.

The man that I bought my nuc from also did suggest it but I understood that was for the cooler days only though maybe I misunderstood.

I think I’ll check my brood box this week to check how the 3 new frames are looking. I suppose if there is lots of brood/activity/wax/honey then I can assume they have enough food for now?

Kind regards,


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If you use the search tool (magnifying glass symbol at the upper right of this page), you will see thousands of posts about ants and how people deal with them. The short answer is that you should not ignore them. Given a chance, they can make a nest in the hive and steal tons of honey. :astonished:

When you establish a nucleus this late in the season, it can usually use all the help it can get. However, if you are in a subtropical region, you may not need to feed at all. From the comments of your grumpy neighbour, it sounds like there isn’t a lot of nectar at the moment, so you will likely need to feed them. :wink:

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@Dawn_SD is correct, it is late in the season. The bees do need all the help they can get in order to get established. With autumn not far away, they’re not likely to swarm. In my micro climate I normally don’t need to feed, however Peter48 who lives 15k’s north of me has to feed at times, mainly because his bees are away from a residential area.

As beekeepers, we need to be aware of what forage is available for our bees in our own micro climates, & manage our bees accordingly.

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so based on all the advice, I introduced a feeder on Friday and by Saturday am, the sugar syrup was gone. I re-filled with 600ml yesterday morning and it was gone by 5pm.

So, should I keep filling it up as it empties or slow it down? If there a risk of over feeding?

Do I have greedy little bees or are they starving? There was enormous growth in the two weeks since I introduced them to the hive - one new frame almost fully combed, a second with a small tennis ball sized comb and the third untouched.

I suppose if I check in another two weeks, I’ll be able to gauge whether the sugar syrup has enabled them to build more than the previous (unfed) two weeks?

Thanks as always for your continued encouragement and advice.


No risk of over feeding if you are doing in-hive feeding. What type of feeder are you using?


I’m not sure what its called but its a yellow round receptacle with a raised inner which sits over the hole in the lid, with a clear cap in which the bees can climb up and drink from the moat, and a clear cover over the complete unit and takes about 1lt when full

Any chance of a photo? It is really hard to know from many miles away… :blush:

Hi Dawn,

Here is a photo of the feeder just after we first filled it… with one curious bee taking a look. Now it is completely full of hungry bees…


Rapid feeder

Hi Tamara,

Ideally, you would need to inspect frames to judge your feeding rates. But since you have a problem with your shoulder at the moment and cannot inspect to provide feedback on stores in hive, we have to treat your hive as a “black box”. My recommendations are based on ideas: “god knows if there is a nectar around there” and “hopefully, colony has access to reasonable supply of pollen” :slight_smile:
If you really concerned with possible overfeeding, you may adjust amount to 1 litre every second day. Again, it is until your last frame is built. Then you stop and re-evaluate their stores.

I also recommend to read this document Fat Bees Skinny Bees to get a basic grasp of bees’ nutrition requirements.

Supplementary feeding is not only about building comb. It is also about maximising chances of creating strong, healthy and “fat” colony that goes into winter. And nectar/sugar is only part of the story. It provides carbohydrates, but proteins, fats and other things come mainly from pollen. Only old foraging bees live on honey. Young, just hatched bees consume a lot of pollen. Larvae even more. Imagine nutritional requirements of a baby that gains about 600 times of its initial weight in a week.
So another important question: what about pollen stores in you hive? Do you see many bees bringing pollen in?

Another reason why ample hive stores are important. Bees are able to judge them and adjust larvae feeding rates accordingly. Colony with large stores provide more feed to larvae. Stores go down, they reduce it (P.L. Snezhievsky’s “Law of frugality”). And better fed kids grow into more developed adults. Here is some experimental data proving correlation between amount of stores in hives and quality of produced bees:

A.M. Ryamov:

Quantity of food stores in hive, kg Weight of 6 days old larva, mg Weight of a single bee, mg Development of glands in the hypopharynx, score Development of fat body, % Lifespan of bees in cage, days
3-4 137 108 3.57 100 14.5
6-8 159 116 3.71 117 18
10-12 171 118 3.85 121 18.9

N.G. Bilash:

Quantity of honey in hive, kg 4.5 8.1 12.6
Weight of royal jelly in cells with 3 days old larva, mg 2.1 5.0 4.8
Weight of 3 days old larva, mg 6.7 9.5 10.8

So, the only risk of “overfeeding” is feeding them so much that stores will reduce area available for laying eggs. Plus, we need to remember, that sugar is not an ideal substitute for nectar. Nectar contains many other substances useful for bees. That is why I recommend to feed till the last comb in the brood box is built and see what happens after that.

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