small bee

Supplementary feeding of bees is sometimes required in the spring. A large colony may have many mouths to feed and a proportionately small number of foraging bees. For this reason additional feed may be required if a prolonged period of unstable weather is forecast. A small colony on the other hand may be fed as a stimulus to growth and to bring it up to full strength in time for the nectar flow.

In spring a light syrup, made of one part sugar to one part water, can be fed to the bees. This mimics the nectar flow at this time of year. A strong colony may be fed using a top feeder placed above the hive, while a small colony can benefit from a frame feeder inserted into the brood area. Beware though, a sudden abundance of ‘nectar’ may fool your beehive into thinking it’s a good time to swarm.

Ideally a colony should be left with a box of store honey for overwintering, although this may be depleted after a mild winter or strong growth in spring. Our fickle weather from September to November can result in bees that may be housebound for a week or more, with little ability to go foraging or even a lack of flowering plants.


A beehive in spring can run out of food fast if the weather turns to custard. There may also be an imbalance in the proportions of foraging and juvenile bees in the colony. This means a large number of larvae and immature bees are reliant on honey and pollen from the hives stores, while a much smaller number of foraging aged bees are out collecting the groceries!

As beekeepers we are always watching the weather. If a week of rain or strong winds is forecast, a cursory check on food stores can give peace of mind. This can be an assessment of honey in frames or as simple as lifting the end of a hive to establish relative weight. So be aware and be ready to feed if you need to.