When you hear of people feeding bees you may think they have taken this beekeeping a step too far.
Like people who make dresses and pants for their chickens.
However, honey bees need our help at different times throughout the year.
Learn all the dos and don’ts about when to feed your bees and nectar flow in this article.
Why You Need To Feed The Bees
Whether you’re a beekeeper or not, we all can help the honey bee colonies.
The forest is being destroyed and the bees natural habitat are being tainted with toxic chemicals and sprays.
Homes and condos are standing where wildflowers and trees used to. I’m not blaming progress or humans, simply stating the facts.
If we’re to keep bees around, we all need to pitch in and help.
If you would like to learn more about beekeeping, we encourage you to read our article Beekeeping and Bee Supplies on a Budget.
What Do Bees Eat?
A honeybee’s diet consists of water, nectar, pollen, royal jelly, and honey.
Bees use water and nectar to produce honey, their main food source.
Bees cannot make honey without nectar or water.
Without plants? No Nectar. No Nectar means no honey. Lack of honey means no honey bees.
I’m not sure about you but I don’t want to live in a time where bees don’t exist.
How Do Plants Produce Nectar?
From The Morgridge Institute of Research
Not all plants produce nectar, only plants that are visited by animal-type pollinators. Plants that are wind pollinated, for example, will not produce nectar.
You need a flower to make nectar, and those plants that do produce nectar will produce it as long as their flowers are open.
Some plants are hermaphroditic, meaning they’re both male and female. These plants tend to produce nectar every day.
Other plants will open as a male first, then become female. The flowers will change gender over time, and the amount of nectar produced every day could change because of that.
When the nectar is depleted, the plant will make more but it takes some time.
Nectar is made as a reward for pollinators. They need the plants in order to survive because it’s their food source, how they get their sugar. We need to maintain these plants so we can maintain the pollinators.
Pollination is so important. Something like 80% of flowering plants require some form of pollination, whether insects or animals for pollination. The biggest pollinators, especially in the temperate regions, are bees.
In agriculture, bees play a very big role. Most of the vegetables, fruits, and oil or hay producing crops like canola and alfalfa require insects for seed production.
What Is A Nectar Flow?
Nectar flow is also called a honey flow because it is the time of year that bees are producing a lot of honey.
Most experienced beekeepers or beekeepers associations will be able to tell you when the local nectar flow is for your area.
The main honey or nectar flows will last several weeks when most of the flowers are in bloom. That is why spring is the main honey harvest time for beekeepers followed by fall.
Weather can greatly affect nectar flow, especially if you’ve had a lot of rain. Instead of one huge rush of nectar flow, it may be a long and slow trickle.
The local nectar flow is another important thing to add to your bee journal.
Observe what is in bloom and write down what month is it and how long the flowers are in bloom.
Take note of all the different flowers that are in bloom during each season and if you extracted honey, what it tastes like.
You will notice how the different flowers flavor your honey.
What It Takes To Make Honey
Get ready to have your mind blown. As consumers of honey, unless we grew up beekeeping, I’m sure we’ve never even thought about what it takes to make honey.
Did you know that one bee only produces about 1/12 a teaspoon of honey during their lifetime? It takes roughly 770 bees to make one pound of honey and they need to fly over 50,000 miles to collect nectar.
When you learn about how hard bees have to work and how many it takes to produce just one pound of honey, you’ll never look at honey the same way again.
When To Feed The Bees
Bees feed on nectar and pollen from plants. No nectar? No food. Many things affect the nectar flow such as rain, drought, cold, heat, and even fertilizers.
To find out when the nectar flow is in your area, you can contact your local county extension office, beekeepers association, or master gardeners association.
During The Rainy Season
During the season when you see blooming flowers everywhere in early spring or summer, it doesn’t necessarily mean there is a nectar flow.
Rain will reduce a plant’s nectar flow which may take several days for the plants to recover. As well as wash away the plants’ pollen.
In addition to the rain washing away pollen and watering down the nectar, bees do not forage for food in the rain.
If you’re experiencing a rainy season, no matter what time of year, you should provide your bees with some bee food so they don’t go hungry.
Summer Bee Forage
One would think that there is plenty for bees to feed on during the summer. However, sometimes heat, drought, and other elements can reduce the nectar flow and source for bees food.
Keep an eye on the flowers. If your garden has gone to fruit and is no longer has blooming flowers or the trees have lost their flowers, chances are the bees are having a hard time finding nectar and you need to be feeding the bees.
Bee Food In The Fall
Fall is usually the bees last to collect nectar before the long winter months.
Many beekeepers harvest honey in the fall since the bees have forages all summer and normally have a surplus.
Personally, I let my bees keep all their fall honey si they have enough food to last the winter.
Much like Spring and Summer, if you experience bad weather with lots of rain or an early frost and there’s nothing for the bees to forage on, you will need to feed them so they don’t consume all of their winter stores.
Winter is the biggest time of the year when bees can starve to death. Rarely is there anything to forage on during the winter and the temperatures are too cold for the bees to leave their hive.
If the colony failed to collect enough honey stores for the winter, there wasn’t enough forage, the winter was too long, or they consumed too much for one reason or another, they will die.
It is essential to the survival of your hive that they have enough honey stores to last the winter or supplemental feed from you.
Types Of Feeders For Beehives
Depending on the type of beehive you have and your temperatures during the winter will dictate the type of feeder you need for your bees. We use a front jar feeder because our temps don’t drop too low.
Those with colder climates will want hive top feeders.
You can enclose the feeder in your hive to prevent the cold from entering the hive. One that fits in the top of your beehive.
Another feeder available for hives with colder climates is frame feeders and slide between your frames. You would remove some of your top bars and insert the frame feeder so bees can access it during the winter.
Other Times You Need To Feed Your Bees
In addition to the climate affecting nectar flow, there are other times your hive will need supplemental food to ensure their survival.
If you are new to beekeeping and ordered a pack of bees or a nuc, you will need to feed your new bees until they get established and there is a heavy nectar flow.
Since most bees are purchased in the spring, right when the flowers are in bloom, it is recommended you feed your new bees at least for two weeks.
Once you’ve confirmed there is an ample supply of nectar in your area (see when to feed bees above), you can reduce their feeding so they will forage on their own.
it is natural for bees to swarm in the spring or when their colony gets overpopulated.
When this happens, half of the colony will leave the hive. Half of the colony leaving means that half of the foragers are gone.
When your hive swarms, it is important to offer the remaining members of your hive food until they can build their numbers up again and replace their lost foragers.
What To Feed Your Honeybees?
Nature is always best when it comes to feeding bees or other species. Bees consume honey as their main diet.
Some beekeepers recommend feeding bees sugar water or sugar syrup, but I prefer to feed honey, their natural food source, rather than feeding sugar.