Feeding a new hive is one of the key components in building a strong, happy little colony. How long do you need to feed that hive before they’re established?
A new beehive needs to be fed until the bees can establish frames, make honey, and provide for themselves. If fed only sugar syrup, they can be fed frequently for a year. Bees given honeycomb frames, wax, and structures from other hives will need less feeding. Each hive is different.
If you address the needs of your particular bees, you’ll have a happy and healthy hive. Keep reading below for more information on giving your little friends the strong start they need!
How Long You Should Feed A New Hive
You should feed a new hive until you’re confident it will not starve on its own. Every other part of this answer is subjective, depending on the context and the individual hive, but that rule is consistent.
Beekeepers know that each hive has a careful balancing act happening inside of it. The bees need nutritious honey, and sugar isn’t the same, but calories and food are more important when it’s a choice between “bee junk food” and starvation.
Bees won’t feed on sugar syrup forever. Once they are properly established, they will be able to start making honey and maintaining themselves as healthy bees do. You might find that the bees stop eating sugar of their own accord once they learn how to collect enough nectar to stay happy!
Length Of Feeding With Honey Comb
A popular way to start a hive is to take frames from established hives on the property and insert them into the new frame. This provides the new bees with vitamins, minerals, and enzymes that they cannot get from sugar syrup alone.
If you choose to feed with honeycomb, you can simply pre-load the hive with a few frames from other healthy hives on your own property. The bees can use this honey to eat while they start to produce their own. Consult your local beekeepers to see how much would be appropriate for your region, and you can supplement with some raw honey from your other hives as needed.
Do not use any honey that did not come from your own property or from the hives where you bought your bees! Honey from other locations can be contaminated and ruin your bees.
Length Of Feeding With Sugar Syrup
Feeding with sugar syrup follows a few easy rules. The first is that you can’t overfeed with sugar syrup, and can provide as much as the bees want for a year without worrying. Just make sure the sugar is clean, free from bugs, and changed frequently enough to avoid mold or bacterial growth.
Sugar syrup will not make good-tasting honey for you to harvest, but the bees will not make enough honey to harvest until they’re established even if they had alternative food sources. Don’t worry too much about this aspect.
Feed sugary syrup until the bees stop using it, or until you feel they’re sufficiently established so as to no longer need it.
Establishing A Hive Without Feeding
To put it simply, establishing a hive without feeding is generally considered a bad idea. Bees need food to thrive, and bees without some kind of food are at a high risk of starving or absconding. Besides the obvious ethical questionability of choosing to risk mass starvation of your hive, it is a very expensive gamble to risk losing an entire hive of bees.
While some people have seen success with minimal feeding or letting a new hive fend for itself, the beekeeping community, in general, agrees that feeding your hive is a better, safer, and more ethical choice.
How Will I Know When I Can Stop Feeding Them?
While beekeepers will offer conflicting advice on this topic, most people agree that bees should be able to support themselves before you remove their supplemental food. It’s better to feed them a little longer than needed if it means they won’t be too stressed on hungry, and the worst that can happen is you waste a few dollars worth of uneaten sugar.
Look for signs of a healthy hive, as well as unused supplements. When the bees stop eating your sugar supplements, you can reduce the amount given to just what they need on a bad day or week. If you’re nervous, call in a more experienced local beekeeper to ask their opinion.
A local beekeeping group for your region can give you specific advice on what your bees might need. Bees in desert areas might need more pollen feed for a little while, whereas bees in a very temperate and flower-filled environment might start thriving sooner and need less support.
Remember, you shouldn’t plan on harvesting honey in the first year anyways. It’s okay if they have sugar in the hive instead of tasty honey. They can consume the sugar over the winter and you’ll be good to go by the time it’s your turn to take a share.
Feeding A Hive With Sugar Syrup
Feeding a hive with sugar syrup is easier than honey in some ways. For example, you can buy a 50lb bag of sugar at the store and make syrup at home, which is a little less labor-intensive than sourcing pre-developed frames that are free of pests.
You can feed with sugar syrup for the entire first year without worries. Give them as much as they’ll eat, and they’ll be fine. You can even supplement the sugar syrup with a pollen brick to give them a little extra nutrition.
You should stop feeding sugar syrup when it’s right for your region and your hives, and not just based on a generic timeline for anywhere in the world. If your bees are gathering nectar and pollen on their own, food is readily available, and they are strong and thriving, you can probably stop feeding bees.
If you’re unsure, see if you can find an expert beekeeper in your region. They’ll be able to share experiences, and might even be able to check out your hive.