Supplementary Feeding of Honeybee Colonies

  • The natural food of the honeybee consists of nectar, honey, pollen and water.  
  • It is normally not necessary to feed bees in this country because plants providing pollen and nectar are usually abundant. 
  • Feeding should be avoided whenever possible because it is expensive and is liable to initiate robbing; and can also result to storage of sucrose instead of nectar.
  • However, under certain conditions feeding can have a beneficial effect to the colony.  These conditions are as follows.

New Colonies:

  • A new colony that has entered a hive by itself or has been transferred from a catcher box or made by division or package bees will develop much faster if it is fed. 
  • About two litres of sugar syrup should be given for 2-3 weeks 

Drought Conditions:

  • Under severe drought conditions, colonies may be fed to prevent them from absconding or migrating. 
  • The amount to be fed requires considerable experience and knowledge of both the bees and local conditions so that the sugar is not wasted.

Stimulative Feeding:

  • If it is known that a honey-flow will begin at a certain period, the bees may be fed, up to two months before flowering to stimulate brood rearing so that the adult bees reared will be ready to forage in the field when the flowering period starts. 
  • When stimulative feeding is done bees will store more surplus honey because they do not have to build up their numbers for the honey-flow.
  • Feed two litres each week, however, this amount can be increased with time to keep pace with the increased number of bees. 

General rules for feeding honeybee colonies

The beekeeper needs to know that:

  • The best feed is comb of sealed honey, when not available sugar syrup made from beet or cane sugar is the alternative.
  • Feeding changes the guard behaviour of the fed colony thus permitting unchallenged entry by robbers.
  • The use of standard feeder enables the colonies to clear all syrup in a short time; this ensures the sugar syrup does not get spoilt.
  • The feed should be placed close to the bees as possible for better results.
  • Giving large quantity of sugar syrup to bees when nectar is not available only makes them store it as they do nectar and eventually swarm if there is not enough nectar in the surrounding to maintain the swarm.

Methods used when feeding sugar syrup to honeybee colonies

By use of The Feeder Box:

  • The feeder box is exactly the same length as the top bar of a Kenya top bar hive.  It is shaped as the hive, both sides covered with hard board.  There is a slot on either side of its upper part where bees enter to get to the syrup. 
  • The opening on the top frame is used to pour the sugar syrup and to prevent bees from drowning, pieces straw or small sticks are used as floaters.  One empty top bar is removed and replaced with the feeder.  
  • The feeder can be left in the hive for several days.  Always inspect the colony being fed, do not leave stale or fermented syrup in the hive as this will affect the bees, and they could even abscond.  
  • When all the feeding is done remove the feeder box and replace the top bar or frame. 

By use of Cans or Pails

  • Cans or pails of sugar syrup are placed on top bars or the frames within the brood chamber. 
  • A super without frames is then placed on top of the brood chamber and the hive cover placed over it.  
  • The cans or pails containing sugar syrup can also be placed on top of the hive, however this will encourage robbing.



By use of Combs within the brood chamber

  • The sugar syrup is poured directly into the cells of empty combs on either top bars or frames.
  • It’s then placed into the hive in the brood area/chamber tilted at an angle of 10º-20º to the horizontal over a large pan or tube to provide support.

By use of a plastic bag feeder

  • The plastic bag encloses much of one or two frames in the out edge of the brood nest, bees feed from the upper opening just like they do from a feeder box.

Types of feeds

Carbohydrate Supplements

  • The best feed is combs of sealed honey from previous harvest or from strong colonies. When this is not available, sugar syrup made from beet or cane sugar is the alternative.
  • Mixing the sugar using warm water ratio 1:1 volume wise is an easier and quicker method. Feeding dry granules of sugar causes the bees to use extra energy to make the right consistency of the feed.  
  • They use water or body fluids to liquefy the dry matter.  
  • Water in syrups on the other hand has to be reduced into the right consistency.  It is estimated that bees use about 100gm of sugar to eliminate every ½ litre of water in syrup. 

Protein Supplements 

  • Beekeepers can also use protein supplements to improve the nutrition of their honeybee colonies when natural pollen is scarce. 
  • These are pollen supplements (artificial high protein diets containing at least 5-25% pollen) and pollen substitutes (artificial high-protein diets containing no pollen).  
  • Pollen supplements are usually more acceptable to bees than pollen substitutes. However, a good protein supplement feed for bees is one that has the quality and quantity of proteins, lipids, mineral and vitamins required for growth, development and reproduction of the honeybee colony.
  • The feed should also be readily consumable.  

It is advisable to do the following

  • Store extra pollen combs for that season when there will be no pollen.
  • Use pollen traps to collect pollen as the bees enter the hive. 
  • This pollen should be stored in a freezer or dried using not more than 45ºC – 50ºC heat and stored in airtight containers for not more than two years.
  • When pollen can not be availed by any of the above methods, it is advisable to make a pollen substitute using brewers yeast, soya flour, or dried milk.
  • The dry feeds can be fed by filling empty combs, open feeders in the apiary, as moist cake, a thick paste on top of bars above brood nest or a dish in front of the hive.