The Idea

The best way to feed.

The best way to feed.

A newly stocked tbh needs continuous feeding until it makes a living.

But eventually a beekeeper will encounter a hive that needs feeding. Failing to feed a hungry hive always retards development. Extended hunger demoralizes a hive and threatens its survival:

  • put all feed inside the tbh
  • bee stored honey/pollen combs are the best feed
  • when needed sugar can substitute for honey
  • pollen substitute can augment but not replace pollen
  • don’t block or interfere with hive ventilation
  • don’t let any feed push against the bottom of a hanging comb

The Details

Bees can sense how much surplus feed is in a hive. If that surplus drops below a critical amount, the bees,through time:

  • curtail brood rearing
  • cannibalize drone brood
  • cannibalize worker brood
  • curtail colony activities including foraging

Feed Combs

The best feed is what the bees themselves store up. And that’s honey and pollen in a beeswax comb. A prudent beekeeper often sets aside enough feed comb for emergency use. Feed combs have lots of advantages:

  • can be placed in a hive when it’s too cold for other methods
  • no bee drowning in syrup
  • no fermented syrup
  • extra feed isn’t hauled out at trash
  • not messy
  • no preparation or mixing required

Feed frames are simply inserted into a tbh next to the cluster. A cappings scratcher can be used to scrap a small amount of cappings off, exposing some honey for the bees. The bees discover it and uncap the rest as they need it.


Granulated Sugar

Solid sugar is usually fed when the bees are flying. Just dump some sugar inside the free space away from the entrance. The bees will gather water outside the hive and liquefy what they need inside the hive. Don’t put too much sugar in as the bees haul it out as trash once nectar becomes available.

Baker’s Sugar

Bakers sugar is a finely crystallized granulated sugar. It isn’t confectioners sugar. The bees still need water to liquify it. But they won’t haul baker’s sugar out as trash like they do with coarser, granulated stuff.

Bee Candy

Bee candy is a sugar water mixture cooked to the soft ball stage. As it includes water, it can be fed during the winter when the bees can’t fly:

  • there are lots of recipes for bee candy on the net
  • it’s easy to prepare and use
  • keep the ingredients simple – water – sugar – heat


Fondant is another form of solid sugar. It is a softer form of bee candy that includes whipping in lots air. Again lots of recipes on the net.

Bakers Fondant

Bakers fondant is a sugar, water, air product sold to commercial bakeries in large blocks. It’s often used in place of bee candy or fondant.

Sugar Syrup

Sugar syrup is best used when the bees can fly.

If it’s cold and the bees aren’t flying much, a thick, 2:1 sugar syrup is best. For warmer weather, a thinner, 1:1 sugar syrup works. Minimize the disruption and use methods that conserve the colony’s warmth when feeding.

Syrup not consumed by the bees in a short time quickly ferments. Fermented syrup is repulsive to bees. Some beekeepers add stuff to sugar syrup that inhibits fermentation. It may save a little syrup. But who knows what it does to the colony’s beneficial bacteria.


There are several ways sugar syrup is fed in a tbh. If the bees aren’t clustered and there’s room away from the entrance:

  • fill a container with syrup
  • place floats in the container to prevent drowning bees
  • a quail or dribble type waterer can also be set at the back of the hive
  • in bad weather put the feed where the bees can get at it

Two litter pop bottle

A special top bar can be built that accepts the capped end of a two-liter pop bottle:

  • drill a hole, through the top bar, that admits the cap but is smaller than the bottle’s collar
  • drill three or four small holes in the bottle cap
  • completely fill the bottle with syrup
  • tightly, screw the cap on the bottle
  • set it in the hole in the special top bar
  • the collar, on the pop bottle, keeps it from slipping into the hole
  • this special top bar is placed close to the cluster when the weather is cool

There’s no need to open the hive when feeding this way. Just replace the empty 2 liter bottle with a full one. This approach is used by commercial migratory beekeepers and some queen rearers using standard equipment.

Baggie Feeders

Baggie feeders could be a good choice:

  • a plastic ziploc type baggie is loosely filled with syrup
  • lay the baggie inside the tbh near the comb
  • cut several slits in the top of the baggie

I’ve tried using them, but found them leaky. I apparently don’t understand some important element about baggie feeders, as others have used them successfully.

Division board feeders

My friend Barry, has a tbh with room for a deep frame beneath the top bar. He screws a standard division board feeder to a top bar and uses it to feed his bees. Don’t forget that division board feeders need floats to prevent bees from drowning.

Pollen Supplement

Pollen supplement can be marginally fed as patties inside the hive. But the patties must be thin and pushed directly beneath the broodnest. Unlike sugar, pollen supplement isn’t consumed from the bottom board beyond the broodnest area. And bees reluctantly take it directly below the broodnest.

Patties quickly dry out when placed on the hive bottom near the entrance. The bees ventilate their hive using that space which accelerates drying. Once the pollen patty is dry, the bees stop working them. I haven’t found a good way to feed pollen supplement inside a tbh.

Another option beyond the patty is to mix some pollen supplement into a bee candy or fondant recipe. The pollen supplement manufactures have recipes for this. Sounds like a good idea. But I’ve never tried it.


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7 responses to “Feeding”

  1. Wendy says:

    I am a new tbh bee keeper- started last summer. As far as I know, I am the only one in my area and the local bee assoc was interested to see how the hive overwintered. The colony seemed strong going into the winter but didn’t have a lot of food supply built up. I was told by local beekeepers to feed throughout the winter so feed sugar water from a jar with holes punched in the lid- the problem was the syrup running through the hive and I was worried about moisture.
    We have an early spring and the bees were active but one day I noticed some of the bees trying to stop bees from going through the entrance. The next day the hive was swarming with other bees going in and stealing honey- the queen left and a small ball of bees were protecting her about 12 ft from the hive, unfortunately the queen died. It was devastating but after reading your info I can see where I went wrong- i was providing sugar water outside the hive which attracted the other bees to the hive and the sugar water in the hive probably didn’t help. I would like to know more about overwintering tbh. I live in northern Ontario which usually has harsh, long winters, except this year was quite mild. Should I be looking at a tbh that is deeper- how deep?
    Thanks your site is helpful!

  2. Sandy McCaig-Allen says:

    September 20, 2012

    I live in western Washington state and, like Wendy, I worry about keeping my hive warm this winter. I consider my bees to be pets, something wonderfully fun and interesting. I only bought my tbh this year and was late getting my bees.

    I mounted the hive on a wooden pallet supported on four ten foot treated four by fours that I sunk into the ground. Then I put a transparent plastic roof over it. It was easy.

    But like a hovering mother, I still worry about them. So I also folded up a big blanket and put that on the cover. A neighbor gave me a bunch of windows and now I’m pondering how to put them to best use to help the bees get through the winter.

    I have read Abbe Warre’s book and Roger Delon and now I’m wishing I had bought a stable climate hive. I am worried that the bees heat will rise too easily out of the hive forcing them to consume too much honey and they don’t have much because of their late start.

    I have been feeding 1/1 sugar water when I notice that the flowers they need have stopped blooming and I am encouraging the white clover in our yard which the bees are using. I just don’t know how much nectar they are actually getting.

    My bees are jammed in the left end, filling about 1/4 of the hive. I haven’t messed with the combs much – other than to make sure they stay loose, not propolised to the sides.
    I don’t want to knock the bees off their combs just to see what they are doing because I don’t want to disrupt their labors. Obviously the Queen is well and laying. There must be thousands of bees in that end. They can barely get around each other. I put drawn out combs next to their filled combs, but so far, they have ignored them.

    But I wonder – why are they so tight on that end? Why aren’t they spreading out?

    Any thoughts, anyone?


    • Donald kamula says:

      What ever you do DO NOT put windows around your hive, the bees will over heat and die.Far better to wrap your bees in styrofoam insulation. Leave them access to the outside and ventilation and they will endure the winter just fine.
      I live in Northern Ontario and people here have been overwintering bees with great success.
      I am a fairly new beekeeper and have overwintered the past two winters.
      How do the bees in the TBH handle Varroa mites? We had been mite free until this summer when someone brought outside bees in and have infected the area.

      • -bW says:

        Hi Donald

        Tbhs aren’t a cure for varroa. The initial infestation is devastating to any bee population regardless of the kind of hives they’re in. But having gone through that experience, it’s important to no contaminate your equipment. If you do treat, do so intelligently and don’t use a prophylactic approach. Try to get stock that shows some kind of resistance. Then let the bee/mite dance develop.

        It’s ugly in the beginning. And it’s not easy. But along the way you’ll find a system that works for you.


    • -bW says:

      Hi Sandy

      It’s common and enjoyable to anthropomorphize our bees. But the bees are different creatures when it comes to winter needs. They have evolved to survive and thrive in northern winters.

      Cold is actually an ally to their survival. Brood rearing stops. Broodnest temperatures drop. Food consumption is minimal. And colony activity greatly decreases. That allows the bees, who live only a few weeks in the summer, to coast through months of winter and on into spring.

      Keeping bees warm through the winter can be a fatal mistake. Colony activity is higher. The bees eat more. They need cleansing flights. And they die much earlier.

      Adding heat is a fatal mistake. It’s impossible to judge just how much is needed. And too much can initiate early brood rearing.

      About the only thing a beekeeper can do is make sure they have enough food. And protect them from the wind.

      Worrying? That’s common too. But a beekeeper can only do so much and worrying won’t help. Some colonies will make it. Some won’t. They’re not much different in that regard than any other kind of life like plants or bees.


  3. Sandy McCaig-Allen says:

    By the way, if you want to use a Mason jar with the holes in the lid and the feeder that receives it upside down, you can cut a little slot in one of your dividers and just slide the feeder bottom part into it. It works like a charm and robber bees can’t see it. -S.

    • Corinne says:

      Thanks Sandy, excellent idea, I have been wondering how to use them with the TBH but it didnt occur to me to put the slot in the divider.(im a bit slow) Well done and thanks for the post..

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