Fat bees are happy and healthy bees that are able to successfully get through winter. Our goal as the caretaker of the bees is to ensure they are as fat and happy as possible. There are ways we can do this – feed our bees sugar syrup and pollen substitutes.

The photos below show my Treasure Valley Beekeepers Club friends and I making large batches of both sugar syrup and pollen substitute. Sugar syrup is easy to make on your own, but you can also easily purchase premixed pollen substitute.

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Here’s the short-term explanation: There is not a lot of nectar and pollen sources available in October. All bees need heavy stores of both resources to survive winter, rear brood (baby bees) can survive the early spring when resources are still scarce. Bees will not dip into sugary syrup and pollen substitutes when natural resources are present, but you’ll notice this time of year that bees are consuming these feeds rapidly!

Here’s the more in-depth explanation: The key to getting bees through winter is a key word – Vitellogenin. This is a glycolipoprotein, which means it contains sugar, fat, and protein. All of these substances are crucial for bees survival, which is why they store honey (carbohydrate) and pollen (protein) in their comb. Bees also store resources within their body, often in the form of vitellogenin. This gives the bees the ability to live much longer over the winter months than average summer bees live. Our bees can quickly deplete their stored resources as their rear winter brood (create baby bees), forcing them to tap into their vitellogenin resources early, creating weak spring hives or causing a hive to fail. Don’t let this happen to you!

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Fat bees survive winter and come out full force in spring. Fat bees are created by beekeepers who provide accessible resources (sugar syrup and pollen substitutes) to their bees during times when natural resources are unavailable. Feed your bees while the weather’s still warm giving bees temperatures to readily access the feed. Feed your bees, allowing them to build up and utilize vitellogenin when it’s most needed. Feed your bees to make them fat and happy, like we all want to be during the holiday season!

Keep your bees buzzin’ y’all!

  • BoiseBeeMan

    Great commentary, Melinda.
    This is exactly the sort of management technique that needs to be applied right after mites are brought under control in August of each year (after the last honey is removed at the end of July). Pollen supps and sugar water ought to start in late-Aug/early Sep, with an eye of finishing up once the fall rains start around early-Nov. When the daily temps dip into the low 50’s, the bees will have a hard time of processing the syrup, and we’ll all want the pollen paddies out of the middle of the brood nest during winter.
    Beeks that pay attention to and follow your management recommendations, especially this one should anticipate a bountiful honey crop next spring.
    Good job!