Beekeeping,  Bees

Caring For Bees in the Winter

Winter is a vulnerable time for bees.  The 2 things they need to survive – warmth and food are not readily available during the cold winter months.    If there are no flowers to forage from, what do bees eat in the winter? This article will discuss what bees do in the winter, what bees eat in the winter, and how to feed bees in the winter. 

What Bees Do During Winter

Unlike bears or birds, bees do not hibernate or fly away during the cold months.  Instead, they gather in their hive. When the temperature drops to the 50s it’s time for the bees to return to the hive to form a winter cluster. They cluster together in the hive for warmth.

During the winter it is the worker bees job to protect the queen.  To do so, the huddle around her and flutter their wings. All of this movement and energy generates heat in the hive.  Beekeepers cannot inspect their hives during winter because doing so will let out accumulated heat. 

Amazingly, this process gets the center of the cluster a warm 80 degrees.  Of course, the outside of the cluster is colder than the inside, so worker bees rotate around so all bees are kept warm.  

What Do Bees Eat in Winter? 

As you can imagine, it takes a lot of energy to flutter their wings so much. In order to generate so much energy, bees eat honey during the winter.  It is very important for beekeepers to make sure that the colony has enough honey to last the whole winter.  

How Much Honey Do Bees Need to Store?

honey does a bee make featured

The amount of honey bees need for winter can vary.  Your local climate, the size and shape of your beehive, and the amount of insulation in the hive are all factors.  Another factor of how much honey bees need to store are the number of bees in the hive.  

It’s hard to tell exactly how much honey bees need, so beekeepers tend to over estimate to ensure the bees don’t run out.  Depending on how cold it gets in your area, bees need anywhere from 50 – 90 pounds of honey during the winter.  

One full deep frame holds about 8 pounds of honey, so a colony would need 6-10 deep full frames of honey to survive winter. When taking honey to harvest, take this into consideration. 

How to Feed Bees in the Winter 

Ideally, you should not have to feed your bees in the winter, but there are times where a beekeeper must step in and help.  If for some reason the bees do not have a sufficient store of honey, they must be fed. Here are some tips for how to feed bees in the winter. 

Never feed bees honey from a hive that is not their own.  It can harmful disease spores that could wipe out your entire colony.  Also, do not feed bees sugar with additives. Any extra flavorings or coloring added could cause the bees to get sick.  

The best thing to feed bees in the winter is their own honey.  If you do not have that, feed them sugar syrup. Sugar syrup is made by combining two parts sugar and one part water.  

Sugar syrup lacks the nutrients honey has, but essential oils can be added to they syrup for more nourishment.  

It is best to use an internal feeder during the winter.  That way the bees won’t need to go outside to eat. If you know your colony will be needing help it is best to feed them right away, as soon as the weather gets cold.  When it comes to feeding bees in winter it is best to be proactive.


During the winter bees form a cluster for warmth.  Bees eat honey that they have stored during the spring.  One colony needs 40 – 80 pounds of honey to survive winter.  If they do not have enough honey, beekeepers will feed bees sugar syrup.