Feeding bees sugar syrup in the fall is the traditional way to top up a hive that’s under-supplied with honey. However, sometimes an early cold snap can prematurely bring liquid feeding to an end before you’ve added enough weight. Or, sometimes a long, warm fall will keep the bees active and they will burn through their stores too fast, putting them at risk for starvation later on in the winter. In both cases, the solution is to provide some solid supplemental feed to keep the bees’ pantry full all winter long. For supplemental winter feeding, you can rely on our ready-to-use winter patty, or follow this guide of DIY feeding methods to make your own homemade sugar bricks.

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Benefits of sugar brick bee feed

Some of the most popular DIY methods for feeding bees in winter include loose granulated sugar on newspaper, a candy board, homemade fondant, or homemade, no-cook sugar bricks. When you need to offer supplemental bee feed during winter, sugar bricks are often favored over other feed types. This is because, of all of the homemade feeds, sugar bricks are the easiest to make, and also the easiest to install in the hive.

Sugar bricks require only three ingredients

These sugar blocks for bees are made from three simple ingredients: sugar, apple cider vinegar, and citric acid powder. If you’d prefer a recipe that doesn’t use apple cider vinegar, you can substitute water instead — but both the vinegar and the citric acid powder help invert the sugar, making it more digestible for the bees.

Important Note: You can buy citric acid at health food or home brewing stores or online. Do not substitute ascorbic acid.

No special drying equipment is required

In dry winter houses, people often have success letting their sugar bricks air dry — but using a dehydrator or an oven with a convection function and a very low-temperature range (140 degrees F, or lower) will speed things up.

Important Note: Baking the sugar mixture at temperatures above 140 F, may result in pans of gooey melted sugar that won’t ever dry. If you don’t have a dehydrator, or a low-heat oven setting, try air-drying a small batch to see how that goes. While slower, it is an easy method that doesn’t require extra equipment — just space where it can be left undisturbed.

Sugar bricks are suitable for winter feeding

During spring and summer, you may choose to supplement with liquid feed, such as sugar syrup. However, in cold weather, liquid feed is not a suitable option. That’s where sugar bricks and other solid feed options come in: Sugar bricks are slowly dissolved by the cluster’s moisture, preventing spills and freezing that come with liquid feed.

Sugar bricks are easy to install

When installing sugar bricks in marginal weather, you simply slip the brick in on top of the frames, right above the cluster — no need to fully expose the bees. In order to have enough vertical space for the bricks or winter patty, you’ll need to have either a feeding shim or a deep inner cover installed on the hive beforehand.

The best time to get these in place is when it’s still warm enough for the bees to propolize the joint between the hive body and the shim. However, in an unexpected feeding emergency, you can also install a feeding shim and then tape over the joint on the outside with blue painters’ tape to close off drafts. When the bees can, they will seal it up from the inside.

How do you make sugar bricks for bees?

After combining your ingredients to create a sandy texture, you spread the sugar mixture in shallow pans and tamp or roll with a rolling pin to compress it evenly. Then, it’s scored to divide the pans into manageable chunks and allowed to dry until it is hard.

Follow this easy no-cook recipe for bee sugar bricks, then learn how to install the bricks into the hive.

Sugar brick recipe

Makes 6 one-pound bricks, in two quarter-sheet (9” x 13”) jelly roll pans.


  • 14 cups (6.25 pounds) of granulated sugar
  • 1 cup of apple cider vinegar*
  • 1 ½ teaspoons citric acid powder USP

(* Get real apple cider vinegar, not artificially flavored and colored “cider vinegar.” A good brand is Braggs.)

Alternatives to jelly roll pans:
Your bees won’t care what shape the sugar bricks come in, as long as you make sure the finished brick is no thicker than about one inch — this helps the blocks dry easily and fit within the space on top of the hive. You can use shallow, disposable, foil pans from the grocery store, re-purpose shallow plastic trays from frozen dinners, or — if your dehydrator has circular layers — use any kind of shallow container that fits on the trays.

If you have a top bar hive, you can create a brick form that matches the shape of your combs, then attach the dried brick to an empty bar within a wire cage, next to the bees.


  1. Place the sugar in a large bowl.
  2. Combine the vinegar and citric acid together, then pour half of the vinegar mixture over the sugar. Stir.
  3. Add the rest of the vinegar mixture, then stir until fully combined — the sugar mix will feel like barely-damp sand. You may find using your hands works best, but you can also mix in a stand mixer, or in a bucket using a drill with a paint-stirrer attachment.
  4. Divide the mixture between two shallow jelly roll baking pans — no taller than about 1 inch deep — over-filling the pans slightly above the rims. Then use a rolling pin to smooth and compress the sugar into the pan until it is firm and level with the pan rim. Press down firmly to make sure there are no voids.
  5. Use a knife to cut lines completely down through the sugar mixture to separate the bricks. This helps ensure you get a clean break after they are fully dried.
  6. Place pans in the dehydrator or a convection oven set for 140 degrees F until the sugar is very hard, which can take 8 to 36 hours. You can pause the drying process if you need to use the appliance for cooking, or don’t want to run it while you are asleep or at work.

    If air-drying, the process can take 24 to 48 hours at a constant, cool temperature.

  7. Once the bricks are hard, remove them from the oven and let them cool. Store in air-tight containers, until needed.

The oven-drying process will give off a distinctly vinegary smell at first — but the smell doesn’t linger and will actually remove other odors from your house.

How to install a sugar brick in a hive 

To install your sugar brick, choose a calm day that’s not too cold (mid-30 or 40 degrees F would be okay, if necessary). Have a smoker lit to push the bees down into the hive if needed, then follow three easy installation steps:

  1. Remove the top and lift the inner cover or quilt box up enough so you can see the tops of the frames.
  2. Slip the brick in, pushing any bees aside to place it directly on top of the frames.
  3. Close the hive back up before the bees get any ideas about flying out.

Check back in a week or so to monitor consumption. Push any remaining brick chunks together and add another brick if needed, right over the cluster.

Important Note: Once you have started feeding, you are committed to continuing it — so don’t start if you won’t be able to keep it up. Plan ahead if you expect a long stretch of bad weather that would prevent you from checking and resupplying. You can even add two bricks at once, if necessary.Whether you choose to use commercial winter patties, or want to try a DIY method like sugar bricks, it’s important to keep tabs on how much honey the bees have left. Lift the back of the hives (or weigh them) from time to time during the winter. If they seem to be getting lighter too fast, don’t hesitate to add some extra insurance. The cost of adding the extra food is minimal compared to the cost — and chagrin — of losing an otherwise viable colony to starvation.

There are two kinds of commercial “patty” that are fed to bees. The winter patty is almost entirely carbohydrates and intended as a calorie supplement to augment whatever honey is in the hive. The pollen substitute, is intended to stimulate brood rearing in the same way that natural pollen might. Pollen patty, which increases the need for the bees to go out to poop, can cause intestinal problems if fed during the winter when cold can keep the bees confined to the hive for weeks. So, make sure you know which kind of “patty” you’re buying, and stick to the special winter patty version if your goal is replacing honey. Or just feed them a pure sugar product, like sugar bricks.

This video offers an alternate method for making homemade sugar bricks for bees.

When choosing the right winter feed option for your bees, consider whether you prefer a pre-packaged or DIY option. If sugar bricks are right for you and your apiary, you can make your own following this easy recipe and installation instructions. For more beekeeping tips, explore our Beekeeper’s Guide.