In most circumstances, you won’t feed bees in summer since they are foraging available resources and making their own honey. Extreme summer temperatures or nectar dearth — a shortage of nectar-producing flowers — may require you to supplement with sugar syrup. Explore our guide for how and when to feed your bees in the summer to support your colony as they produce brood and food.

Basics of bee feeding

You have likely provided sugar syrup to newly installed nucs or packages in the spring and are prepared to feed your bees in fall before the winter dearth. In the USA, “fall” feeding may start as early as late August or early September, depending on your climate. Calendar-wise, that time frame qualifies as summer, but it’s included in the fall feeding schedule to promote successful overwintering, and you’ll feed a thicker syrup. Feeding bees in summer calls for a lighter syrup that boosts hydration and simulates a natural source of nectar.

When should you feed bees in the summer?

If this is your bees’ first summer, your main objective is to ensure optimal conditions for establishing a healthy colony. You probably won’t collect any honey the first year — your bees will need their honey stores for winter.

Check your hives before summer feeding. If the colony is building new comb and you note honey and pollen stores, they likely do not need any supplemental feeding. However, if your colony is weak, the bees are not building comb, or you note low food stores you may need to provide summer feed.

During summer, ensure there is a water source nearby, especially during drought, and stop feeding your bees when natural nectar flow — and subsequent honey production — resume.

How to identify summer nectar dearth

Many regions experience some degree of summer nectar dearth, where most plants in the area shut down costly flower and nectar production during the hottest parts of the year. If a summer drought, pests, or fires kill the flowers and plants that provide forage, your bees face a severe nectar dearth. This absence of these food sources threatens a colony’s survival. Additionally, soaring temperatures (above 100 degrees Fahrenheit) can keep bees from leaving the hive to collect nectar or pollen, which can contribute to shortages.

If your area has experienced a drought or a hot and dry period and you observe that local flowers and plants are dead, dried, or even burned, your bees may face a nearly complete nectar shortage. Watch for these signs to identify nectar dearth and determine if you need to supplement with sugar water:

  • Listen to your bees. Bees growing noticeably louder or showing signs of defensiveness or aggression may be responding to food scarcity.
  • Watch for robbers. The presence of robber bees from nearby hives may indicate a nectar shortage. 
  • Observe your foragers. Without plentiful flowers producing nectar, bees may meander instead of fly in a straight line, repeatedly revisit flowers, or act “off” from their normal behavior.

honey bee resting on a pink flower

Sugar water for summer feeding

You should feed your bees in the summer months only if the colony is in danger from nectar dearth or extreme heat. In summer, feed a thin, homemade 1:1 sugar-water ratio or use ready-made bee feed syrup.

The recipe for 1:1 syrup is simple: Mix equal parts hot water and white granulated sugar, and stir well. The sugar will dissolve quickly if the water is at least 140°F, but not boiling — you don’t want the syrup to overheat or caramelize.

  • Only use white granulated cane sugar or beet sugar anything else, even organic sugars, often contain indigestible particles that can harm your bees.
  • You can measure by weight (a pound of sugar and a pound of hot water) or by volume (a cup and a cup, or a gallon and a gallon). The resulting syrups may differ only very slightly in final sugar concentration, and the bees are unlikely to care much either way. 
  • When mixing sugar syrup in a large container such as a 5-gallon bucket, put in the water first, otherwise you’ll have a hard time stirring the heavy, damp sugar.

How to prevent robbing during summer feeding

Accessible sugar syrup will likely attract robbers, but you can prevent your hive from being invaded and reduce robbing while providing supplemental feed by:

  • Using an in-hive feeder
  • Cleaning up any syrup spills on the ground or sides of the hive right away
  • Installing a robber screen or using an entrance reducer
  • Adding feed in the early evening, when most foragers have returned home

Successful beekeeping requires knowing when to supplement your colony's food and when to let the bees work on their own. If your bees face a summer nectar dearth or scorching temperatures, it may be beneficial to supplement their intake with a 1:1 sugar syrup. Consult our Beginner's Beekeeping Guide for more expert advice to help navigate your bees' seasonal feeding needs.