Like most things in beekeeping, there is no hard, set rule when it comes to your winter preparations and you'll no doubt hear lots of opinions on the 'best way' to do it. The general guideline is a colony will need 30-40lb of 'stores' or food to get through the winter. This ultimately will depend on several factors - the size of your colony (the bigger it is, the more mouths to feed and therefore the more you need), how mild the winter is (a mild winter means the bees are more active and therefore they tend to get through more stores than if they are clustered) and even depends on the type of bees you have (the yellow, Italian bees are known to consume more stores than black bees). This weight roughly equates to 1 full super of honey plus some more in the brood box or if you've removed all your supers, then you will need 7-8 of your brood frames stuffed full. To achieve this weight, many beekeepers will keep 1 super of honey on their hive in the
autumn. This means that you'll need to feed them less but you'll lose out on maximising your honey crop, so it depends on your beekeeping priorities.
If your colony is not up to weight, you can feed them. During autumn, once you've removed any supers that have honey for human consumption from the hive, you'll be able to feed sugar syrup. This can be made up yourself using 2 parts white sugar and 1 part water mixed together. You'll find this will start to ferment after about a week so mix up in batches that they will consume within a week. Ready made sugar syrup is also available from us which has the key advantage of having a 12 months best before end on it so it won't ferment as well as being high in fructose so it will remain nice and runny even after the bees have stored it in the combs.
You can feed syrup as long as you need to and as long as the bees are willing to take it down. The warmer the weather, the easier they will consume it. The size of the colony will also affect this. The more bees in the hive, the easier they will be able to deal with syrup. You'll also find colonies in poly hives will be warmer so will be able to deal with syrup far later than ones in wooden hives too. Generally speaking you tend to want to finish feeding syrup around October, but this will vary year to year, a cold September may make them stop sooner and yet when it's been mild we've fed syrup well into November before.
Syrup is available here: https://paynesbeefarm.co.uk/collections/feeders-feeding/products/invertbee-sugar-syrup-small-drum
Fondant feeding - fondant is ideal for once the weather gets cold. You don't want to be feeding syrup once the weather gets cold as they will not be able to process it to remove the water content before storing it. Fondant is something they will eat as it is. In the ideal world, the bees should have enough stores to get through to at least March but keep an eye on them and if they start to get short, give them a slab of fondant. In the 'old days', fondant was added around Christmas time as a little present for them but it won't hurt them if you need to give it earlier too. How much fondant they will need all depends on the same factors that affects the syrup needs. Just bear in mind, that Feb/Mar will be the most critical time for the bees and most losses at that time are down to starvation. Getting to the end of winter, their stores are going to be lower than in the autumn as they would have been using them up. Normally you will see the queen start laying again, in preparation for spring and that means more mouths to feed on what could already be low stores. It is heart breaking to lose a colony so close to spring due to a lack of stores so make sure you double check them.
Fondant is available here: https://paynesbeefarm.co.uk/collections/feeders-feeding/products/apifonda-2-5kg
Helpful Tip! - heft your hives. Lift one side of your hive up to feel the weight and then lift the other side to check that side in case all of the weight is on one side i.e. the back or the front. If you are a beginner you may not have an idea what a heavy hive feels like and what a light hive feels like but with experience and practice you'll learn to tell which hives need feeding without opening up hives in the winter.
Check out our video below of us feeding some of our nuc hives with fondant: