Should You Feed Your Bees?

| 8/16/2013 9:37:00 AM

honeybeeBees forage for nectar, pollen, propolis and water. They make honey from nectar, use pollen for protein, and they seal and protect their hives with propolis. Good bee nutrition does not include sugar water, high fructose corn syrup, or even pollen patties. Feeding bees this stuff is akin to putting soda or formula in a baby’s bottle rather than breastfeeding. Just like poorly nourished humans, poorly nourished bees have fewer resources to fight all of the challenges to their health: a chemical soup of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides in their environment along with a plethora of opportunistic parasites and diseases.

Bees need their own good honey for proper, balanced nutrition and health. When you rob every drop of honey after the nectar flow and then feed your bees sugar or corn syrup, they suffer and your honey crop suffers. Not only do the bees miss out on their own good food, you do too. Your honey contains stored sugar water and corn syrup, which alters the taste and quality and is NOT PURE HONEY. If you sell your honey, your customers can tell the difference.

You need strong, healthy hives to produce a good harvest. Honey contains fructose and glucose as well as 22 other complex sugars. But it also contains small amounts of enzymes, acids, minerals, and even vitamins. Although it has some amino acids as well, the bees get most of their protein from pollen, of which the developing larvae need a lot. Depriving them of all these nutrients is asking for them to get sick.

So how can you ensure your bees have proper nutrition and still get a good honey crop?

First, do not harvest all of their honey. Leave enough honey so the bees can use their own stores through times of little bloom and through the winter. When you remove your comb to store after the harvest, you’ll probably find some honey that has not yet been capped. Store some of this in your freezer as emergency feed. Chunks of comb can be placed in the hive and the bees can get to the honey without drowning in it. I also leave all of the honey that the bees produce from the fall bloom for their winter stores. If they produce a surplus in the fall, I may freeze some frames for future use by the bees or to start new hives in the spring.

Second, take your losses in the fall and cull weak hives. If a hive is weak, rather than feed it and let it limp along and probably die anyway, kill the poorly performing queen and add the bees to another, stronger hive. You can either freeze or give their honey stores to your other hives. Your hives will be stronger and healthier, and they will produce more in the long run.

1/1/2015 6:59:43 PM

Thank you for this post!!! I started keeping bees last spring and made the decision not to feed early on despite being surrounded by keepers who insisted this was the only way to keep them alive and productive. After reading this, I am so happy I made the choice I did!

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