Feeding Refined Sugar to Honey Bees


In the beekeeping world it is common to harvest the honey in the fall. In natural beekeeping, we try to leave enough honey to sustain the bees to last until spring. However many beekeepers feed sugar or high fructose corn syrup to bees.

The main reason beekeepers do this supplemental feeding is a matter of simple economics. The commercial beekeepers have a business to run, and when they do the math, it simply does not work from a financial stand point to let the bees eat honey. They can make more money selling the honey and buying an artificial substitute. For a more in-depth view on this see my blog. This post will focus on why we need to let the bees eat their own honey.Me holding a frame of brood at BeeLanding

For eons of time the honey bees have been gathering nectar, mixing it with their own special enzymes, and placing it in the wax cells. The bees create a draft through the hive by flapping their wings in unison to evaporate the moisture from the nectar until it thickens to aproxamitly 18% moisture. During this process the enzymes continue to work and when the bees decide the honey is ripe, they cap it. Capping is simply when the bees cover the cell with wax to seal off their special winter food. The honey is an amazing food that will last indefinitely.

There is another process taking place in the bee hive that few people know about. When the bees bring in pollen they also add enzymes that pickle or ferment the pollen. This pickled pollen is called “bee bread” This bee bread is even more nutritious for the bees because they can assimilate it better. There have been over 8,000 different micro organisms recorded living in the bee bread. It is a fine tuned and balanced world of little bugs that I liken to the microorganisms and flora living in our intestines. We simply could not live without them, and neither can the bees.

People will argue that sugar is sugar and that it is the same thing to the bees as honey. However refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) are not honey. They have a different PH and they lack the enzymes.

When you change the PH in a bee hive, it affects the finely balanced world of the little bugs, and weakens the colony. When they track pesticides and fungicides into the hive with their little feet, the life within the bee bread is affected. 

April Morgano
12/28/2013 10:00:18 AM

Nice article, we have not fed our honey bees sugar water after their first year and this is our 5th year. We harvest the previous years honey stores the following spring usually around the end of May. Last year we harvested over 5 gallons of honey from what was left over. We have not re-queened, nor have we had hungry spring bee's. It seems through my research they are even happier and easy going when we enter their hives in the spring. Today is going to be a seasonably warm day, and we will check to see if we have ladies going out for their cleansing flights. www.2letitbee.com

Noam Tsion
11/18/2013 4:52:27 AM

excellent and important subject - thanks

James A Zitting
9/10/2010 3:21:35 PM

Jerry, Make sure they have plenty of honey to make it through the winter, (for that size of colony I would guess that 3 or 4 frames of honey will do) and hope for the best. I would not feed sugar at this point.If one or both die out, then you can reuse the drawn comb to give your next colonies a jump start. Another option is to take the weaker queen away and combine the colonies, but it is almost too late in the year in your area for that. This is the beginning of creating your own breed of bees that will become acclimated to your area, so if one makes it through the winter that is the one that you split and take starts off of. Through the process of natural selection the survivors are the one you want to support. Like anything in nature you will have colonies die out, and be removed from the gene pool. When you do, you can refill the equipment with a start from your survivor stock and let them breed with the local drones. by using sugar and medications you are propping up bad genetics and circumnavigating natures style of natural selection. for more of my philosophy read my blogs at www.beelanding.com

Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

50 Years of Money-Saving Tips!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS for 50 years and counting, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters