Honeybee Nutrition

Honeybee nutrition is complex and varies both seasonally and regionally. Nutritional needs are diverse, and vary depending on the stage of growth and development for the bee. There is a lot of talk about honeybee nutrition in the beekeeping world-and by “talk” I mean misguided perceptions due to anecdotal evidence and misinformation.

Despite what you personally think about what honeybees need and don’t need and what your great great grandfather’s grandfather used to do, there actually is a best practice when it comes to honeybee nutrition.

So let’s learn about how we get research-based reliable information? But real quick, here’s a photo of my dad working some bees in the orange groves of Polk County, FL.

Honey Bee Health Coalition was formed in 2014 and is known to be a leader in an effort to promote collaborative solutions to honey bee health challenges. They bring together beekeepers, researchers, agribusiness, conservation groups, government agencies, growers, and more. One of their major founding principles is recognizing the decline of honey bee health and are therefore focused on four key areas in regards to research and education:

  • Forage and nutrition
  • Hive management
  • Crop pest management
  • Outreach/Education/Communications

They have also developed a great free guide titled Tools for Varroa Management that includes a Varrora Management Tool that helps beekeepers with how to more effectively control the varroa mite, when to treat and what to use depending on time of year.

This year they came out with a guide specifically related to honeybee nutrition which can be accessed easily through their website. I recommend everyone get a copy and read it!

If you were hungry and had a choice between McDonalds or nothing, which would you chose?

Supplemental feeding entails either feeding proteins (pollen substitute/pollen supplements) or carbohydrates (usually syrup) to bees. When these are non-existent in the natural world-and depending on location/region-the beekeeper can supply these for the bees. This will depend on the season, brood status, and the needs of the beekeeper. When pollen is scarce, pollen sub can sustain bees. During a nectar dearth, feeding supplemental sugar is important, too.

An interesting history of supplemental feeding. In 1655 a beekeeper named Samuel Hartlib suggested a supplemental diet of bean, flour, bread and ale. In 1875, Amos Ives Root tested corn meal, rye, buckwheat, wheat flour, and syrups. Some of these early feeding practices eventually led to pollen sub practices today.

What POLLEN provides: Macro and micro nutrients, high amino acids

A colony of 50,000 bees collected 313lbs of pollen annually. Max protein consumption is by young nurse bees (65mg per bee over 10 days).

With age, workers transition from a high essential amino-acid to predominately relying on carbs for foraging. Salt is also essential in the honeybee diet. Pollen contains a higher potassium concentration than sodium and bees make that up by gathering brackish (pool water or dirty) water during times when pollen is scarce.

What NECTAR provides: just like for us, carbs provide necessary energy needs for honeybees.

A worker honeybee needs approximately 11mg of dry sugar daily which is approximately 2lbs of sugar a day or 50% sugar concentration (sugar syrup) for a colony of 50,000. The needs can be higher depending on the time of season.

Types of Feeders

Robbing-What It Is, How To Identify It and How To Keep It From Happening (or at least try)

Robbing IS LOUD. It’s chaotic. You will see bees fighting at the entrance trying to ward off other pests-could be other honeybees, yellowjackets, and wasps. You will see a lot of dead bees around the hive entrance and the bottom board. The bottom board will also have small wax capping’s-a larger amount than normal.

Frames that have been robbed look like they’ve been torn apart. I find that robbing is more likely to occur when I have placed honey out and near my other hives.

How To Minimize Robbing?

Use a safer feeding mechanism and be smart about feeding. If you use a Boardman feeder do not put it at the hive’s entrance as it encourages robbing.

In-hive feeders are great if you only have a few hives. Here are some examples:

Below is a cheaper way of feeding. Setting a ziplog bag directly on top of frames and making a tiny slice in the plastic will allow bees to be able to easily get to the feed. You need to check on it every few days during a dearth or Spring build up.

Easy feeder that I use

In conclusion (when you really can’t think of a better way to end it), I want to emphasize that feeding bees is critical and can mean the difference between life and death of a colony. If beekeepers weren’t so nonchalant about it I think we could hear more overwinter success stories.