There are a good number of beekeepers who object to feeding bees sugar. And I completely understand their objections. Sugar is essentially the equivalent of feeding your bees a steady diet of twinkies. It causes a number of health issues. Add to that the fact that mainstream sugar is produced from genetically modified sugar beets, which have been proven through scientific studies to perforate the stomach lining, causing numerous digestive problems, and has been associated with neurological issues as well–and you’ve got yourself a toxic cocktail.
Yet at the same time, I refuse to loose a colony simply because I was unwilling to budge from my principles. Bees can regain their health after a late-winter diet of sugar, but if they starve to death that’s it–it’s over.
How much honey should you leave your bees?
The guidelines state that, here in Maine, two deep boxes filled with 14-15 frames of stored honey, 4-5 frames of pollen, along with the brood and bees, should be able to make it through our long winters. Check with your local or state beekeeping organization for over-wintering methods in your area.
Why would you need to feed your bees?
Even if you leave your colonies an adequate supply of honey, any number of factors can affect the outcome of your apiary throughout the winter.
Un-Seasonable Weather: Above average temperatures can mean that your colony will go through their honey stores quicker than they might during the average winter, putting your colony at risk of running out and starving to death before pollen and nectar is available to them.
Un-Seasonable Seasons: An early spring can mean that the population inside the hive will build up more quickly, and earlier than they would otherwise, again eating through their stores prematurely at a time when nectar and pollen sources are not available to the bees.
Large Population: A strong colony that goes into the winter with a high population will also be at risk of going through their food stores before spring.
Unless the beekeeper has extra frames or supers of honey saved aside for such an occasion, he or she is left with only two options. Either they leave the bees and hope for the best, accepting fate should death befall the colony. Or they resign themselves to feeding the colony sugar.
A compromise on sugar
Decide for Yourself
Like gardening, many aspects of beekeeping are the personal preference of each individual beekeeper. There is no right or wrong way to keep bees. What works for one beekeeper, may not work for another.
For me–with much of my business plan hinged on my honeybees–it is crucially important that as many as possible of my hives make it through the winter so that we can continue to expand the apiary. Colony loss does happen–with colony collapse disorder still affecting the numbers of honeybee colonies across the United States–the death of a hive is not an unusual occurrence–especially as we move through the winter. It’s a fact of life that the weak will perish and the strong survive, that being said, with so many other ailments plaguing the bees, I’d prefer that starvation not be the cause of the death of a hive if I can help it. Organic sugar seems like a good compromise.
What do you think? Do you feed your bees sugar? or do you take your chances? How has that worked for you? Feel free to share your perspective with us!