Why I’m Feeding Honey to Bees (and why you shouldn’t be)
You shouldn’t feed Honey to Bees
Some people might see the title of this piece and feel outraged. That’s because if there’s one thing you should never do when it comes to feeding bees, it’s feeding them honey. At least when it comes from an unknown source. Honey can be dangerous to bees and in some circumstances end up killing them. So why am I feeding one of my colonies gallons of it?
Bulking up Winter Honey Stores
One of a beekeeper’s most important duties is winterizing their colonies. Depending on climate and hive health the individual tasks will be different. One that is universal is ensuring that there’s enough honey to last the winter. If there’s not enough, the bees will need help to prepare for winter.
Traditionally, beekeepers use rapid feeders to feed bees a syrup that they make themselves with white sugar. If the weather is still warm enough, the bees will process it into honey. If it’s not warm enough, the water in the syrup is difficult for bees to evaporate out and they can be left with a wet and sticky disaster.
Bluebell is very low on honey stores
About a month ago I spotted that Bluebell, my blue hive, was very low on honey stores. She was completely reliant on my help to put away enough food to last through the winter.
Contrary to what some might assume, honeybees don’t go completely dormant in the colder months. They go into a state of semi-hibernation where they cluster together for warmth and eat honey to see them through until spring. If they run out of honey, it’s game over.
Now there’s two reasons why I’m not feeding syrup to Bluebell: temperature and choice. It’s getting a bit too cold and damp to give the bees syrup and secondly I don’t like having to do it. I feel that honeybees should be eating honey that they’ve produced themselves from natural sources. I decided instead that I’d feed her back honey I’d previously extracted from both her and Primrose, my white hive.
Why honey can be dangerous
The danger in feeding honey to bees is that honey can contain and preserve viruses, spores, and bacteria. For the same reason that you never give raw honey to babies, you don’t give raw honey from unknown sources to bees.
The biggest threat is introducing American Foul Brood (AFB), the spores of which can be transferred from colony to colony by beekeeping equipment, tools, and even honey. AFB is a bacterial infection that will kill the bees either directly, or because the colony must be destroyed to stop further contagion.
If you’re wanting to help bees, please do not feed them honey from jars you’ve bought. Or even honey from other beekeepers. You may be hurting more than you’re helping.
Feeding honey to bees
However, if you have honey from your own bees and are sure that it’s not infected then it’s perfectly fine to feed it back to them. In fact, they’ll be more than pleased to have it! Honey can be put back into the comb with very little effort.
I’ve had about a couple gallons of honey from previous extractions hanging around the house doing nothing. I actually have more than that but this stuff in particular was of honey that I felt didn’t taste great. It was also thick and crystallized easily so I’d heated it in the oven to re-liquify it.
It was good enough for baking but not the tasty summer raw honey that we all love. The bees would love to have it back though so I took the first gallon up a few weeks ago. Since then they’ve cleared out one of the rapid feeders so I refilled it over the weekend. If the mild weather continues, I’ll keep topping them up until I’m sure that Bluebell is stocked for winter.
Winterizing the Hives
With that job underway, I’ve also been preparing my colonies for winter in other ways. I speak more on what I’ve doing in the video (watch below) but to recap, I’ve put mouse-guards on the entrances, taken out the empty frames from Primrose, put the insert back into the varroa floors, and tidied around the apiary. I’ve also taken the empty lure hive home to store in the garage until next spring.
If you take anything away from this piece it’s this — it’s important to take care of bees and as a beekeeper that means preparing your bees from winter. If you have some of your own honey that you’d like to feed back to them then crack on as long as you’re sure it’s not from an unhealthy colony. If you’re not a beekeeper and want to help bees, plant bee-friendly flowers and never feed them honey whether deliberately or accidentally. An open jar of honey on a picnic table is an invitation for a honeybee buffet!