I am an organic beekeeper. I don’t use any chemicals, and, to the extent possible, I let my bees be bees.
My first hive hasn’t eaten anything but honey in three years. I’m a firm believer that honey and pollen are what bees should eat, and that sugar syrup is inferior food.
Except for new packages. I have been feeding my new Italian bees sugar syrup since I hived them on May 12th.
It would be nice to be able to say there is no need to ever feed your bees. The truth is, their survival sometimes depends on supplemental nourishment.
A package of bees in a brand new hive is starting from scratch. They don’t have any drawn comb and they don’t have any stored honey. Not feeding them is a recipe for failure.
I could feed my bees honey from my other hive, but I wouldn’t know for sure whether I was spreading disease. My Buckfast bees are the picture of health, but who knows?
I would never feed my bees store-bought honey. Pure white cane sugar is definitely safer.
I won’t feed my new bees much l0nger. When I see capped brood and honey stores, I will stop immediately.
I just found this recipe for herbal sugar syrup, which is purportedly easier for the bees to assimilate. Making such a concoction requires a time commitment, but in the long run, a healthy colony is worth it.
Recipe for Herbal Sugar Syrup
* Spring Water or filtered water if possible (not distilled however)
* Organic Sugar – use only the lightest sugar, even white sugar is OK. Dark sugars contain too many minerals and can make the bees sick.
* Organic Chamomile – loose or in tea bags. Brew as in a light tea, steep one bag per quart for just a minute or so. Chamomile is a unique herb that is particularly suited for bee syrup. According to Rudolf Steiner, chamomile moves the sugar toward honey a bit, making it easier on the bees’ digestive system.
* Your own honey – a small amount of honey is helpful to provide enzymes to the syrup. Syrup must be cooled before adding honey, otherwise the heat will denature the enzymes. If you don’t have your own honey (from your bees) or honey from a trusted friend, skip it. The introduction of disease spores into the syrup is not worth it.
* Sea Salt – a pinch of salt is important to facilitate the distribution of the nutrition throughout the bee’s small body.
* PH adjuster – use either vitamin C (powdered), lemon juice or cream of tartar, enough to bring PH down to 4.5 or so. PH test strips or a meter are helpful here to get the PH correct. This is a very important step, since honey is considerably more acidic than sugar, the bees have to work hard to digest the higher PH of sugar, bringing the PH down beforehand is greatly beneficial to the bees. I have found that 2-3 tsps. of lemon juice per quart is about right.
Other organic herbs - Kitchen or medicinal herbs like thyme, rosemary, cilantro, nettles, comfrey, lavender, lemon balm. Keep the herbal tea light, and use you own sensibilities about herbs.
Essential Oils— these can be added for either flavor or medicinal actions. The essential oil of thyme, eucalyptus, oregano, lemon balm, tea tree are all good, but especially thyme and eucalyptus for medicating for mites or dysentery. To promote the dispersion of the oil, you can first mix the drops of oil (2 drops or so per batch of syrup) with 1 tblsp. lecithin or vegetable glycerin before adding it to the syrup.
The proportions of sugar : water depend on the purpose of feeding.
Fall Feeding or during nectar dearth – 2:1 –(2 parts sugar to 1 part water)
Spring feeding or to administer medication – 1:1 – (1 part sugar to 1 part water)
Syrup Recipe (Using spring feeding proportions, adjust accordingly otherwise)
1 part sugar
(use an amount appropriate to you needs)
1 part water
- organic chamomile flowers or chamomile tea bags – enough for a light tea. (+ other herbs if you are using them)
- spoonful of your own or a trusted friend’s honey
- pinch of sea salt
- essential oils if you are using them
- PH adjuster: an acidifying agent from the list above to bring the PH to 4.5.
Bring water to a rolling boil then remove from the heat. Add chamomile + any other herbs you are using, let steep for 2 minutes. Remove tea (strain if needed) and add sugar, stirring until fully dissolved. Add salt. Mix thoroughly. Let cool to just luke warm, add honey. (see note below on heating honey) Add essential oils, then adjust for PH at the end.
Heating Honey – Heating honey leads to drastic changes in its chemical composition. Heating up to 99°F causes loss of nearly 200 components, parts of which are antibacterial. Heating up to 104°F destroys invertase, an important enzyme. Heating up to 122°F turns the honey into caramel (the most valuable honey sugars become analogous to sugar). Essentially, heating honey destroys its value both as bee nutrition and medicament.
Storage and Temperature of Syrup
Syrup can be stored for a few days in the refrigerator, but bring it to room temperature before giving to the bees. Syrup will ferment if left out too long, especially in warmer temperatures. Fermented syrup can kill a bee colony so error on the side of caution and check the syrup often if you are leaving it with the bees and they are not taking it.