Alternatives to Feeding Sugar Water to Honey Bees

by Donna Lewis and Mary M Reed, Chief Apiary Inspector, Texas Apiary Inspection Service

You may have read Donna’s recent post about feeding honeybees on her property. She got to wondering if the sugar water she was putting out was a good idea, so she contacted Mary Reed at Texas A&M, who has spoken to our chapter before, for more information. It’s so great that we Master Naturalists can contact credible resources like Mary Reed when we have questions. Their email exchange starts below the beautiful image of a bee.

Sue Ann Kendall

Image from @Wire13 via Twenty20

Donna

I wanted to ask about something I thought was OK, but after looking at some web sites, I may be wrong. I do not want to give incorrect information out on our blog.

So, is putting out sugar water for honey bee’s bad?

Mary

Thanks for reaching out! Feeding sugar to honey bees is a method beekeepers use to strengthen their colonies as needed. It gives honey bees the energy they need to generate wax to build the comb, conduct tasks in the hive, and forage for resources in the surrounding area. 

It is recommended that if a beekeeper is going to feed their hives sugar water that they use in-hive feeders rather than open feeding. In-hive feeders help prevent robbing behavior from other colonies, and it cuts down on the possibility of disease transmission. Open feeding (i.e., placing sugar water out in a bucket, tray, etc.) increases the likelihood of disease transmission amongst hives in the area. 

Beekeepers know what they’re doing! Image from @photovs via Twenty20.

It’s also possible to see a flurry of bees coming to this open resource at certain times of the year when other nectar resources are not available. This can be alarming to some and is a potential public safety issue. 

If your readers are interested in providing a resource for bees, my best recommendation is to plant a variety of flowering plants that bloom in succession over the year. The successive blooming periods provide bees a reliable food source throughout the year. It’s fairly common in Texas to have nutritional dearths, meaning there are periods of time where there is little to no natural resources for bees to feed on, so having a succession of blooms available really helps. 

Bees like chive blossoms as much as we do, and they can appear when it’s chilly out. Image from @Anyra via Twenty20.

The other benefit to having a variety of flowering plants is that it also provides a diversity of nutrients to bees. The nutritional content of pollen can vary from plant to plant, and bees need this variety for their overall health.

I probably went way beyond what you were expecting for this question, but I hope this information is helpful.  If you need anything else, please don’t hesitate to reach out!

Donna

I think I will discontinue with the sugar water and just do what I always do and provide lots of shallow water containers for them.

In the near future I hope we can meet again and share more knowledge about our pollinator friends with our chapter and the public.

Mary

No problem! I’m happy to help out any time.  To be honest, providing a consistent water resource for bees is one of the best things you can do. We don’t often think about how insects need and utilize water for their own survival, but for bees it’s especially important when it comes to thermoregulating their hive. 

Yum! Photo by @billyves12 via Twenty20.

I like to provide some type of water resource year round, but especially in the warmer months when bees are using the water to cool down their hives.

Little Wonders

Today we’re sharing a post by our member, Suna Kendall, from her nature blog.

The Hermits' Rest

It’s a beautiful day today, so I’ve done a bit of wandering around. I’m always surprised at the beauty I see, just walking around the ranch.

Just a beautiful day to have dog fun.

Today the dogs and I checked out the arroyo, and they had a lot of fun sniffing and stomping, as usual.

That is a BIG hole. Glad I know where it is, so I won’t step on it.

I was surprised to see just how big the armadillo’s hole has gotten. Every time I walk by there’s more dirt outside it. That is one busy dillo.

You can’t really see as much orange as I saw in person, but hey, these will be a lot of delicous berries!

The trees and bushes are all budding out, and sometimes the color really surprises me. The dewberries are all red and yellow, and look almost autumnal!

A brief…

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