Honey bee supplemental feeding

Honey bee supplemental feeding is a pivotal choice for beekeepers in fostering brood rearing : either relocating hives to optimal breeding conditions before major honey flows, leveraging various flowering species, or artificially stimulating hives through supplementary feeding. This decision hinges largely on economic considerations, weighing the costs associated with hive relocation and the provision of substitutes and supplements.

The term ‘supplements’ implies compensating for existing but insufficient pollen and/or nectar in the area by strategically supplementing the hive’s diet. These supplements should address nutritional deficiencies and meet the necessary volume for colony consumption.

In contrast, ‘substitutes’ indicate a complete absence of nectar or pollen, leading to honey or nectar substitutes, typically in the form of sugar, preferably as sugar syrup. Thick syrup is suitable for winter storage, while regular feeding of small quantities of thin syrup stimulates colony brood expansion. When the goal is to enhance colony stimulation and population, careful attention to the protein components in the diet is essential.

Protein supplements, available in various forms, may include pollen trapped in the field and stored for later hive feeding. For optimal attractiveness to bees, protein supplements should contain a minimum of 5% bee-collected pollen.

1. Carbohydrate Supplements:
  • To sustain a colony critically short of stored honey or requiring stimulation, feeding sugar syrup to hives can either keep them alive (as in winter) or stimulate brood rearing.
  • Feeding sugar syrup can increase the number of field bees foraging for pollen, particularly beneficial in crop pollination situations where pollen-collecting bees are more efficient than nectar collectors.
  • A study in New Zealand showed increased pollen collection with daily feeding of one liter of syrup per colony, emphasizing the need for immediate consumption to avoid processing by bees.
2. Honey:
  • Feeding honey to a hive is possible in certain circumstances, but bees may not thrive as well compared to sugar syrup. Financially, selling honey and purchasing sugar may be a more viable option.
  • Feeding honey is undesirable for stimulation, leading to reduced brood areas, increased defensiveness, and heightened robbing activity.
  • Risks associated with honey feeding include the potential spread of American foulbrood, emphasizing the need to know the honey source and ensure it is free from bee disease organisms.
3. Type and Concentration:
  • White cane sugar (sucrose) remains the most readily available and reliable nectar substitute for honey bees, whether fed dry or in syrup form.
  • Feeding other sugar types may cause digestive problems, with sucrose and invert sugar identified as more attractive to honey bees.
  • While high-fructose corn syrup is popular in North America due to its low cost, caution should be exercised when obtaining waste sugar from sources with potential toxic additives.
4. Sugar Feeders:
  • Various methods exist for feeding sugar, with feeding in syrup form being the most popular and effective.
  • Different feeders, such as bottom board, Boardman, division board, and top feeders, offer various advantages and limitations, requiring consideration of beekeeper materials and commercial feeder availability.

In conclusion, beekeepers must carefully evaluate the specific needs of their colonies and seasonal requirements when selecting supplementary feeding strategies.

Continue reading about supplements, to: Protein supplements