Can I start a new package on honey instead of syrup?

Sugar syrup is not the equivalent of infant formula. Sugar syrup is not something we feed to package bees because they are young, immature, or mere fledglings. In fact, bees are adults when they emerge from the brood comb. During their babyhood as larvae and pupae they ate royal jelly and bee bread, but an adult bee is fully formed and capable of eating real food. Real food for adult honey bees is honey.

I’ve been trying to understand why this question is so common, and I’ve concluded that we beekeepers give the impression that a new colony must have sugar syrup in order to survive, so new beekeepers become confused about its importance. Of course, this makes no sense: sugar syrup is a modern invention and honey bees are not.

As I’ve said before, we are lucky that bees can live on syrup because it’s so convenient when we don’t have honey on hand, or if the only honey we have is from an unknown source. But must bees have sugar syrup to start a new colony? Of course not.

Even though bees can survive on syrup, it is still a stop-gap measure suitable for short periods when better food is not available. Sugar is pure carbohydrate, pure energy for bees. It supplies no nutrients, no vitamins, no trace elements. So if you have honey from your own healthy hives, or the healthy hives of someone else, by all means feed them honey instead of sugar syrup. Your colonies will thrive because they have everything they need, not just the calories.

And, no, you don’t have to extract it and put it in a feeder. Good heavens, a feeder is also a modern invention. We put syrup in feeders not because the bees prefer it that way, but because we are not good at putting it in combs. The bees adapt to what we give them, but that doesn’t mean they prefer it.

You can put the frames of honey beside the new cluster or above it. If the honey is in their way, the bees will move it until they have their home arranged just the way the like. Trust them; they know what they are doing.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Comments

Megan
Reply

Rusty, that’s a great notion, can we give them frames of crystallized honey along with frames of capped honey?

Rusty
Reply

Megan,

Yes, frames of crystallized honey are fine for bees. Crystallized honey is also something that bees have had to deal with for millions of years.

Lindsay
Reply

Hi Rusty, I love your site and pretty much use it whenever I have a beekeeping question. We bought an established hive last year and so it was pretty easy to set up and we never had to feed them. Unfortunately, they didn’t make it through the winter. We left the old comb in our shed without really thinking and of course the wasps and other bees have cleaned all the honey out of it. There’s still lots of wax though. We just got a package of bees tonight and I want to help them out as much as we can. I would prefer to feed them honey, but we don’t have any of our own. We can get good, local raw honey, but what would be the best way to feed this? Can we pour it right on a frame of comb? Would there be any reason not to get some frames of honey from a friend’s hive if any have some they would share?

Rusty
Reply

Lindsay,

Only feed honey from a source where you know the beekeeper personally and know that he does not have American foulbrood in his hives or is not using chemicals to suppress foulbrood. It is easily transferred through honey, and once you get it you have to destroy your hives or spend the rest of your beekeeping career suppressing it with drugs. Personally, I would never feed honey that didn’t come from my own bees.

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