feeding bees

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

37 Comments

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

    • 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.

  • 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?

    • 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.

      • My 1st-year hive died and I have honey on frames and some I extracted and jarred up. Can I feed it to my new nucs? I feel like I’m looking at all the sugar & nutriments I fed my bees last winter. Can it be diluted to substitute 1:1 sugar water? Asking all the questions before installing the new nucs.

        • Diane,

          Of course. Honey is superior food and is the best way to start a nuc. I would feed it straight by just putting the frames on either side of the brood frames. If you dilute the extracted stuff to put in a feeder, just add enough water so it flows through. Don’t overdo the water. Honey is already about 20% water.

  • I am was confused about feeding honey to my new bees so I did a search and, of course, I got conflicting information. Logically, and on many sites, it seems that I can feed my new package of bees my own honey. (My hives died from mites, bee lab tested both bees & comb so I should be able to use this honey.)
    My packages on coming soon and I started setting up boxes and included a few frames of honey. Everyone says to feed a new package and thought about just adding more honey in a feeder.
    But when I started reading I found this:
    https://beeinformed.org/2014/06/27/feeding-honeybees-honey-may-increase-mortality/
    Is this old data? Has there been more research on this?
    Can you tell me anything about feeding my new bees? They will be on built comb, not foundation.
    I always get such great information from your site.
    Maybe I missed something and this information from Bee Informed is outdated. It seems like they would have continued to study this. Plus that study was 2014 this thread also stopped in 2014.
    Any updates or new information you can share?
    Thanks,
    Darlene

    • Darlene,

      You should do what makes you feel comfortable. Honey bees make honey to live on. If they can’t eat honey, what can they eat? Honey bees have been around for 100 million years and humans about 200,000 thousand years. In all but the last 100 years or so, honey bees have been eating honey, not refined sugar.

      The claim makes no sense. BIP often comes under fire because they don’t release their data. Other scientists would like to be able to review and analyze their data to see if they come up with similar results, but BIP keeps it all confidential, which is why you often hear them criticized for “garbage in/garbage out.” That’s just what I’ve heard; I don’t know the facts.

      Lots of things can screw up data, things called exogenous variables. Let’s say a beekeeper is feeding his bees sugar but they aren’t doing well. As a last ditch effort, he feeds them honey hoping they recover, but they die anyway. Then the survey comes out. “What were you feeding your bees when they died?” Answer: honey. The conclusion is honey killed them. Now the data are all screwed up. It happens in science all the time.

      This is one of the things you study as a graduate student in the sciences or even in a master beekeeper program: how to read and interpret scientific results. Most papers are flawed in some way and you have to learn to evaluate how bad the flaws are. But if the so-call scientists don’t release their data, no one can evaluate it.

      I tell people to use their own logic, their own sense of reason. If you rely on bits and pieces in the press, you would never get out of bed in the morning. Salt will kill you, but you need salt to survive. Exercise will kill you or lack of it will kill you. Selenium is deadly but selenium is an essential element for life. It goes on and on. You have to trust yourself a little.

      I won’t tell you what to do, but I will tell you that I always feed honey if I have it. My bees do well. I usually overwinter 80-100% of my colonies, in fact, 100% in the last two years in a row. I read the science but decide for myself whether it makes any sense or not. There is so much garbage circulating among beekeepers, one person cannot possibly sort it out, which is why I always encourage beekeepers to use their prior knowledge and their ability to reason to come to a logical solution. By doing that, you will do better than most.

      • Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I think I will feed them honey as to me it is the most natural food for them. It just makes sense.

  • Rusty,

    My first season and in February my strong hive started dying. I had a deadout by March. I had 2 full broods and 1 capped super with stored honey. Inspecting, the girls ate most of the stores in the lower brood. In the upper brood, I had about 60% capped honey. The super had about the same so they were moving around. The dead bees had no signs of Varroa. I found about 6 SHB. I treated in late fall with Fumagilin with a top feeder. I have a screened bottom, tilted the hive and wrapped with tar paper and pink board.

    My question is I’m cleaning up the hive, replacing bulging comb with new foundations. Should I freeze the frames with honey for feeding my new package. I see the combs look in good condition, no mold, etc to be used for early colony establishment. I plan not to shake them in. Thus leaving 5 frames brood capped with honey and when they are cleaned with that, insert 5 new foundation frames. Place a capped super with honey on top of the deep brood to use up more honey and clean up at the same time. Does this sound like a logical approach keeping the honey safe from bugs etc. as the frames I inspect often while it is still cold out here in the Chicago area. But as the weather warms, do I need to protect these capped frames? I can’t find a conclusive approach, but sounds like this might be a plan. What do you suggest or send me somewhere on the blog cause I couldn’t search the question.

    • Michael,

      If you see no signs of moth damage now, you shouldn’t have a problem with them between now and getting your packages. Just keep adult moths out between now and getting your bees. If the colony died back in February, any moth eggs that might have been there would have hatched by now, so I think you’re clear. Same goes for SHB. It’s the colony’s warmth that keeps beetles and moths from freezing, but without a colony, any remainders probably froze already.

  • Hi Rusty,

    This will by my third year getting a new package here in Boston. The first one the queen died almost immediately (no idea) and they made a new one, resulting in a super strong hive. Unfortunately, I think I may have been the cause of that first hive’s demise. I started feeding them sugar syrup too early…there was a dramatic 40 degree drop in temp and it froze, the seal broke, then it thawed and liquid syrup dripped all over the huddled mass, and then it froze again….I think I froze them to death in year one.

    Last year, new package, they seemed ok going into late fall but then one day I found them all over the ground, disoriented and walking around. A day or so later they seemed all ‘back to normal’, but the hive died a few weeks later before Christmas (just before I was about to start feeding them fondant if needed). However, they had produced a lot of honey, in both the deeps and the honey supers, and no sign of disease (as far as I could tell). I have about 7 frames of capped honey. Not knowing what else to do, I threw it all in the deep freeze when the hive died. The new package will be here some time next month–should I thaw and feed them these frames?

    Thank you! Your blog is really an asset to the amateur beekeeping community!

    • Deirdre,

      If it were me, I would definitely use the honey frames from the dead colony to feed the new colony. It will get them off to a quick start.

  • Hello Rusty,

    I have extracted honey from my healthy hives that I wish to feed to a package of bees coming in in the spring. While I do have some frames of honey to give them, I don’t want to waste the honey that’s already extracted. How would you recommend giving them the extracted honey? Does one make it into a honey syrup and then use a feeder? Or is there any crazy way of getting the honey back into empty comb? I’d love to find a way to do that!

    • Suzanna,

      I would make it into syrup by adding a bit of water and putting it in a feeder. I have seen people pour it over empty combs. Some goes in, but there is so much waste I want to cry. It’s a mess.

  • After dead out, today opened top honey super and bottom box, finding 7 capped honey frames (so I guess they did not starve). There were 2 mice–unknown when they moved in–whom I evicted. Will get a mouse barrier for next year!

    My question is how many frames of capped honey should I leave for each of my new packages of Russian bees coming in 3 weeks?

    Thank you

    • Ilana,

      None or as many as you like. That’s up to you. If they don’t have enough honey, though, be sure to feed them.

  • Two questions:

    1 – I am getting ready to receive bees in a month or so. I want to feed them honey from last year. I was planning on giving them 10 frames of drawn comb in the bottom deep and then placing a deep of honey above the inner cover. (I read that somewhere) Do I need to put honey in the bottom or will this strategy work?

    2 – One of my hives looked really strong going into the fall. I did not check it for several weeks because I left it with a full deep of honey, but when I did open the hive the honey was all still there and there was a small huddled mass of bees on the honey frames but nothing else. The bottom box had 10 perfectly clean frames of drawn comb. Any Ideas what might have happened?

    Thank you so much
    Clark

    • Clark,

      1. I would not use an inner cover. Instead, in the lower box I would put honey frames in position 1,2,9 and 10. Then in the upper box, I would put honey in positions 1,2,3,8,9,10. Leave the middle open for the bees.

      2. It sounds like varroa mites. Did you treat for them?

  • I did not treat for mites but that makes sense. I will have to look into that this year. Do I need to treat chemically or does the powdered sugar method work?

    Thanks again for the advice.

    C

    • Clark,

      From what I’ve read and the experiments Randy Oliver has done, powdered sugar can keep the mites in check if you cover every side of every frame of bees thoroughly twice a week, every week in spring, summer, and fall. So to me, that means no.

  • Hi Rusty,

    Last summer we had a crazy nectar flow. Both of my Langstroth hives filled their deeps, plus two supers with honey. I froze all of the super frames (don’t have an extractor lol) and left them just the deeps to overwinter with. Would I be able to thaw the super frames and just add full supers on top for spring feeding this year?

  • Rusty,

    Thanks for your previous help. My bees are wintering right now, fingers crossed. I received some honey from my grandmothers food storage from the 70’s. I think because of the age It is dark and I don’t love the taste. I know you don’t feed honey from other bees but considering the age do you think I could feed this to my bees in the spring? Or possibly use it to make syrup?

    It is just way more than I will ever use in my homemade granola and I want to put it to some use.

    Thanks
    Clark

    • Clark,

      The problem with honey from an unknown source is that it can contain spores of American foulbrood. The spores have been known to stay viable for more than 75 years.

  • OK Thanks. What if I made syrup from it using boiling water. Would that kill the spores or should I just make a lot of granola?

    Thanks
    C

    • Clark,

      AFB spores are not affected by standard pasteurization methods because they are highly resistant to heat. Pressure cooking at 250° F (121° C) for three minutes at 15 pounds pressure will kill the spores, as will other combinations of temperature, pressure, and time.

  • Rusty,

    Just found your site, I think it will be helpful! I began last August with three thriving hives. In a span of three weeks all were dead from mites, followed by moths. I think my mistake was leaving them alone because they seemed so healthy. I have two packages arriving in April, all last year’s frames have been frozen and cleaned. I plan to treat prophylactically for mites every month this year, with appropriate treatment for the phase of the hive. Any problem with that plan?

    • Bob,

      Remember, mite treatments are poisonous. We hope they are more toxic to mites than bees, but there’s a fine line. I think monthly proactive treatment is probably “overkill” and you may end up killing the queen and/or shortening the lives of workers. A lot depends on your choice of treatment, but I think quarterly makes more sense, unless your testing shows a problem. Also, don’t forget to test after the treatments, as well, so you know if they worked or not.

  • Hi. I have a 3 lb package coming with a queen. I have a lot of frames of honey from the previous hive. How many frames can I put in the brood chamber or bottom box? Then when do I add a second box of frames? Can I put honey in that box too? Thank you!

    • Autumn,

      In the bottom box, leave about five empty frames in the middle and put honey frames on each side. You can repeat the same pattern on a second deep, but wait until the brood builds up in the bottom box. Basically, waiting for the second box makes it easier to see what’s going on in the brood chamber.

  • Thank you. And I’ve seen several eats of placing the queen in the chamber. Which plug do you open and do you suggest hanging it?

    I’ve watched the videos and the ones in your YouTube show different ways. This is the first queen we’ve bought. Our 4th year with a hive. I appreciate your help.

  • Hi Rusty. I get it…bees do just fine on honey rather than sugar syrup.

    That being said, I was told recently that bees don’t make royal jelly from honey, they make it from nectar. Is this true?

    If yes, than feeding sugar syrup to spring colonies would make sense when the nectar is not naturally available, yes?

    • Jeff,

      Royal jelly is about 66% water, 12% protein which comes from pollen, 10 percent simple sugars which come from sugar or nectar or honey, and trace amounts of vitamin C, minerals, and enzymes. Nectar and honey are always the best bee food, but sugar works just fine when the others are in short supply.

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