feeding bees honey bee nutrition spring management

What vitamins should I give to my bees?

I am in no way an expert on honey bee nutrition. But in the past few years—especially since the advent of colony collapse disorder—many knowledgeable people have been studying bee nutrition under the theory that healthier bees are better able to withstand the onslaught of diseases and environmental stresses that face them. In my opinion this is an excellent line of inquiry. Living things in general do better when they are well fed.

Like most animals, honey bees need a variety of carbohydrates, proteins, lipids, vitamins, and minerals for optimum health. In nature, bees get the majority of their carbohydrates from nectar (honey) and the other components come mostly from pollen. Pollens vary in their nutritional composition, but since honey bees normally consume many different types of pollen, they are able to meet their nutritional requirements.

Trouble can occur in the hive at the end of winter when food stored the past summer is largely depleted. For this reason, beekeepers often feed pollen substitutes in the early spring. Since a full complement of amino acids (the substances that make up protein) is required to produce brood, feeding pollen substitutes in spring can help colonies get off to a good start.

Many companies now produce pollen substitutes that can be made into patties, mixed with syrup, or fed dry. Each product has been designed with a slightly different profile of the essential nutrients, but I am in no position to say which is best. I would probably trust any of the commercial preparations.

In the past, I have always fed pollen patties in the early spring and, in general, they have been poorly received. Usually they were only partly eaten before they dried into hockey pucks and I tossed them out. This year, in place of pollen patties, I decided to experiment with making hard candy enriched with pollen substitute.

The first time I put the pollen-enriched cakes in the hives I also put in some leftover plain candy cakes—I just wanted to use them up. So in each hive I put one plain candy cake and one candy cake fortified with pollen substitute. A week later when I checked the hives, I was amazed to find the pollen-fortified cakes gone and the plain ones still there. Obviously, there was something in there the bees wanted.

I have repeated this three times in the last month. My bees just love the stuff and I’m very curious to see how they do as spring approaches.

Hard candy, of course, is not something to use with a new package of bees. Although I’m not starting any new colonies this year, if I were, I would try one of the liquid amino boosters in sugar syrup along with Honey-B-Healthy. In the past I’ve used only Honey-B-Healthy and syrup, but after watching my bees munch down the pollen substitute, I’m pretty much sold on the idea.

I’m very interested to see how these overwintered colonies compare to those I’ve overwintered in the past. I will also be on the lookout for the results of controlled experiments where these “designer diets” were used. It is all fascinating.


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  • Rusty, I have been considering making fondant and mixing it with either pollen or pollen substitute. I have a few questions that I have looked for the answers for but can’t seem to find…

    I know pollen is supposed to be better in general, but does it have the essential nutrients in it that the pollen substitutes claim to have?

    When I do this, how much pollen substitute did you add to the fondant?

    Also, would feeding them the pollen/substitute possibly stimulate increased brood raising, thereby actually decreasing stores because of more mouths to feed?

    By the way, my quilts that I built based on your design seem to be working GREAT!! Thanks again for the articles on this…


    • Joel,

      Pollen will have all the nutrients the bees need as long as it comes from mixed sources. You can think of pollen like vegetables: as long as you eat a variety of veggies you can get all the nutrients you need. Eat only one or two and you’re going to get into trouble. Pollen substitute is much like a multi-vitamin; the manufacturers try to get all the nutrients in there. Still, there’s nothing like the real thing for good bee health.

      I would use the same recipes I have posted for hard candy, but I would cook the candy only to the fondant stage instead of the hard candy stage. You’ll see the recipes under the tab “Bee Nutrition” at the top, then “Feeding Bees,” then go down to “Hard Candy.” There are two recipes; I would go for 4% protein.

      The answer to your third question is, yes, the pollen substitute will stimulate brood rearing. For this reason I usually don’t start feeding a protein supplement until early spring. Here on the coast, I start them on pollen in late February.

      I’m glad to hear your moisture quilts are working out. I think they are the greatest thing. Thanks!

  • We use one product as a supplement in situation when we need to add syrup and also when we prepare our bees for winter. This product is combination amino acids and vitamins for use as supportive
    maintenance therapy and prevention in conditions of stress and diseases and to improve
    fertility and performance.
    Question is what do you think about that.

    • Daki,

      I think supplements are a good idea, especially if you are short of pollen at spring build-up. I have used Amino-B Booster, Bee Pro, and MegaBee–all with good results.

      • Rusty, could you help us with a review of the different types of commercially available patties? Just looking at MegaBee, there’s brood builder, winter patties, and hybrid. I’m very confused. Thanks! – HB

        • Sure. I will have to do some research but it’s a timely request. I just used my first dose of Amino-B-Booster and I want to compare that to other supplements as well.

          • Since this post is 6 years old, I am wondering if you have comments to add to HB’s question now?

            And also if you have developed a preference for Amino-B Booster, Bee Pro, MegaBee or other?

            Finally, my MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION: I had 14 hives going in to fall and a rather large proportion of weak hives (such as late swarms & cutouts). I focused most of my attention on trying to get the weak ones ready for winter and when I finally got around to checking my bigger, stronger hives I hadn’t opened for 3-4 weeks! I found 2 of them had nothing in them but bees! No brood, no honey, no pollen despite the fact that they were packed with all of these things 3 weeks earlier!!! Experienced beeks in my area said that this was a bad year for nectar/pollen because we got so much rain. But, I was shocked to see nothing in the hives!!! (I did a cut out in Aug that had the same condition but I blamed it on the dirth). Anyway, I panicked when I found the first hive— I “blamed” it on the queen & removed her and successfully combined the bees with one of my smaller weak hives. But, soon thereafter I found the second hive. What should I do? I don’t want to drain another colony by combining it like I did when I panicked with the first hive. I started feeding it 2:1 syrup but in less than a week our temps dropped below 50 so I gave it winter patties (and all my other hives just in case). But I am thinking I need to give them a pollen patty or they won’t have any bees for spring? Our temps are supposed to get above 50 in a week or so and I plan to give them more syrup… but just wondering what to do. I have never had this happen before.

            • Amy,

              All you can do at this point is keep feeding. You can give a pollen supplement if you want, although it’s usually best to wait until after the winter solstice, especially for your larger hives. Too much brood rearing in the fall means the colonies can very quickly outgrow their food supply. I don’t have an opinion on the different pollen supplements. They all seem to work well.

  • Rusty . . . I have several hives that have a large population of bees . . . I see lots of drones . . . which means they may be thinking about swarming . . . I’ve taken candy boards off last week of February . . . now feeding 1:1 sugar syrup in Kelley hive top feeders. I added a deep brood box to existing 1 deep and 1 medium box last week. Bees have been bringing in lots of pollen for the last 3 weeks from elm and maple trees as well as from various blooming weeds.

    I added Honey-B-Healthy (1 tsp/qt) to sugar syrup. Queen is active laying eggs. Should I also feed a liquid amino booster with sugar syrup until the honey flow comes in (usually May 1 for middle Tennessee)?

    This year everything seems to be 2-3 weeks in advance of the norm. Plum and pear trees are blooming now. Apple trees still dormant. I had an older beekeeper to tell me that I didn’t need to feed the amino booster since there were a lot of different sources of pollen available to the bees and they would get what they needed. Is the amino booster made from pollen collected from bees? If so, do I run the low risk of bring in disease to my bees? I’m geared up for the swarm to occur. If they swarm I guess that hive will have it out of their system and they can get down to honey business.

    • Herb,

      Drones signal the beginning of swarm season, but a large population of drones doesn’t mean a particular hive is about to swarm . . . it just means you have a lot of drones. Your beekeeper friend is correct: if the bees have many pollen sources they will get all the amino acids they need. Amino boosters are more important if pollen is lacking, if all the available pollen comes from one source, or if it is too cold and/or wet for the bees to forage. However, the amino boosters on the market are not made from bee collected pollen and they will not transmit disease to your bees–they are perfectly safe to use.

      Amino acids are not found in nectar, only in pollen. Although traces of amino acids may sometimes be found in nectar, it is more or less a containment rather than a source.

  • I am a new bee, growth, and I wanted to apply zgjoje.kam 25 cakes of bees but do not know how cooking can you help?
      Thanks Rusty

  • I am a new bee, growth and want to apply to bees cakes but do not know how to cook.
    can now show how to prepare the cakes?
    Thanks Rusty

    • I’m sorry, but I don’t really understand the question. Are you trying to make syrup? Hard candy? Pollen patties?

  • Hello,

    I live in North Carolina and I am a first year bee keeper and installed two packages this past weekend. I currently feeding 1:1 syrup to the bees and was wondering if you could recommend anything additional to their diet like Honey-B-Healthy at this early point in the season. I am skeptical of supplements since they could be comprised of simple syrup and some essential oils which I can prepare at home. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    • Steve,

      Essential oils are made of thousands of component parts, and many of these materials are excellent for bee health, which is why they are included in things like Honey-B-Healthy or ProHealth. The difficulty of giving bees essential oils in syrup is simply that oil and water don’t mix: the oil will float on the surface and won’t be distributed throughout. Like many other people, I have tried on numerous occasions to use an emulsifier like soy lecithin to get the ingredients to mix, but my results haven’t been that great. That technology is one of the things you pay for when you buy a proprietary product. Since I didn’t succeed, I just use ProHealth form Mann Lake. It is cheaper than HBH but is basically the same. Of course, if you experiment and learn how to do, please let me know!

  • We have a birdbath in the garden here in Phoenix which gets auto filled daily and is crusted with white deposits from the hard water. Lots of bees come to it and apart from drinking, they seem to mine the dry deposits. What are they after or why are they doing this?

    • The primary hardness minerals are calcium and magnesium. Included in the deposits may be trace amounts of other minerals as well. Bees, like all organisms, need certain amounts of these in their diet, so it doesn’t surprise me to hear they are licking them up. Bees often can be seen on garden soil, in flower pots, or in mud puddles doing the same thing. Think of it as a multi-vitamin.

  • So I am not finding what I am looking for, so I am going to drop the question I have here…………

    So looking over one of the fall Bee Catalogs, I found Probiotics for honeybees! They gave the normal sound advice with the reasons anyone should take probiotics.
    I read over the strains of probiotics and compared them to the stuff we sell out of our facility and was relieved to find out that at least it was not the same strains. But a big part of me still thinks “REALLY!”
    So what is your exspierince or thoughts on Probiotics for bees?

    I already understand that honey is a prebiotic, at least for humans, and you need the prebiotics to help the probiotics work better. But how does this work for the Beez? Why or what are the reasons one would feed bees this supplement? Or is this just one of those Artsy Fartsy fads?

    Thanks a Bunch of Beez!

  • I am a little confused about when to start feeding my bees the pollen enriched candy? Can I do that all winter or just in the spring? This has been the most informative website I have found, especially because I am also in Puget Sound.

    • Nora,

      Generally, colonies decrease in size with little brood rearing until the winter solstice. After the solstice, as our days begin to get longer, brood rearing gradually increases again. Pollen (or supplement) is needed to raise brood, so the colony will need more and more as spring approaches. My rule of thumb is to give pollen supplement any time after the winter solstice.

      Once you see lots of pollen coming in, you can stop. Once they start rearing a lot of brood, then will need a steady supply, so don’t stop too soon. Around here we may have lots of early pollen, but if there is not a break in the rain, the bees can’t get it.

  • I am new to this site and very pleased with the abundance of information provided here.

    I was particularly interested in your articles on honeycomb production. When it became apparent that we would probably have a very good bloom I purchased some Ross Rounds and a large number of Hogg Halfcomb cassettes and supers.

    We are concentrating our efforts in the mountains around Watsonville California.

    We are long time beekeepers but our expertise has always been in pollination and not in the production of comb honey in cassettes.

    We plan on using strong double queen hives. Most of the information that we have got was from beekeepers in the East. Any suggestions for production here in California would be much appreciated.

    • Junior,

      The principles of comb honey production don’t really change with the area. The differences will be the crops and the timing of the nectar flow, but as longtime beekeepers, you probably are very familiar with the flows. Using double queen hives and getting the supers on early will probably serve you well. Keep your colonies close to swarming (without actually swarming) for the best production. Try drilling an upper entrance in every other super and give the colony both top and bottom ventilation so the honey dries quickly.

  • I’ve been wondering if there are really benefits to probiotics for bees such as SuperDFM. Is the claim fluff or substance? Please forgive and redirect me if I have missed a post on this.

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