A recent check on my two beehives showed me very little honey stores. (Though the bees are building up well and had no signs of disease.) I was not surprised. This summer has been so dry for us. And drought will stop the nectar flow in flowers. So you can have lots of bee-friendly flowers in bloom, but the nectar is just not there for the bees to collect. I need to start feeding my bees so they will survive the winter.
I Feed Honey… If I Have It
Honey is the food created by and designed for bees to eat. Quality honey has all kinds of things bees need for good health, including vitamins, minerals, micronutrients, antioxidants, and even small amounts of pollen. So it makes sense to me to feed the bees my honey when I can. Whenever I feed honey to my bees, I notice a healthy population surge in the hive.
But I am careful about the honey I feed. You should feed honey only when you know it is disease-free. (By the way, any bee diseases in honey are not a danger to people.) So, no store-bought honey. No honey from another beekeeper. I use only my honey. If you don’t have honey available (and I am running out), then sugar is your next choice.
When Sugar Is Not Just Sugar
Sugar is a widely used feeding supplement for bees that provides carbohydrates. Since it is not honey, I only use it when I have to. My concern with sugar is that much of it in the market is now GMO sugar. About 55% of sugar in the market comes from sugar beets, not sugar cane, and is genetically modified–designed to tolerate the herbicide glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup. This allows farmers to spray for weeds with Roundup without killing the beets. The beets absorb the Roundup and the Roundup remains in the sugar.
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared Roundup a “probable carcinogen” for people in 2015. These findings were met with much criticism, which is not surprising, given how widely the herbicide is used and how much money people make from the herbicide. (Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide, at 15 million tons annually.) The question at hand, though, is how does Roundup affect bees?
Scientific studies have found that glyphosate (Roundup) may cause problems for honey bees. Glyphosate may:
- affect their learning behaviors
- affect their ability to eat and forage
- kill the beneficial bacteria in the hive
- cause CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder) in honey bees
While these findings are contested, they are enough to give me pause. No studies to date, that I know of, have looked at the effect of GMO sugar on bees (they need to be done). But it strikes me as common sense to limit their exposure to glyphosate or Round-Up. GMOs are not labeled in the U.S.A., although some companies have started labelling if they are non-GMO. Organic products are non-GMO, but I have found organic sugars to contain molasses–which can cause digestive problems for honey bees. So I reach for white sugar that is non-GMO or pure cane sugar.
What You Can Do
Stop using Round-up in your yard. Seek out other methods, such hand-pulling, solarization, smothering, and even goats to eat undesired weeds.
Feeding Bees “Bee Tea”
Lastly, this season I started using a “Bee Tea” in my feedings. It is an organic and biodynamic tea mixture made of herbs, such as chamomile, nettle, lemon balm, peppermint, sage, thyme, Holy Basil, and other herbs that I steep in the syrup. The tea aims to support the metabolic system of the honeybees, as well as strengthen their immune system. Spikenard Farm Honeybee Sanctuary makes the tea; it can be found on their website.