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I've been keeping this blog for all of my beekeeping years and I am beginning my 19th year of beekeeping in April 2024. Now there are more than 1300 posts on this blog. Please use the search bar below to search the blog for other posts on a subject in which you are interested. You can also click on the "label" at the end of a post and all posts with that label will show up. At the very bottom of this page is a list of all the labels I've used.

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I began this blog to chronicle my beekeeping experiences. I have read lots of beekeeping books, but nothing takes the place of either hands-on experience with an experienced beekeeper or good pictures of the process. I want people to have a clearer picture of what to expect in their beekeeping so I post pictures and write about my beekeeping saga here.Master Beekeeper Enjoy with me as I learn and grow as a beekeeper.

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Unnecessary Feeding of Bees in the Spring and the Backyard Beekeeper

At the February meeting of the Metro Atlanta Beekeepers, at the end of the meeting the president said as an announcement:  "If you aren't feeding your bees, you should.   Go home and feed, feed, feed."  I wasn't there for the end of the March meeting (I left a little early), but was told that again she emphasized, "Go home and FEED YOUR BEES."

At the short course in January, Jennifer Berry told the new beekeepers attending the course that at UGA they feed their bees every single day - over 500 hives.  She said, "We don't have the time to check each hives for stores so we just feed constantly all year long."

The key point that she mentioned is that they don't have time to check each hive.

When I opened my hives for the first time this year, every single one of them was bringing in nectar and storing it up.  They even had some newly capped honey.

Why would I feed those bees?

Feeding at the spring time has impact on the hive - sometimes it means the bees build up population when there may not be a nectar flow to support the build up.  The commercial beekeeper may need to do that to assure their bees are highly populated for their pollination business or the research apiarist may need to assure that their research study can have the hives available.

But the backyard beekeeper can let the bees do what they know instinctively to do - which it is to adapt to their current environment.

What if a tremendous amount of brood laying has been stimulated artificially by feeding sugar syrup and suddenly (as we are known to do in March in Atlanta) we have a cold spell?  The bees aren't able to keep that amount of brood warm and they die.

Another effect of feeding is that the bees backfill the cells available to the queen for laying and it creates the illusion that the bees don't have enough space.  So they swarm when really there was room for the queen to lay, but the beekeeper confused things by providing unnecessary sugar syrup.

At this time of year, all of the push in the beehive is for the bees to put away supplies for the winter ahead (in this case the upcoming winter eight or nine months from now).  We harvest the honey they are creating now in the early summer in Atlanta.  That honey, if the beekeeper does spring feeding when the nectar is being stored, will be in part sugar syrup.

We criticize beekeepers in China for contaminating the honey they sell with sugar syrup, among other noxious things.  How can we?  Almost every beekeeper I know in Atlanta is being told to feed their bees (and thus add sugar syrup to their honey).

Dean Stiglitz has suggested that if you want to make sure you are not harvesting honey diluted with sugar syrup, then put blue food coloring in the sugar syrup you feed your bees and if your "honey" is blue, you'll know your sugar syrup is in your "honey."

The university beekeepers are not raising their bees for honey - they are researching genetics, the varroa mite, and other things of interest to the commercial beekeeper.  They don't see a need to be careful about feeding.

The backyard beekeeper has the luxury of being able to look into every hive and determine, hive by hive, when feeding is or is not needed.

We are told that the bees use the sugar syrup for building wax and that the syrup won't show up in the honey that is stored "later."  My bees are storing honey NOW.   I would challenge our club president to put bright blue food coloring in the sugar syrup she is feeding to her bees and see if her honey is tinted blue at harvest.

I will not follow the admonition of the club president to FEED, FEED, FEED.  I do not see the point when my hives are not hungry.


  1. Linda, Thank you for your concern over the bees. You are the reason I am beekeeping now, as I was so discouraged over the traditional methods of beekeeping. You gave a refreshing different point of view and I was hooked. I agree with you about the beekeeping. There is even more reasons NOT to feed them unless they are completely depleted of stores and the weather is not permitting them to forage. In any case, sugar, or worse, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP should not be fed to bees, unless you are absolutely desperate. Feed Bee Tea and Honey. Thanks for bringing this issue to our attention.

  2. Linda, you are absolutely right. If your bees are feeding themselves, and if you have no reason to force reproduction rates, there is no reason to supplement them, particularly when they are even managing to put by honey stores. Much of the common wisdom in beekeeping comes to us from the commercial model, and is unsuited to the small holding/backyard beekeeper. Worse, it comes to us from pre-Varroa, pre-Nosema, pre-industrial agriculture and its industrial agri-spray regimes. In our club recently our state apiculturist reminded us that unless we are forcing colonies to meet pollination contracts, feeding pollen patties in our area is entirely unnecessary (our bees bring in pollen most of the year) and may be harmful (as commercially available pollens and pollen substitutes may be worse than no pollen at all). Up here on the 49th parallel, we have a long winter dearth when even thrifty bees can starve out by the return of the nectar flows, or in the late winter rains. So we feed when they are light, and when they may be able to reach a food source over the cluster (warmed by the cluster), but not beside the cluster, and when they need medication delivered via syrup. But once April arrives, the bees have plentiful field nectars to grow on. If you are not trying to boost colony populations to make splits and pollination contracts, the bees can manage quite well, and nectar is superior to syrup as a bee food. Feeding past that date increases your swarm risk.

  3. For you, Wester Wilson, the nectar flow begins in April. For us, the first nectar is available in March. I also think the bees are smart. Last year at this time, the hives were full of drones and we were getting swarm calls. This year there are drone cells but I haven't seen a drone yet. Some of my beekeeping friends have seen a few but not a lot. Swarm season will be later this year than it was last year. How can we presume to know what the bees instinctively know: when to build up the hive population?

  4. Parabéns pelo blog!

    Sou criador de abelhas sem ferrão no Brasil,e acho muito interessante os assuntos ligados as abelhas em geral.

    Paulo Romero.
    Meliponário Braz.

  5. d jones11:07 AM

    I too believe your comments are totally correct for the backyard beekeeper.
    We backyard/hobby beeks need to evaluate very carefully anything said about beekeeping from a commercial beekeeper standpoint.
    Sugar syrup is bad enough, but sometime necessary; but the use of high fructose corn syrup is just plain crazy.

  6. I keep bees in UK and totally agree. The time to feed the bees is in the autumn. I feed them enough to see them through the winter and then to build up in the spring.

  7. And if you've left enough honey on the hive going into autumn/winter, you don't need to feed them then, either.


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