Posted in beekeeping, Essays on beekeeping

Berenbaum: Effects of feeding sugar rather than honey show unintended consequences


The sugar water/corn syrup/fruitcose vs. honey debate for feeding your bees is a long-standing one.

A bee on the buckwheat. Photo by Doug Hardwick
A bee on the buckwheat. Buckwheat is a good late summer-early fall feeding plant for your bees. Photo by Doug Hardwick

 

Recently, I found a Scientific American podcast interview from 2009 in which May Berenbaum, University of Illinois entomologist and bee researcher, discussed that very question with Steve Mirsky of Scientific American.

Here are some of the main points Berenbaum made:

  • Honeybee grubs (baby bees) eat a mixture of pollen and honey we call “bee bread.”
  • Sugar doesn’t provide bees with some of the enzymes that help bees process plant chemicals.
  • Brenebaum: “. . . feeding on nectar or honey derived from nectars [is a] very different proposition from feeding on other types of plant tissue because plants load up their vulnerable tissues with chemicals, you know, natural pesticides, so that insects won’t eat them, but they want insects to eat nectar; that’s the whole point [of nectar].”
  • When you substitute a natural food for an artificial one, there may unintended consequences.

Berenbaum has been awarded one of the 10 National Science Medals by President Barack Obama.

The beekeeper in this corner is a big advocate of honey over sugar water in this debate. It’s a lot easier to leave honey in the hive than to take it off and then have to feed them sugar water to get them through the next season. Sometimes that’s not possible, of course, and you do what you can to keep your bees alive. But beekeeper should think ahead and keep as much honey on the hive as possible.

They should also try to provide their bees with plants to feed on during as much of the year (Year-around (almost) blooms for the bees) as possible.

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Below is the transcript to this part of the interview, and you can hear the entire interview at this link.

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