If you have a bee colony, you are naturally invested in those bees’ health and vigor — I can tell you from experience that it’s very disheartening to go out to your bee hive for an inspection only to find they are in poor health, dying, or have outright absconded. So, one might think, “It’s a good thing to give my bees sugar water — my hummingbirds love it!” And one would sort of be correct.
But here’s the thing — bees are different, and so their care must reflect that. There are a few reasons why you’d want to supplement their food source with sugar water, but it’s important to know what those are, when it’s a good time to feed them, and how you should feed them.
When Sugar Water is Good for Bees
Hint: The answer is not, “whenever you feel like it” or “because it seems like a good idea.” You know how, when you’re pruning a tree, you always prune with a purpose and a goal in mind? The same is true for feeding your bees. And above all, do not believe posts on social media urging you to put out bowls of sugar water or syrup on your patio or in your garden (we’ll get to that in a minute, but trust me, it’s a bad idea).
So under what conditions is it recommended to feed your bees?
- When you get a new colony of bees and they need a little help to get going — there’s no stored food in their hive yet, so giving them some sugar syrup can be a good thing.
- When it’s the middle of the winter and the bees don’t have enough stored food in their hive — and there are no flowers around to feed them.
Bees that run out of food can die within a few days, and it’s up to you to monitor the situation to avoid this happening.
How You Should Feed Them
Back to the social media posts about putting out bowls of sugar water or spoon feeding syrup to exhausted bees — don’t believe everything you read online, because in this case, it can do much more harm than good. Why?
- Bees that have access to sugar syrup won’t forage for nectar in flowers — they’ll take the path of least resistance.
- It’s almost never necessary (apart from the reasons above) to feed them. If a bee looks exhausted, there’s a high likelihood it’s simply at the end of its lifecycle. Feeding it sugar syrup on a spoon won’t change that outcome.
- Putting sugar syrup out in the open doesn’t only feed your bees, it feeds bees from other hives. Then they all go back home and bring their friends back for the free meal, and now you’ve got lots of bees on your back patio. No, thank you!
- Bees take the sugar syrup back to the hive and store it with their honey, effectively watering down the honey. Nobody wants watered down honey, neither the bees or you.
So, how should you feed them (if you determined that it’s necessary, of course)? Place it in the hive, and do it in the evening when the bees are calm. If you’re not a beekeeper, then your takeaway here is, “Don’t feed the bees sugar syrup.” Back away from the sugar syrup, friends — it’s not necessary!
…But I’m Worried About Declining Bee Populations!
I know you are, but here’s the thing — the honeybee population is actually not declining, it’s slightly rising. While it’s a bit of a complicated issue, the phrase “colony collapse disorder” or CCD has been used incorrectly to describe the death of some bee populations by, say, infestations of mites or other health challenges. CCD has not been a huge issue in the bee world since 2011.
So, right now the bees are just fine. But if you’d like to do your part to keep them healthy and make sure they have plenty to eat, first — thank you!