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  1. #1
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    Default Overwintering Bees on Honey?

    Hi there, I have a question about the issues surrounding feeding bees syrup for fall/spring feeding. I've heard there are beekeepers who leave enough honey with the bees to overwinter on, or keep some aside and feed it back to them. I would rather do this, based on the reading I've done that syrup is not as good as honey for the bee's nutrition (makes sense to let them eat their harvest doesn't it?! I know, we need that honey to live too!).

    However, I'm up in Manitoba in the Canadian prairies (ie. long cold winters). I've been told that canola honey, which is a predominant crop here and is one of the last flows before fall, really granulates which makes it almost impossible for the bees to use through winter and can also cause dysentry?

    Looking for advice or ideas or anyone who uses this approach and how to go about it? Take off the canola honey and feed them back some set-aside earlier flow honey? What is possible, what is feasible?

    Thanks so much.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Overwintering Bees on Honey?

    Most people do leave enough honey on the hives to over winter. Here in the Colorado high country we leave on about 120 lbs. Trying to feed them through the winter would be a bit of a challenge..especially in Canada.
    Life is tough, but it's tougher when you're stupid. John Wayne

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Overwintering Bees on Honey?

    Don't live in Canada but have ready many posts. Bees eat more honey to stay warm and take "relief" flights. Canadian beeks with huge amounts of hives store them in large barns with some temp and humidity control and the building is in total darkness until spring. Temp control is to keep the bees above freezing (don't remember the exact temp...40?). Humidy control is done with the use of vented fans to keep the moisture down.
    De Colores,
    Ken

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Overwintering Bees on Honey?

    Ah, the on-going debate of honey vs. sugar syrup. I'm on the side of harvesting honey to sell and buying sugar syrup to feed as a replacement as it's needed. It's more economical but I also leave a good amount of honey.

    Some of the guys around here don't harvest any honey in the fall, but wait until the spring to take what the bees didn't need.

    Grant
    Jackson, MO http://maxhoney.homestead.com

    .
    Beekeeping With Twenty-five Hives: https://www.createspace.com/4152725

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Overwintering Bees on Honey?

    Quote Originally Posted by curiousgeorge View Post
    However, I'm up in Manitoba in the Canadian prairies (ie. long cold winters). I've been told that canola honey, which is a predominant crop here and is one of the last flows before fall, really granulates which makes it almost impossible for the bees to use through winter and can also cause dysentry?

    Thanks so much.
    You better believe it. Canola honey in an over-wintering hive is really bad news. It turns to concrete and the bee are not able to eat it and subsequently starve. But I don't think it causes dysentry.

    I take off all of my honey leaving behind what is only in the brood chamber and feed them sugar syrup in the fall. The honey they get from that makes good winter feed provided they can ripen it before it gets cold.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Overwintering Bees on Honey?

    It turns to concrete and they are not able to eat it and subsequently starve.
    That's odd, my in-law's bees in France eat the crystalized colza (canola) honey.

    Aren't candy-boards (which prevent bees from starving) more dense than canola honey...

    BeeCurious
    5 hives and 8 nucs................... Trying to think inside the box...

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Overwintering Bees on Honey?

    Quote Originally Posted by Grant View Post
    Ah, the on-going debate of honey vs. sugar syrup. I'm on the side of harvesting honey to sell and buying sugar syrup to feed as a replacement as it's needed. It's more economical but I also leave a good amount of honey.

    Some of the guys around here don't harvest any honey in the fall, but wait until the spring to take what the bees didn't need.

    Grant
    Jackson, MO http://maxhoney.homestead.com

    .
    Not to get too off-subject, and not trying to be disrespectful in any way, but I'm genuinely curious- has the rising costs of nucs/package bees for spring replacement made it somewhat less "economical" to harvest almost all honey in the fall and replace with sugar syrup? I'm going on the assumption that honey is better for the bee's overall health then sugar syrup- I don't have any scientific data to validate this belief, but it's just an instinctual "hunch" that although the two substances might be similar on a molecular basis, the sugar syrup lacks some of the minerals and micronutrients that bees need. After all, they evolved on a diet of honey, not sugar.

    So my assumption is: more honey= healthier bees= better overwintering rates. With the cost of replacement bees now so high, does that tilt the economics towards leaving more honey for the bees in the winter? Again, I'm not trying to criticize- I'm just a hobbyist beekeeper, but I'm a vegetable farmer for a living, so I'm always curious about the economics of agriculture. I would love to hear how the larger commercial beekeepers are adjusting strategies to cope with heavy winter losses.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Overwintering Bees on Honey?

    Hey curiousgeorge:

    I see this was your first post, welcome.
    You mention you are in northern Manitoba but your info. tag says Vancouver?
    BIG difference in the way bees are kept between the two places.
    I would agree with Jack, better to remove the fall honey and feed given the conditions you describe.
    What I have done is pull frames of capped honey during the summer (creating brood room) and then put those frames back in the light hives in the fall, harvesting the goldenrod honey that granulates quickly as well.

    Perry

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Overwintering Bees on Honey?

    Quote Originally Posted by BeeCurious View Post
    That's odd, my in-law's bees in France eat the crystalized colza (canola) honey.

    Aren't candy-boards (which prevent bees from starving) more dense than canola honey...

    In OP, Curious George, and myself are Manitoba beekeepers. Our bees are "confined to barracks" for five or six months with no opportunity to leave the hine and fetch the water they would need to extract the energy contained in candy board or granulated honey.

    Bee cannot utilize the energy of sugar when it exists in the solid form. It must be dissolved in water first so that they can suck it up through a straw called a "proboscis". Mammals (such as us) are the same, but we mix water with hard sugar in our stomachs and utilize the sugar in its dissolved form from there. Bees and many other insects cannot do that. The dissolving of sugar must take place outside their bodies.

    If your French in-laws' hive are using canola honey, it may not be pure canola honey. In addition, the bees are probably using warmer days to collect water that they would use to dissolve granualated honey or candy bars.

    Here in the Canadian Prairies, a hive may be surrounded by thousands of acres of canola so the honey is very "monofloral". It tastes really good and makes wonderful creamed honey - if you can get it out in time. It hardens almost as fast as concrete on a hot day - and when it does - the bees have a hard time robbing them out without damaging the comb.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Overwintering Bees on Honey?

    Quote Originally Posted by jjt42 View Post
    Not to get too off-subject, and not trying to be disrespectful in any way, but I'm genuinely curious- has the rising costs of nucs/package bees for spring replacement made it somewhat less "economical" to harvest almost all honey in the fall and replace with sugar syrup?

    I'm going on the assumption that honey is better for the bee's overall health then sugar syrup- I don't have any scientific data to validate this belief, but it's just an instinctual "hunch" that although the two substances might be similar on a molecular basis, the sugar syrup lacks some of the minerals and micronutrients that bees need. After all, they evolved on a diet of honey, not sugar.
    For your information, Canadian beekeepers are not able to import package bees from the States (although they can import Queens), so we must be self sufficient as far as our base stock. That means the some of us (those on the Prairies) must overwinter our bees under some noteably harsh conditions such as cold and unbroken winters. Although there are some beekeepers that sell nucs in the spring, it is an expensive way to make up for an abnormal winter loss. A cost of a single nuc in Manitoba can purchase about 140 kg of sugar. A spring hive overwintered on a third of that amount of sugar can be split into two or sometime three nucs at an additional cost of about $25 per queen.

    Good quality honey makes very good feed as you say, but there is honey and there is honey. Not all of it reflects the honey that bees have gathered traditionally in Italy or North Eastern Europe. The Prairie winters are not natural either. Neither are the modern pests or diseases. Neither is it natural for bees to be foraging on thousands of acres of a single crop such as canola so artificial intervention is needed if you want to remain in the business or hobby of keeping bees. It is rare for a swarm here to survive overwinter on its own and nearly impossible for two.

    Sugar syrup is chemically identical to the nectar that bees gather but the nectar has other things in it in addition to the sugar and water. Those other things are "undigestables" which build up in a bee's intestinal tract which are ejected during on a day warm enough to fly. But our bees are cooped up inside the hive for five or six months and we all know what happens if we can't go the bathroom either.

    Poor quality honey gives bee "the runs". Quality can be poor if it contains a lot of indigestibles or too much water. Granulated honey, for reasons that I don't want to go into here, contains too much water for the bees.

    In other words, honey derived from sugar syrup, if it has been ripened properly, makes better winter stores for Prairie beekeepers than the honey derived from the canola nectar.

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Overwintering Bees on Honey?

    Jack B. Nimble-

    Thanks for all of the good information. It amazes me that both you and your bees can deal with that harsh climate.

    I wholeheartedly agree with your comments questioning how "natural" beekeeping is it all. As a vegetable grower, I always get a smile when a new batch of summer interns comes in because they want to "get back to nature". Yes, there is more nature on a farm then in an office or classroom I suppose, but even though I am a "certified naturally grown" producer, there is really very little "natural" about agriculture at all...stright rows of crops, all bred over decades and hundreds of years to produce traits desirable to us- not necessarily for their own well-being. There are ways to go about it more "naturally" of course, but in the end, any time you delibrately cultivate soil and plant a seed in the ground, you are trying to bring manmade control to the natural order of things.

    Beekeeping is no different. It may be more "natural" to let bees swarm or exist solely on their own honey, but if their survival rates are very slim in doing so, you're not helping the bees any. For me, it's all about trying to find that balance between exerting your control over things, while whenever possible allowing for the bees (or plants/livestock/etc.) to do what they naturally would do. It sounds like beekeepers like yourself- living in a harsher climate, surrounded by monoculture, have to make more compromises not only for your own sake, but for the well-being of the bees as well.

    Sorry to hijack this thread (and get all philosophical!). Thanks again for the info.

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Overwintering Bees on Honey?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jack B. Nimble View Post
    I take off all of my honey leaving behind what is only in the brood chamber and feed them sugar syrup in the fall. The honey they get from that makes good winter feed provided they can ripen it before it gets cold.
    Quote Originally Posted by Jack B. Nimble View Post
    In other words, honey derived from sugar syrup, if it has been ripened properly, makes better winter stores for Prairie beekeepers than the honey derived from the canola nectar.
    Honey is made from flower nectar, not from sugar syrup.
    Sugar syrup can collected and be stored into the comb cells by the bees, it can be evaporated and capped....but that doesn't make it 'honey'. It would fail any honey purity test and be identified for exactly what it is- sugar syrup or corn syrup.
    That's why beekeepers are not supposed to feed while the honey supers are on...because what they get in the combs from that is syrup, not honey.
    The little bee returns with evening's gloom,
    To join her comrades in the braided hive... -Tennyson

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Overwintering Bees on Honey?

    Honey makes good late winter feed. I feed nucs honey that get short during the winter. Less moisture than 2-1.

  14. #14
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    Default Re: Overwintering Bees on Honey?

    Quote Originally Posted by Omie View Post
    Honey is made from flower nectar, not from sugar syrup.
    Sugar syrup can collected and be stored into the comb cells by the bees, it can be evaporated and capped....but that doesn't make it 'honey'. It would fail any honey purity test and be identified for exactly what it is- sugar syrup or corn syrup.
    That's why beekeepers are not supposed to feed while the honey supers are on...because what they get in the combs from that is syrup, not honey.
    The commonly accepted definition of honey (sold to humans as a food product under the name of "honey") can include other sources of sugar such as the secretions of aphids (aphid pee). So in a way, you are right.

    However to a honeybee, these regulations do not apply. Honey, the way I am referring to, is the natural digestive product of the honey bee of any source of sucrose. Flowers are a common source of sucrose. So are sugar canes and sugar beets which are extracted, boiled down, and sold as table sugar. Sugar syrup from a chemical point of view is chemically identical to nectar without nectar's trace amounts of aromatics and "undigestibles".

    When a bee applies its digestive enzymes to sucrose (or sugar syrup), the sucrose is broken down into the more soluable sugar building blocks such as fructose and glucose. It is then to honey bee - honey and not sugar syrup. To us, it may test like a very bland form of honey. To the consumer, it is not honey. But to the bee, it is honey. It may be unripened honey but it is honey.

    The problem of using natural honeys as winter feed is that some of them result from nectars that have a high concentrations of glucose which does not like to remain in the water so the resultant honey granulates very quickly. Canola honey is like that.

    In any case, table sugar is too expensive to feed to bees during a honey flow. Nectar is free! While it might be a bit more romantic to think that bees will do better using their hard earned honey for winter feed, the facts are that they will die on it in the Canadian Prairies if it contains too much canola honey.

    None of it ever gets sold as honey. The bees consume most of their winter feed over the winter. Whatever comb is emptied over the winter is used from brood space and remaining stores of "sugar syrup derived honey" is used for spring feed. We put on empty supers for the honey flow so it can be assured that when consumers buy our honey, it is the honey derived from flowers as they are led to believe. They can also be assured that the bees were fed what they needed to survive.

    I am not, in any way advocating this for everyone. It is just the reality of dealing with our long and cold winters here are unforgiving of any less than nearly perfect winter feed. Making sugar syrup is expensive and labour intensive. Good quality honey is just fine for many people and there are Manitoba beekeepers believe so as well. However, they won't be doing it with canola honey.
    Last edited by Jack B. Nimble; 11-19-2010 at 12:41 PM. Reason: forgot link

  15. #15
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    Default Re: Overwintering Bees on Honey?

    I am a fresh beekeeper in Norway, where there is also a long and cold winter.
    Just wanted to second Mr. Nimble.

    We are encouraged to give the bees sugar as winter-feed since it has less solids.
    If they cannot get out on a cleansing flight when their abdomen is full, they are forced to use the inside of the hive as a restroom. This increases the risk of dysentry and also creates a real mess that has to be cleaned up.s

    Myself, I live in the warmer west-coast, and plan on giving them mostly honey.
    I believe water will not be a problem, as the winter tend to be mostly rain anyways.:-)

    Guess it comes down to the old "location-location-location".

  16. #16
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    Default Re: Overwintering Bees on Honey?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jack B. Nimble View Post
    ...Bee cannot utilize the energy of sugar when it exists in the solid form. It must be dissolved in water first so that they can suck it up through a straw called a "proboscis".....
    Good point Jack. But what about those using the "Mountain Camp" method of feeding dry granulated sugar to bees? I am told this is a successful way to feed bees, but I have never tried it myself. This method is used to prevent late winter starvation when the bees can't fly due to the cold.

    Where are the bees getting the water to disolve this sugar? I was told they get it from condensation within the hive itself. Ok. Makes sense. But if that's true then why can't they use the same water from condensation to reliquify crystalised honey or candy board?
    Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss you`ll be among the stars!

  17. #17
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    Default Re: Overwintering Bees on Honey?

    I have never tried feeding dry sugar to my bees. I once did try giving them a block of candy, however for the most part, they ignored it as they had plenty of honey anyways. Opening the hive and disturbing them put them back badly and I haven't tried it since.

    If one feeds dry sugar to bees and the sugar dissappears, then it can only because they are either carrying it away or out, or they have some source of water to dissolve it. The only source of water in a confined hive would be condensation.

    However ..... that assumes the temperatures inside the hive are warm enough that they can break the cluster to access the condensation and then the sugar. A bee would only do that if it had no honey closer. All the hives that I have seen that have died over the winter in Manitoba still had honey inside the hive. The bees starved not because there was no honey available, but because they could not break the cluster to reach it. It is truely a sad sight to see all the bees and their queen frozen in a tight cluster formation with honey only half an inch away in all directions. Dry sugar place upon a newspaper over the combs would not have saved them from these kind of winter demise. Therefore, I would think the Mountain Camp method when it works, would work best when the hive that is completely empty, is strong, is located in a milder climate, or all of the above.

    The same would also apply to using granulated honey. Because the sugars in granulated honey are more easily dissolved, granulated honey would be easier to utilize this way.

    However, before bees got that desperate, they would be licking the residual moisture out between the crystals of glucose (the granuals). When honey granulates, as the granuals form (actually crystals of glucose), the honey between the crystals would increase both in water and indigestible content. Since the bees would be eating that first, by the time they got desperate enough to dissolve the crystals of glucose, they would already be suffering from the excess water and the indigestibles. Not only would the excess water rob them of precious heat, but they would be defecating the indigestable all over the frames to relieve themselves.

    It is a terrible way to die. I've seen them go out on suicide flights in sub-zero temperatures just so that they leave their mess inside the hive. Those are the consequences of poor quality winter feed.

  18. #18
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    Default Re: Overwintering Bees on Honey?

    Thanks so much for all your thoughts and replies. So: in cold Northern climates, feed syrup. Seems to be the only way.

    New question: this is getting a little more political/ethical than I'd like to get on here, but... are there any alternatives to HFCS? Related reading I've been doing is showing that basically corn is evil! The whole monoculture/processed food machine thing.

    I'm also thinking, a lot of natural/health food-conscious customers wouldn't want their honey to be supported by the whole Corn Industry... since that demographic is important for selling quality honey at a high price.

    What other types of sugar/syrup can you feed your bees, and if any, how do they compare as far as price and nutrition go?

    Thanks again for your thoughts and advice.

  19. #19
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    Default Re: Overwintering Bees on Honey?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jack B. Nimble View Post
    Honey, the way I am referring to, is the natural digestive product of the honey bee of any source of sucrose. Flowers are a common source of sucrose. So are sugar canes and sugar beets which are extracted, boiled down, and sold as table sugar. Sugar syrup from a chemical point of view is chemically identical to nectar without nectar's trace amounts of aromatics and "undigestibles".
    When a bee applies its digestive enzymes to sucrose (or sugar syrup), the sucrose is broken down into the more soluable sugar building blocks such as fructose and glucose. It is then to honey bee - honey and not sugar syrup. To us, it may test like a very bland form of honey. To the consumer, it is not honey. But to the bee, it is honey. It may be unripened honey but it is honey.
    I read your post carefully, but I still strongly disagree with calling it Honey when bees put processed sugar syrup into the cells and cap it for later consumption. It's not the same thing as honey, and can't (legally) be labeled or sold as honey either. Honey is the substance bees make from flower nectar. That's the very definition of honey. (not talking about 'honeydew honey' from aphid excretions here)
    Hey I'm not saying people shouldn't feed sugar syrup to their bees if they need to or want to (I've fed it to my new nucs too), I just think it's misleading and incorrect to call it 'honey' in any way shape or form, even as a casual reference in conversation. I also don't feel that the only difference between flower nectar and sugar syrup or corn syrup is a trace amount of 'indigestables'- implying useless waste. Not trying to start a debate with you, just stating my own views on it.

    And George- I think you are smart to be considering the natural/healthfood conscious segment of your honey customers who indeed would be turned off by learning the bees that produced their honey were being fed frequently on corn syrup. Like it or not, there is a very real backlash against corn syrup (and GMO corn) in food now amongst the more health-conscious food buyers and markets. That trend is likely to continue to grow and to ignore it altogether would be foolish.
    I myself would pay more for honey from bees that I knew were never fed corn syrup, and i'm sure most of my friends would as well. I alone spent $75 on local honey last year, just for my own family's consumption. I'm hoping to get my own honey next year!
    The little bee returns with evening's gloom,
    To join her comrades in the braided hive... -Tennyson

  20. #20
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    Default Re: Overwintering Bees on Honey?

    There has been some debate on the difference between sugar water and honey for bee health. Unfortunately no really good research has been done. So basically it is very opinion based.

    It only makes sense that sugar water is far inferior to the long term health of the bee.

    Nectar contains hundreds of phytochemicals (1000's of chemicals plants make besides vitamins) that most likely act to support normal physiology of the bees. Bees evolved on the phytochemical diversity of nectar, not the man made pure sugar water. Some research has suggested it is the pH of the sugar water that causes disturbances in the GI tract of the bees ultimately effecting the health of the bees. Makes sense because bees have two stomachs one for digestion and one for the fermentation process of making honey out of nectar.
    Phytochemicals give the aroma and taste of honey. It only makes sense bees in some way rely on these phytochemicals for long term health and survival. Yes they can live on pure sugar water but it probably has a small negative influence on the long term health of the bees. Thankfully they get enough nectar in the spring and summer to maybe make up for any problems from feeding sugar water in case of emergency.

    I do not mean to be so opinionated but my job consists of discovering how the phytochemicals are now being regarded as very essential to human health even though they were recently thought to be unnecessary. I just think we are making the same mistake in relation to the health of bees that we make with humans.

    It surprises me that there is not any good research focused in this critical area of bee nutrition. Probably too much incentive to steel the honey for profit and feed cheap refined sugar.

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