Winter in on Honey

Lets start with a quote:
”The best food for feeding bees in the winter is, of course, the one they make for themselves: their own honey.” (1)
Its really a no brainer that the best food for bees is honey so its strange that there is a need for a discussion around the topic, but if one makes a search one get several opinions, mainly:

  1. Honey is toxic for bees so it must be removed before winter
  2. Sugar is better winterfood for bees so it must be removed before winter
  3. Sugar is equal to honey and some honey can be dangerous for bees so it must be removed before winter

I have yet to find any scientific evidence for any of the claims but many people claim their many years of proven experience. Some tried to cough up an explanation that sugar contain all the nutritions that bees need, namely sugar. Clearly they have mixed up energy with nutritions since sugar is energy but nutritions are all the other stuff they need such as minerals, vitamins and such. My personal belief is that we want the honey for ourselves and in order to “silence” our conscience we make up an explanation that sugar is so so good for the bees.

Statement 1 and 2 is so ridicolous that I will spend no time to argue but meerly conclude that the bees have survived for at leas 50 millions of year – would they really have developed a toxic food for themselves but super good for humans? So Kamikaze pilots then but really poor ones since they needed humans to help them succeed.
Put your hand on your heart – dpes anyone really truly believe that Honey is toxic for bees?
Statement 3 is not so easily dismissed because it is clearly possible that something would work as good as honey and it is true that some honey can not be used as winter food, Canola and cement honey will crystalize so hard that loads of water is needed. And water is limited during winter and hence not possible to use them as winter food. But toxic they are not since it is perfect to use as summer food (I will address Heather honey in another article).

So what does science have to say?
First study (2) compared life expectance if bees were fed honey as baseline (its the best), sugarwater, inverted syrup and then some mixtures to add proteins. Lo and behold Honey gave the longest life and no damages the bees intestines but sugar and the other stuff gave shorter life and varying degree of internal damages. Inverted sugar less bad but only if done with enzymes, as the bees does. If acid was used as inverter then it was toxic for the bees.

2nd study showed how the gene expression was impacted by different food and, again, honey was best while sugar gave gave changes to the gene expression and the functionality of the genes, corn syrup being absolute worst for the bees.

The 3rd study (4) is the gamechanger – many of us know that the bees have very special lactid bacteria in fresh honey but they die when the honey is loosing the water. However, the sudy shows that the antibacterial substances they produce is still in the honey and is used as the bees immune defence. Now, those bacterias live in the bellie of the bees so its fair to assume that they would work also on sugar diet but the study shows that thet thrive on honey but die on sugar. The article I use is published in Swedish bee keepers journal but just search on Tobias Olofsson and hes work to read more of hes research.

Lets summarize, Bees can survive on sugar but they live shorter, their gene expression will be damaged, and we rob them on their immune defense by taking all honey. The fact that bees does survive on sugar is more linked to the fact that bees are a really strong organism that survives despite human interactions – not because of.

Our experiences to winter in with honey gives us really healthy and stron bees that produces supper good – less than 50 kg from a hive is rare. So from our point of view it is a no-brainer to winter in on honey because they produce enough so it cover both what the bees need and a share for us. The few occasions where we, due to poor management/poor harvest have given them only sugar it always backfire the year after with a poor spring development and a poor harvest. We started this method 6-7 years ago and we have had no winter losses since and due to quick spring development of the colonies we even get an early summer harvest.

Lastly but not leastly – the quote in the beginning comes from Dadant who have sold bee equipment for 150 years – now that is a solid experience.
Bertha the Bee fully agrees with Family Dadant.




(5) ”The presence of fresh nectar and pollen has a positive effect on the development of the bee brood, and thus the strength of honey bee colonies and their subsequent productivity (Mladenovic et al., 1999).