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Honey Bee Nutrition / Supplement

Like all other organisms, Honey bees require a variety of nutrients to prosper.  Although honey provides the simple carbohydrates necessary to generate warmth and to fuel flight, many more compounds and minerals are necessary for proper development of young bees from egg to adult and to maintain optimal health and vigour through adult life within the colony. 

Under ideal conditions, Honey bees will get the necessary nutrients in abundance through pollen collection and will maintain a store of natural pollen in their combs for times when none is available. However, under modern management, Honey bees are kept in areas where they would not naturally do well.  Further, even in good Honey bee areas and in good years, some hives may not have sufficient populations to forage effectively, others may be weakened by viruses or nosema, pesticides or other factors may intervene to prevent full and proper nutrition.

Honey Bees can handle a great deal of adversity, however in order to get the best performance, whether the goal is to produce more Honey bees, more honey or better pollination of crops, the beekeeper must ensure that the Honey bees never go hungry for honey or pollen.  Good nutrition goes a long way to fending off diseases, winter loss,  and 'mysterious' dwindling.


Why Honey Bees May Need Supplemental Foods

Supplemental foods are fed to honey bees to supply the nutritive requirements of colonies in areas and at times when natural food sources (pollen, nectar, or honey) are inadequate or not available. The brood rearing activity and nutritional state of the colony, the quantity and quality of incoming pollen and nectar, and the food reserves in the hive will determine whether the bees need supplemental foods.


In the South, Southwest, and Southeast, where bees may continue low levels of brood rearing in the winter months, they may require more winter food reserves than colonies in the Northern United States that generally cease brood rearing in late September or October. A colony being prepared for winter in the North should have about six combs containing large areas of stored pollen. Colonies in the southern and southwestern regions may not require as much pollen because of the pollen sources that periodically become available to the bees. Colonies in all regions of the United States should have at least 60 to 90 pounds of honey in the fall.


Normal colonies can be stimulated to have larger populations by providing them with adequate supplemental foods. This feeding should be started 6 to 8 weeks in advance of when package bees or queens are to be produced. Overwintered colonies in the Northern States can be fed supplementary foods early enough to be divided before the major nectar flow or the need for pollination service.


Colonies are usually fed supplemental foods for one or more of the following reasons:

1. To ensure continued colony development in places and times of shortage of natural pollen and nectar.

2. To develop colonies with optimum populations in time for nectar flows.

3. To develop colonies with optimum populations for pollination of crops.

4. To build up colony populations for autumn and spring division.

5. To sustain brood rearing and colony development during inclement weather.

6. To build colonies to high populations for queen and package-bee production.

7. To maintain colonies and extend the season for high drone populations for queen matings.

8. To maintain colonies in feedlot situations.

9. To build up colonies after pesticide losses.

10. To provide adequate food reserves for overwintering colonies.


The first examination of colonies in late winter or early spring should reveal any need for supplementary feeding. Unless the winter is extremely long, colonies provided with adequate food stores in the autumn may not need supplemental foods in the spring. However, before and after flowers bloom, especially if the weather is unusually cold and rainy, colonies may urgently need supplemental foods for subsistence and continued brood rearing until nectar and pollen collection again becomes adequate. A sudden curtailment of nectar and pollen income when brood rearing activities are in progress often causes the adult bee population in colonies to decline.

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