Don't Feed Your Bees
|Honey bee enjoying an Ingrid Bergman hybrid tea rose|
From Robert Pavlis, Editor of GardenMyths.com with thanks to Jolene Adams, chief consulting rosarian for the Northern California, Nevada, and Hawaii district of the American Rose Society.
A Garden Myth is Born
by Robert Pavlis
I don’t know who started the myth, but someone created it on their Facebook page – anyone can do that. They then posted it on some public sites and people shared the post. After all, everybody cares about the bees and we really don’t want to die in 4 years.
The post went viral. I saw it on several gardening groups and right away people posted that they would do this – it is the least they could do to save the bee. People even posted pictures of bees drinking from spoons containing water and sugar. I wonder if the author of this myth is sitting in front of their computer, laughing their head off?
One of the problems with this post is that they included the name, Sir David Attenborough, a well-known broadcaster and naturalist. The BBC looked into the matter and determined it was all fake news, so they asked Facebook to take down the post.
They not only removed the original post, but many of the shared posts have also disappeared. As far as I can tell Sir David Attenborough never said anything about bees and feeding them sugar.
What Is The Harm in a Little Fun?
It seems like no big deal, but it is more serious than you might think. Millions of people have now seen the information and they believe you should feed bees. Very few will see my post and other news items that dispel the myth. They will go on believing the myth, and for the next 100 years, they will be telling their children and grandchildren to feed the bees. You can’t kill a myth once it starts.
Does feeding bees with sugar water do any harm? Yes, it does. I’ll discuss several issues in more detail below, but a serious problem is that some people can’t follow instructions. They have morphed the myth into a better solution; feed the bees with honey and that can be deadly for bees.
Are Bees Dying?
The post says “In the last 5 years the bee population has dropped by 1/3”. Which bee population are they talking about? Honey bees? Native bees?
Honey bee populations have not declined over the last 5 years. There were larger losses than normal this past winter in North America, but that was due to the cold weather. Overall, honey bee populations are on the rise.
Native bee populations are probably down, but we don’t have enough data to reach any conclusion. The data used in the post is completely fabricated.
Without Bees, We Will Die in Four Years
Honey bees are not dying – the numbers are on the increase, and since they are farmed animals we can make more new hives without too much trouble.
Even if all the bees died, we would still have other food to eat. This 4-year thing is nonsense.
Do Bees Need To Be Fed?
The proper way to feed bees – use flowers. Beekeepers do feed their hives in the middle of winter if the stored food in the hive runs out, and they do use sugar solutions. But this is done because there are no flowers open at this time of year to feed the bees. They don’t normally feed sugar water to bees during the rest of the year.
If the bees’ foraging trips are so exhausting don’t you think that beekeepers would have a bowl of sugar water waiting for them at the hive? They don’t need an extra feeding of sugar.
Why Do Some Bees Look Exhausted?
One Beekeeper put it this way, “Bees can and will die from exhaustion, but making sugary food sources
available to save lethargic bees may be doing more damage than good.”
Can a Little Sugar Water Harm The Bees?
Bees don’t need to be fed, but feeding them a bit of sugar water from a spoon won’t do any harm provided this is a one-time thing. The problem is that people have expanded on the myth. If a bit of sugar water for an exhausted bee is good, then a lot of sugar water for all the bees must be better.
People are starting to leave out bowls full of the stuff, or even adding it to their bird baths.
Beekeepers warn that this can have serious consequences. Bees take short cuts. If they can get sugar easily from a bowl rather than visiting a hundred flowers, they will do that. Upon returning to the hive they’ll tell their buddies and the rest of the colony to do the same. Before you know it, you have hundreds of bees.
Not a big deal you say, but the bees store this sugar water in the hive along with the honey. They effectively make watered down honey. That is not good for the bees and nobody wants to buy watered down honey. Beekeepers are asking you not to do this.
What Is Wrong With Feeding Honey To Bees?
Honey can contain spores of a bacteria called Paenibacillus which causes AFD (American Foul Brood disease). It is deadly to bees. The honey you feed to the bee will be taken back to the hive. If your honey contains this pathogen, there is a good chance it will infect the whole hive. In Australia it is illegal to feed
honey to bees. The treatment for this horrible disease is to burn the whole hive, including the bees.
The disease is fairly rare, but it does happen. Honey should never be fed to bees in your garden. Let
them feed on flowers!
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