For various reasons, beekeepers may feed sugar to bees. I think the reasons for this are worth exploring and explaining on this website.
Every now and then, I hear people criticising this practice, and the reason
for this criticism, though generally well-intentioned due to concern for the
welfare of honey bees, is usually down to an incomplete understanding.
It is true that honey is not a wasteful by-product made by bees for the sake of it.
Honey is actually the winter food stores made by honey bees, so that they have sufficient food to feed the colony through the winter - see Why Do Bees Make Honey.
However, it is not true that all beekeepers only feed sugar to bees for selfish reasons.
If you are concerned about the welfare of bees, and are worried about honey bees being exploited, I recommend you:
Let’s consider the reasons why a responsible beekeeper, who cares about their bees, would feed them sugar. Here are some reasons:
1. Hopefully, winter feeding will not be necessary if a beekeeper has left sufficient honey behind in the hive for the bees to consume. However, in times of poor, very wet summers, bees will have less opportunity to forage, and flowers may have a poor season. Ask any horticulturalist, and they will confirm that weather can have a severe impact on their outdoor flower crops. A couple of warm, sunny weeks may not be enough for a colony of bees to gather sufficient nectar to build up honey stores. It only takes a miserable winter, following a poor summer, and the bees could be at risk. For this reason, beekeepers step in and feed the bees with sugar.
2. If beekeepers remove a crop of honey from the hive for their own consumption (that is, a portion of the honey), the beekeeper will compensate, by providing sugar.
3. Beekeepers may feed a colony early in the year to ‘get the bees going’ and arguably when the spring flowers are possibly not as abundant as is ideal. Feeding encourages the queen to lay brood in order that there are more workers to gather nectar when the flowers are in full bloom. Not all beekeepers agree with this practice however, particularly the more ‘hands off’, or ‘natural’ beekeepers.
I think part of the problem is that honey is seen by many people as a cheap commodity, (rather than the precious, premium and even luxury ingredient it should be, in my view). We have become far too accustomed to the supermarket ‘see it piled high, get it cheap’ mentality, or in other words, appreciating the price of everything and the value of nothing. So, if we want to reverse this, let’s try and buy honey in a responsible manner, and be prepared to support good beekeeping practice.
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