Alternative honey bee nutrition: Beyond sugar syrup

Final Report for FNE12-752

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2012: $14,888.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Dr. Petrusia Kotlar Paslawsky
Linden Hill Farm and Apiary
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Project Information


The general practice of feeding honeybees syrup made of refined sugar, HFCS or other artificial solutions, while highly economical in dearth periods of the year, fails to provide honeybees with the broad range of nutrients which they might find in natural forage. The farmer/beekeeper presents an alternative method of feeding honeybees with syrup that is enriched with a high quality infusion of honey/nectar plant material of the Tilia sp. chosen for its attributes as a natural miticide and medicinal benefits to the immune health of the honeybee.

 Honeybee health variables were measured including varroa infestations, carbohydrate consumption, and winter survival rates.

There was a non-significant trend towards fewer mites in the colonies treated with linden-infused sucrose: controls(HIVES  A  D  G  J) 201.3 + 280.0, sucrose syrup(HIVES B  E  H  K) 157.7 + 121.1, and linden-infused sucrose syrup(HIVES C,F,I,L ) 99.8 + 99.7.

From April-October 2012, fed colonies were offered 104lbs (47.2 kg) syrup or Linden- infused-syrup /colony. The consumed amount/colony ranged between 67.25-95.5 lbs (30.5-43.3kg). Following processing by the honeybee, laboratory testing for quality of the honey product were performed. GC-MS analysis of honey revealed sucrose levels between 0.16-3.91
Average sucrose in honey product was .89% in control( HIVES  A  D  G),3.15% in sucrose syrup(HIVES B  E  H  K) and 2.25% in linden infused syrup(HIVES C,F,I,L)

The highest survival rate from April-December was found to be the colonies fed the Linden-infused syrup (100% survived) while only one control colony survived (25%) during the same time period.  Seventy-five percent of the sugar-syrup fed colonies were alive prior to winter but none were alive by March.  Currently the only colony continuing to survive was treated with Linden infused-syrup.While linden-infused sucrose syrup may have a positive impact on colony health and survivorship, a larger sample size would be required to determine if the impact is statistically significant. As expected, the number of mites in a colony is influenced by how many bees are in the colony.

We expect supplementation with Linden infusion may provide beekeepers with a method to improve colony survivorship as the honey stores going into winter was less in the non-infused(or sucrose syrup) groups compared to the linden infused group.



My ten acre farm in Towaco, NJ consists of 5 acres of natural meadow with indigenous nectar and pollen sources including asters, viburnums, clover, dogrose, goldenrod, ironweed, yarrow, wild grape, chokeberry, red raspberry, blackberry, and bilberry bushes. Apple, cherry, catalba trees are also early sources of nectar. I am a small scale tree farmer specializing in Tilia species (aka Basswood, Linden, Lime) and have planted over 50 trees on the property.I sell 3- 4 ft. seedlings to beekeepers as a valuable mid summer nectar source. This study intends to test quantitatively that linden infusion specifically will improve both the health of the honeybee and the quality of the honey product. Annually, I sow at least a 60X60 field with buckwheat and plant annuals such as sunflower for pollen source. Perennials such as echinacea, Bee Balm, Jerusalem artichoke and mints all thrive on this property and are encouraged for their medicinal value and pollen source. The size of the property and the diversity of the meadow and woodland, pond area and pasture appeared to be the optimal environment in which to observe and test this hypothesis. I have been marketing my Linden tree nursery and its vital connection to the honeybee to specific targeted beekeeper groups as well as the Arbor Day Foundation for several years.
Besides farming the land,  I raise and breed Nigerian Dwarf goats, and keep 2 dozen  chickens of various breeds for personal egg consumption as well as compost, a horse and am a beekeeper since 2004.  I believe in regenerative agriculture and the basic principles of biodynamic farming-one that restores the environment with minimal chemical intervention.

I have  proposed and have the potential to plant a three season bee forage crop on my property to further test what plants would provide alternatives to feeding nectar substitutes to honeybees in the Northeast region. ( The USDA recently granted 3 million dollars to 5 states in the Midwest to test bee forage for that region of the US.)  Since I am a sole practitioner, I would need funding to meet the costs of the seeds, forage management and equipment rentals.

I have teamed up with my technical advisor, Dr. Nancy Ostiguy, Associate Professor of Entomology of Penn State University who originally agreed to count my mites.   Over the last 3 years, Dr. Ostiguy has spent countless hours consulting me on various aspects of the project.  She has interpreted and analyzed all field data, performed monthly Varroa mite counts via Integrated Pest Management method utilizing sticky boards, proofread all reports, compiled a study abstract and charts that were used in our power point presentation that was presented at Apimondia 2013 International Apicultural Congress in Ukraine.  This presentation is available upon request to interested organizations and individuals.  I have learned much from  Dr. Ostiguy and am sincerely grateful and appreciative of her guidance and expertise in this study regarding Bee Health and Honey Bee Nutrition.

Project Objectives:

The study consisted of 12 colonies of honeybees purchased as 3lb. packages from a reputable apiary. All treatments on packages were recorded. A sample of 50 dead bees collected in alcohol from each of the 12 hives were sent to the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, MD to provide a baseline of Varroa, Nosema and trachial mites. During the course of this 2 year study, samples were provided upon death (to USDA) to monitor infestations.  Sticky boards, an Integrative Pest Method were  used for a  5day period once a month on location. The 12 colonies were labled A-L with the control hives randomly placed. The counting of mites by an unbiased individual (technical advisor, Dr. N. Ostiguy of PSU agreed to perform this) presened a double blind study.


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  • Dr. Nancy Ostiguy


Materials and methods:

Each hive consists of (1) 9 frame deep for brood rearing and (1) 9 frame medium was used for surplus. Foundation was plastic coated with beeswax . Each hive contains 1 frame of drawn wax comb to allow the queen to begin laying right after installation. 

The hives were situated in an easterly facing barn/shed, an enclosed structure to protect them from winter freezing as an overwintering hazard and access to the inside of the hives will be available all year round. This design  protected the bees from predators such as bears without the need for electric fencing. Hive entrances were marked with different identifying designs for colony recognition.

12 packages were installed on April 11,2012. The queens were released after the third day. 

TEST GROUP 1- Four colonies were fed with 2 gallon feeder pails placed directly onto frames. The proposed feed was be 1:1 sugar syrup made with sucrose (cane sugar) combined with prepared concentrated infusion of linden flowers and leaves (Tilia sp.) 

TEST GROUP 2- Four colonies will be fed only 1:1 sugar syrup 

TEST GROUP 3- Four colonies will not be fed. 

The feed was increased to a 2:1 syrup beginning Sept. 2012 for winter preparation. 

Linden flowers and leaves (Tilia cordata sp.) is the specific medicinal/nectar plant from which the infusion will be made. It contains Farnesol, a volatile oil which gives Linden flowers its characteristic smell. It is also an antibacterial and natural pesticide against mites. It contains flavonoid glycocides including hesperidin and quercitin, saponins, condensed tannins, mucilage, manganese salts. Abundant flavonoids such as astragalin, isoquercitin, kempferitin, quercitin, tiliroside, hydroxycoumarins also exist in linden. (PDR from Herbal Medicine, Fourth Edition). The concentrated infusion will be two teabags/pint or 16 teabags per gallon of sugar syrup. 

The Bee yard were documented  and utilized a modified summary version of 910531Hive Inspection Sheet.pdf found on the website.(see attached). 
The Bee Visitation log checked for Hive Mood, Queen Location, laying Pattern, Eggs present, Population, Excessive Drone cells, Queen cells, Food Stores, Disease/Pests, IPM, Spring Feeding/Buildup, Honey flow/prep, and Honey Extraction.
Visitation logs kept from 4/12/12 thru 10/26/12.

During the first half of the two year study, tangible variables in determining health of the honeybee have been measured such as monitoring infestations,, measuring carbohydrate consumption, winter survival rates and utilizing Integrative Pest Management, specifically sticky boards. 
 Data  and the Varroa mites counts have been analyzed and interpreted by the technical advisor. As a cooperator of this study, Dr. Nancy Ostiguy, entomologist of Penn State University, has been a helpful and contributing advisor regarding aspects of honey bee health and procedure. I have met with her twice at PSU campus and have had numerous exchanges with her via email and telephone, traveled and spent a week with her at the Apimondia 2013 conference in Kyiv, Ukraine. 

HIVE J was empty (6/18/12)(not dead out)early in the study. 
HIVE H was empty (9/8/12)Possible causes: drifting, absconding, collapse. 

On July 8-10,2012 the honey was extracted manually from 10 out of the twelve hives. Samples were submitted to an independent lab for sugar profile testing using Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry(GC-MS)to check for relative sugar percentages. (see attached)

Research results and discussion:

The study consists of 12 colonies:  4 control hives , 4 fed cane sugar syrup, 4 fed sugar syrup and linden flower infusion.  During the first half of this 2 year study, tangible variables in determining health of the honeybee  have been measured such as monitoring infestations, measuring carbohydrate consumption, winter survival rates, and utilizing  Integrative Pest Management , specifically sticky boards. The 12 colonies were labeled A-L with the control hives randomly placed.  

The Packages arrived at Montville Post Office on Wed. April 11,2012 and all 12 were installed that day.  Dead bees found in travel cages were collected and preserved in 70% alcohol  and sent USDA/ ARS Bee Research laboratory at Beltville, MD (see attached Bee Disease Diagnosis at installation)

Treatments were prepared as follows :

Spring feed was a1:1 sugar syrup                                                           for HIVES         B  E  H  K
Spring feed supplemented with Linden tea extract  and 1:1 sugar syrup            HIVES         C  F  I  L
Controls Hives were not treated or fed at all but allowed to forage                    HIVES          A  D  G  J

Instructions for making supplement:

1 Linden tea bag per 1 cup sugar syrup.
2 gallon buckets feeders were used so 32 cups water in 2 gallons was brought to a boil.  Add 32 Linden tea bags. Steep 20 minutes. Add 32 cups sugar while solution is still warm.

First unexpected incident:  On April 21,2012  HIVE H was not queen right (missing or nonproductive queen)  Called company for a replacement.
HIVE J was showing only 2 frames of bees =poor buildup=weak colony

With every feeding I recorded date of feeding and any unused feed (see attached Feeding schedule document)

Summary of treatment feedings:

In spring of 2012, 8 hives were fed a 1:1 solution of syrup or infused/syrup from April-Aug offering 7 feedings of 16c cane sugar or 8lbs per feeding/hive (X7=56 lbs of sugar /hive).  Fall feeding was 2:1 solution from Sept – late Oct.  offering 3 feedings of 32c. of cane sugar or 16lbs. per feeding/hive (X3=48lbs of sugar/hive).   Total feed offered between April and Oct.  was 104lb./hive.   The consumed  amount ranged between 67.25 lbs. and 95.5lbs of feed.  

My notable observation: the surviving HIVE E consumed the least amount of feed (67.25lbs/year)and had no disease upon death.

Quantitative analysis of the honey  by GC-MS revealed sucrose levels ranging between  0.16-3.91 signifying that invertase converts it to glucose and fructose by the honeybee to some degree.  This test was therefore inconclusive regarding purity of honey when testing for nectar substitutes.  

My notable observation:  the sucrose content of honey collected from all control hives (no treatment) was consistently measured to be below .5 .  Treated colonies with sugar syrup alone measured between .9 and 3.9 or a significant increase of sucrose in the honey product.  Linden supplement treatment had sucrose measurements 1.9-3.4 significantly higher than the controls.  (See attached Sucrose document chart and SLIDE 11 of Power Point)

The highest survival rate from April-December was found to be the colonies fed the Linden-infused syrup (100% survived) while only one control colony survived (25%) during the same time period.  Seventy-five percent of the sugar-syrup fed colonies were alive prior to winter but none were alive by March.  Currently the only colony continuing to survive was treated with Linden infused-syrup. (See attached Population chart)

My notable observation: Of the 4  control hives group (not fed)  2 were found empty with some frames of honey left behind but were not dead outs. 

There was a non-significant trend towards fewer mites in the colonies treated with linden-infused sucrose: controls 201.3 + 280.0, sucrose syrup 157.7 + 121.1, and linden-infused sucrose syrup 99.8 + 99.7. Weak colonies, those with the smallest number of bees, had fewer mites (p=0.03). The effect of colony strength on the total mite count was not the same across treatment. More mites were observed in weak untreated (control) colonies than the treated (linden-infused or plain sucrose syrup feed) colonies (p=0.047).

My notable observation:  Following submission of dead bees to USDA Bee Lab, HIVE E (sugar syrup fed) had NO NOSEMA OR PARASITIC MITE DETECTED.

While linden-infused sucrose syrup may have a positive impact on colony health and survivorship, a larger sample size would be required to determine if the impact is statistically significant. As expected, the number of mites in a colony is influenced by how many bees are in the colony. It is interesting that small colonies had more mites if they were untreated than if the were treated. These observations indicate the importance of supplementing colonies with sucrose syrup or otherwise ensuring sufficient forage. We expect supplementation with Linden infusion may provide beekeepers with a method to improve colony survivorship as the honey stores going into winter was less in the non-infused groups compared to the infused group.


Research conclusions:

Following our presentation at the Apimondia Conference Plenary segment, there were a number of participants who were interested in a cost effective, easily implemented supplement alternative to feeding honeybees with nectar substitutes such as table sugar, beet sugar or High Fructose Corn Syrup.  This shows that there is a concern to look at this global practice of small scale as well as commercial beekeepers and how it affects Honey Bee health.

Following the power point presentation of the study before my local county beekeeper association club, I handed out boxes of the supplement Linden tea.  They were very interested in trying this simple procedure that could improve the health of their colonies.

The 2013 Honey Bee Nutrition survey which was distributed to the New Jersey Beekeepers Association member list found that 68% (100 beekeepers were surveyed) were interested in learning about honey bee nutrition.  Specific interests mentioned were supplementing sugar syrup to improve nutrition (48%),how to wean  honeybees off nectar substitutes (36%), and planting year round forage (68%). This study addressed the first specific interest.  Future proposals to address the second highest areas of interest have been submitted for consideration and I intend to begin implementing new procedures in Spring 2014.

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Part of the outreach program aimed to alter attitudes of long time beekeepers toward the practice of substituting nectar with various carbohydrate substitutes.  I found this to be the greatest challenge in completing my outreach as was my goal in my original proposal. Though I have made some headway by following up on requests to share my results, I  find it is delicate process and raising awareness is the achievement I have been most successful in gaining.I networked at Eastern Apicultural Society Conference where  HoneyBee Nutrition  and Bee Health was one of the main topics  in August 2013.  my opinion was that  there was little offered in the form of hands on methods to be implemented by the beekeepers.  I have accomplished what I intended to in my original proposal two years ago when I wrote: "the Northeast is "behind" in honeybee nutrition research and I could like to contribute by bringing nutritional testing ideas to the fore front in our area."
As part of my outreach, I attended the 43rd Apimondia International Apiculatural Congress held in Kyiv, Ukraine on September 29-October 4,2013 titled "Beyond the HIve: Beekeeping and Global Challenges".  The conference had over 800 participants and was represented by over 100 countries. I traveled with Dr. Nancy Ostiguy of PSU  and we presented the results of our NESARE project via Power Point  presentation and were chosen as part of theOral Presentation of the Bee Health Plenary.  This abstract and full article  was submitted and published in the Scientific Program manual
of Oral Presentation abstracts.
The New Jersey Beekeepers Association published the abstract results in the Dec./Jan 2014 issue of our state newsletter and I requested a possible 15 minute presentation at the Winter meeting.  Though my presentation was not included in this meeting I intend to present in the future.
I  reached out to beekeeping programs in the Northeast and offer/teach an alternative nutritional feeding practice that might be detrimental to honeybee health.A Power Point Presentation was made to my county beekeepers association and offered to  the NJ Beekeepers Association Winter meeting in February 2014.The EAS conference in August 2013 was attended as a primary target to connect with scientists and beekeepers alike to potentially present the alternative honeybee nutrition study to smaller groups. Honey/nectar plant awareness needed to be raised and it was suggested that it be a required subject of the Master Beekeeper Certification Program. The state apiarist and a master beekeeper in my local beekeepers association who teach intensive courses  at Rutgers University and other local short course organizations were provided with information via newsletter/website regarding the benefits and ease of supplementing with naturally occurring honey plant and their extracts/infusions. 
 Work on the renovation of a circa1870 barn on the farm premises which was to be used as a resource center began in January 2013. Continuing education in the form of an outdoor classroom where student beekeepers, scouting groups and other interested community groups would be able to create herbariums of honey/medicinal plants and view permanent observation hives were to be housed in this resource center in Spring 2014. Unfortunately the barn burned down on Dec. 7,2013.
Superior nectar producing trees/plants are being offered  for community planting and beekeepers by Linden Hill Farm and Apiary. A website titled "The Healthy Honey Bee" has been launched communicating the results to beekeepers and "Friends of the Honeybee" alike.

I presented the PP at the Essex County Beekeepers Association meeting on Feb.11,2014 with positive feedback.  I dispersed samples of the Linden tea supplement for use by the beekeepers for trial use in this Spring feeding.  
I reached out to my technical adviser at PSU to submit to Bee Culture or J. of Entomology for publication.
The website :  The Healthy Honeybee ( has been up and running since Jan 2013 and describes the project and results.  
The resource center has been put on hold due to unfortunate circumstances with intentions to rebuild and resume the goals as a community beekeeping and honey bee forage awareness center.

Project Outcomes

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Potential Contributions

One purpose of this study was to show that a poor diet of empty calories could lead to weaker health in honeybees and contribute to the appearance of various opportunistic conditions, such as Varroa mite infestations, CCD and/or a range of other diseases of the hive that are affecting both commercial and small scale beekeepers nationwide. The sick honeybee appears to be an indicator species that depicts the interruption of the essential practice of sustainable agriculture:pollination.
When honeybees feed on sugar syrup, the resulting substandard honey was expected to  measure greater than 8% sucrose which was the maximum permitted by the US Pure Food Law.(Health Benefit of Honey, .shtml) One contribution that I have found was that standard sugar profile testing at 2 independent laboratories did not measure true sucrose but measured the breakdown products of bee inverted sugar.  This test provided fructose and glucose  quantities and well as ratios which did not lead to a true qualitative and /or quantitative measurements of sucrose.
The colony uses this honey to feed its queen, brood and entire population of workers. On the other hand, a hive processing nectar from natural honey plant sources produces a honey of presumed better quality and different sugar composition. I was not able to make this distinction utilizing laboratory facilites available to the beekeeper/farmer. Plus this was expensive per procedure and funding was limited.

I believe in a science that regenerates and restores the environment rather than diminishes it. As beekeepers we do what we are taught by our mentors. In this case, it is a seemingly simple concept, yet one that would disrupt the system of feeding sugar, which the caretakers of the honeybees have so readily adopted. I knew any change to  this practice would require a period of learning, increasing awareness before any acceptance in the need for change was  to occur. As an initital step, I proposed this experiment to test an easily implemented potential supplement that may improve the present method of feeding nectar substitutes and as a proactive step to stimulate the immune system of the honeybee to help fight off pathogens.

Future Recommendations

At the conclusion of the two year study period I suggest these notable findings that would improve a project similar to this in the future.
Although the study was consider small to be statistically significant it contributed some usable information regarding beekeeping methods which needed to be addressed as it relates and may be  contributing to honey bee decline. A future improvement would be to include enough colonies in the initital proposal to make it statistically significant.
The amount of time budgeted was unanticipated initially and more geared for a one year study. I would therefore budget more time for report writing, purchasing, data interpretation etc.
It was difficult finding forage and field management on a consistent level. For future projects, a student intern of a local agricultural university such as Rutgers University would be best choice.  Marketing this position earlier with a desirable incentive  are key in attracting the right farm hands.
Outreach time should be extended since there is a period of acceptance of a new idea or practice that takes place before plans for presentation could be implemented.

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to test this new idea for a new potential practice for future beekeeping

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.