Alternative honey bee nutrition: Beyond sugar syrup

Project Overview

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

Annual Reports


  • Additional Plants: herbs, native plants, trees
  • Animals: bees, poultry, goats


  • Animal Production: housing, parasite control, herbal medicines
  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, youth education
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, farm-to-institution
  • Production Systems: holistic management
  • Soil Management: organic matter
  • Sustainable Communities: employment opportunities, sustainability measures

    Proposal summary:

    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. Following processing by the honeybee, laboratory testing for quality of the honey product will be performed. I intend to reach out to all short course beekeeping programs in the Northeast and offer/teach an effective nutritional alternative to a practice that might be detrimental to honeybee health.

    Presentation to all county beekeepers associations, the NJ Beekeepers Association as well as at the EAS conferences would be the primary targets to promote the alternative honeybee nutrition study. Honey/nectar plant awareness would be raised and suggested as a required subject of the Master Beekeeper Certification Program. The beekeeper intensive courses taught at Rutgers University and other local short course organizations would be provided with information via newsletter/website to teach the benefits and ease of supplementing with naturally occurring honey plant and their extracts/infusions. Continuing education in the form of an outdoor classroom where student beekeepers, scouting groups and other interested groups can create herbariums of honey/medicinal plants and view permanent observation hives that could be implementing into the community on the premises of the farm. Superior nectar producing trees/plants would be provided for community planting and beekeepers. A website titled "The Healthy Honey Bee" would be launched communicating the results to beekeepers and "Friends of the Honeybee" alike.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Baseline Sampling

    The study will consist of 12 colonies of honeybees purchased as 4lb. packages from a reputable apiary. All treatments on packages will be recorded. A sample of 50 bees collected in alcohol from each of the 12 hives will be 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 will be provided quarterly (to USDA) to monitor infestations and sticky boards will be used for a 3day period once a month on location. The 12 colonies will be lables 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) will present a double blind study.


    Each hive will consist of one 9 frame deep for brood rearing and one 9 frame medium will be used for surplus. Foundation will be plastic coated with beeswax. Each hive will contain one frame of drawn wax comb to allow queen to begin laying promptly after installation.

    Location of Bee Hives:

    Twelve hives will be placed at each location. To eliminate variables of location effect which may alter results, the data will be analyzed using a Randomized Complete Block design. A Complete Random design will be used to analyze for location effect. In one location the hives will be 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 would protect the bees from predators such as bears without the need for electric fencing.

    Installation/Test Groups:

    Packages will be installed between March 15 and April 15(weather permitting and when sufficient nectar/pollen forage available)and the queen will be released after the third day.

    TEST GROUP 1- 4 colonies will be fed with 2 gallon feeder pails placed directly onto frames. The proposed feed will be 2:1 sugar syrup made with sucrose (cane sugar) combined with prepared concentrated infusion of linden flowers and leaves (Tilia sp.)

    TEST GROUP 2- 4 colonies will be fed only 2:1 sugar syrup
    TEST GROUP 3- 4 colonies will not be fed.

    Chemical Composition of infusion:
    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 and is an antibacterial and natural pesticide for 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 2 teabags/pint or 16 teabags per gallon of sugar syrup.

    Harvesting Honey:
    Honey will be harvested twice a year per hive leaving at least 70lbs.( approx.8 full frames) per hive to overwinter. This will be guaranteed by way of feeding if necessary. A sample of the honey will be sent to an independent laboratory for quantitative and qualitative analysis testing for: 1) Sugar Profile: glucose, D-fructose,L-fructose, galactose and sucrose. 2)Hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) 3)Isotope Ratio Testing methods would be used to test for purity.

    Other background

    The general practice of feeding honeybees syrup made of refined sugar cane, beet 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 they might find in natural forage. I contest this method of manipulating the honeybee that is being taught to beginners/novices and practiced in the US. Michurin Biology and Pavlov Physiology prove that "feeding is a kind of mentor and the quality of the food is the factor that influences the formation and growth of the bee" (Curative Properties of Bees and Bee Venom, Naum Yoirish,Moscow, 1959, p117.)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 may measure greater than 8% sucrose permitted by the US Pure Food Law.(Health Benefit of Honey, .shtml) 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 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 propose this experiment to test a potential supplement that may improve the present method of feeding and as a proactive step to stimulate the immune system of the honeybee to help fight off pathogens.

    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.