Alternative honey bee nutrition: Beyond sugar syrup

2012 Annual 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

Alternative honey bee nutrition: Beyond sugar syrup


Project Goals

Twelve honeybee colonies were installed into a new environment, fed according to traditional and an alternative method and monitored since April 2012. Qualitative testing of the honey was performed to compare products. Upon completion of the study,a communication on honey bee feeding practices will be offered to educate beekeepers and promote an effective nutritional alternative to a common practice that might be detrimental to honeybee health.

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. This method of manipulating the honeybee diet is widely taught to novice beekeepers and practiced in the United States.

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, p. 117.) 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 that afflict the hive 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 U.S. Pure Food Law (Health Benefit of Honey,

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.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Protocols, Methods, Work in Progress

The study included procedures of baseline sampling of 12 colonies of honeybees purchased as 3lb. packages from a reputable apiary.
A sample of 50 bees collected in alcohol from each of the 12 hives was sent to the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Bethesda, Maryland to provide a baseline of Varroa, Nosema and trachial mites. During the course of this two year study, samples will be provided periodically (to the USDA) to monitor infestations. Sticky boards, an Integrative Pest Management (IPM) method, were used for a five day period monthly on all hives to monitor Varroa mites.

The 12 colonies are labeled “A-L” with the control hives randomly placed. The counting of mites by an unbiased individual (Technical Advisor, Dr. N. Ostiguy of Penn State University agreed to perform this) will present a double blind study.

Each hive consists of (1) 9 frame deep for brood rearing and (1) 9 frame medium will be used for surplus. Foundation will be plastic coated with beeswax (Duragilt). 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 would protect the bees from predators such as bears without the need for electric fencing.

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 was visited approximately once a week and utilized a modified summary version of 910531Hive Inspection Sheet.pdf found on the website.(see attached).

At this time collected results and the Varroa mites counts have not been completely analyzed and interpreted by the technical advisor and will be available at the time of the Final Report. As a cooperator of this study, Dr. Nancy Ostiguy, entomologist, 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.

Overwintering results are an important measure that cannot be addressed at this time of the year.

HIVE J was empty (6/18/12)(not dead out)
HIVE H was empty (9/8/12)

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)

The other quantitative tests have not been performed due to expense and at this time I am investigating possible alternative testing labs.



The results from the project so far have given insight to this investigator regarding sugar profile testing for sucrose levels in the honey product. Sucrose is a disaccharide, it is broken down into its individual components, glucose and fructose, by the digestive processes of the honeybee. We will not find it in the honey sample unless pure cane sugar syrup was added to the honey. In honey produced by control bees the sucrose obtained entirely from nectar sources is a significantly lower percentage compared to those sugar fed. For the information of the reader 600 lbs of cane sugar were fed to and consumed by 8 hives between April and November,2012. These results will be further interpreted in the final report.

Part of the outreach program is the newly constructed Web page titled “THE HEALTHY HONEY BEE” which is a work in progress but can be viewed as a page on the website:

See Linden Hill Farm Photo Gallery for a virtual tour.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

…as each year brings change

Linden Hill Farm and Apiary is a ten acre farm in Towaco, New Jersey. It is five acres of natural meadow with pollen sources including asters, viburnums, clover, dogrose, goldenrod, ironweed, yarrow, wild grape, chokeberry, red raspberry, blackberry, and bilberry bushes. Apple, cherry, catalba trees are early sources of nectar.

As part of this project the 60X60 field was sown with buckwheat and seeded with annual sunflower for late pollen source. This past spring, as part of forage management, we were able to properly disc and plow the field utilizing the services of a local farmer. The farm animal compost will contribute to the field/garden fertility due to assistance in forage management. Perennials such as echinacea, Bee Balm, Jerusalem artichoke and mints all thrive on this property and are encouraged for their medicinal value as well pollen source. The
goal and plan for Spring of 2013 is to double the area that will be planted with forage for the pollinators.

The size of the property and the diversity of the meadow and woodland, pond area and pasture appears to be the optimal environment in which to observe and test this hypothesis. As a small scale tree farmer specializing in Tilia species (aka Basswood, Linden, Lime) there are over 50 seedlings planted on the property.

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.


Dr. Nancy Ostiguy

[email protected]
Assoc. Professor
Penn State
501 ASI
University Park, PA 16802
Office Phone: 8148632872