To Feed or Not to Feed

By Lady Spirit Moon

In the fall of my first year of beekeeping, I was instructed to feed sugar-water to my two hives. At the end of winter there were signs of Nosema all over the outside of the boxes and dead bees on the ground in front. I knew something was wrong and deep down knew I was the culprit.

As a natural beekeeper I have learned if the bees don’t take it in, I don’t either—no harsh chemicals, oils, chemicals, sugar shakes, traps, supplements, etc. I also use small cell foundations in my brood boxes. But there are times when my girls are notional and draw out the comb the way they want. And that’s okay. They draw out the whole comb on foundationless frames in my honey supers. It’s been several years and those first two hives were the only hives with Nosema problems.

Listening to the Bees

I am a certified Nutrition Consultant, Master Herbalist, and Certified Beekeeper, www.BEeHealing.Org, in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. I am also studying Apitherapy from world-renowned Dr. Stephan Stangaciu from Romania. The main apiary on my property is home to 14 beehives of mixed genetics, including feral stock. Another apiary has about six hives at all times of different genetics also with feral stock. I raise my resistant girls by their perspective and I listen to what they tell me. And trust me when I say I, and they, have had a lot of painful conversations.

My riding lawn mower is often referred to as my vibrational meditational machine – and with good reason. It takes me roughly three hours to mow my lawn and having done it so often, I usually use the time to think about things. On one of my vibrational sojourns around the property last summer, I kept going over things in my head. I knew there was a connection to everything I had studied in such a way it would connect honeybees and humans to all of it.

Within an hour floating images in my head fell into one idea. Immediately understanding and so struck by its simplicity, my foot stomped on the mower’s brakes. Good thing. As I came out of my brain’s workings, I heard my girls buzz their warnings around my head. I was just inches from running into their hive. Apologizing profusely I backed away from the hive, smiling at their bumping my body in several places, but never stinging me.

Listening to Your Gut

Mowing complete and the image still in my head, I went online to find studies regarding the honeybees having bacteria in their gut. In 2006 German scientists did a study on the gut of three different pollinators; one of them a honeybee.
The gut of insects may harbor one of the largest reservoirs of a yet unexplored microbial diversity…diversity and variability of bacteria found in the gut of different bee species was analyzed. For three successive years, adults and larvae of Apis mellifera ssp. carnica (honey bee) …

Single-strand conformation polymorphism profiles suggested a higher abundance and diversity of lactobacilli in adults of A. mellifera than in larvae …

Further phylogenetic analyses indicated common bacterial phylotypes … e.g. those related to Simonsiella, Serratia, and Lactobacillus. Clades related to Delftia acidovorans, Pseudomonas aeruginosa or Lactobacillus intestinalis only contained sequences from larvae. Several of the bee-specific clusters also contained identical or highly similar sequences from bacteria detected in other A. mellifera subspecies from South Africa, suggesting the existence of cosmopolitan gut bacteria in bees.

The operative word in the above paragraph is “Lactobacillus.” Wikipedia defines it:
Lactobacillus, also called Döderlein’s bacillus, is a genus of Gram-positive facultative anaerobic or microaerophilic rod-shaped bacteria. They are a major part of the lactic acid bacteria group, named as such because most of its members convert lactose and other sugars to lactic acid. In humans they are present in the vagina and the gastrointestinal tract, where they are symbiotic and make up a small portion of the gut flora … The production of lactic acid makes its environment acidic, which inhibits the growth of some harmful bacteria …”

Lactobacillus is also in the intestines of dogs, and cats. Man and honeybees, nearly all animals, need the balance of flora and fauna in their digestive tract. As in all balancing acts, we need both sides of any spectrum to understand and appreciate when things are out of balance and unhealthy. Diarrhea tells us when there is too much fauna and not enough flora. In the honeybee the diarrhea is called Nosema.

When the lactobacillus flora feeds first on the nutrients coming from the stomach, the digestive tract stays healthy. When there is not enough nutrients for the lactobacillus to feed on, bad bacteria takes over and causes diarrhea. Every animal has dysentery from time to time; but when it is not checked and is allowed to continue beyond the norm, or there are not enough nutrients, the body’s immune system weakens. A weakened immune system will contract viruses.

A Need to Feed?

Prebiotics feed the good bacteria in our digestive system and for humans they are fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. Our probiotics are acidophilus. For honeybees, nectar is their prebiotics and bee bread is their probiotics. My bees have kept their honey since the first time I saw Nosema on my boxes. But if I don’t have enough honey and need to feed sugar/water, I have a formula. I put in 11 cups of sugar and enough very hot water to fill a gallon container 3/4s full then stir until the sugar has dissolved. When cooled I add about 25-30% honey to the sugar-water and stir. Heat kills the healing properties in honey. It won’t totally stop Nosema, but your girls will come through the winter far healthier.

If a hive came late in the fall and there was not enough time for them to gather enough pollen, I make my own patties by adding just enough honey to pollen to hold everything together. The ball is placed on wax paper, rolled out to less than 1/4” thick, then frozen. Just before winter, I place the patty, with wax paper, on top of the frames. They will move the wax paper out of the hive or I just tear it off as they eat between the wax paper.

Compromised Nutrition Complications

A friend of mine wrote about finding dead bees in front of her hives with short abdomens. I remembered a major dearth had started last mid-June that stayed until fall. She had no choice but to feed sugar water because she’d had no honey. To confirm my theory and backing up my research, I contacted Dr. David R. Tarpy, Entomologist/Apiculturist, NCSU, who shared the following: “And I agree with the nutrition link with the observed bees, but also note that poor nutrition affects physiological immunity, which can flare various infectious agents. I’ve noticed Acute Bee Paralysis Virus (ABPV) can be associated with shortened, blackened abdomens, but not always. Another similar one is Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus (DBPV). Our screens are finding viruses all over the place, but still we know incredibly little about their epidemiology…”

Lady Spirit Moon is the Ambassador for the non-profit Center for Honeybee Research located in Asheville, NC. This year the Center has put in place two bee yards in which to do their research. Go to to stay up with what we are doing and our events, sign up for our newsletter, and/or use our tax-deductible Donate button.

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