Emergency Food

When our bees need food, we provide it for them, in the form of honey: honey in combs, in bowls with sticks and straw to prevent the bees from drowning, or in a small chick-waterer with stones in the mote. We avoid feeding sugar because it is not a good, nourishing food for bees. It can cause gut problems, moisture problems in the hive, and is simply not bee food.

But there are times when an emergency strikes and there is no honey to be found. So, in cases of extreme need, we are sharing this sugar food recipe from the Natural Beekeeping Trust to get your bees through in a tight pinch:

Here is the recipe:

  1. Make a nettle tea with a good bunch of stinging nettles Urtica dioica, (half a dozen long stems) infused in a litre of boiling water for several minutes.
  2. Strain off the nettles and use the tea to make sugar syrup, either 1:1 or 2:1 by volume or weight (it doesn’t matter which).
  3. Add a good squeeze of lemon juice while the mixture is hot – about half a lemon per litre. This starts the inversion of the sugar.
  4. Allow the mix to cool to blood temp (stand the pan in cold water to speed the process) and add a good sprinkle of quick dissolving vitamin C powder (it is often sold in large tubs which are costly, but it is also good for colds) -about a rounded teaspoon per litre. Vitamin C breaks down at high temps, so cooling is important.
  5. Stir vigorously to mix the vitamin C. The greenish tinge from the nettle tea should disappear and the mix will thicken noticeably as the acidic vitamin C completes the inversion process.
  6. The final result should taste like a slightly tart Seville orange, not too tart or the bees will not take it. Extra vitamin C can always be added but it can’t be taken away, so err under rather than over to begin with.
  7. The mix keeps well as vitamin C is a natural preservative and the nettles add micronutrients.

Experience shows that the mixture is taken from a contact feeder even in cold weather if a drop of something good smelling is added, such as organic rose geranium.