What Do Bees Eat – Everything You Need to Know


bee pollinating yellow flower

The question of what bees eat is one that often comes up, particularly among new beekeepers. After all, it is important to know whether your bees will source their own food or if you will need to provide additional food to keep your colony alive.

Bees do feed themselves with both nectar and pollen they find in flowering plants near to their hives. The nectar they collect is converted into honey, which is also eaten by bees.

Pollen is a dust-like substance collected by bees. As well as being transferred from the male part of a flower to the female part (a process called pollination) as the bee goes about its business from flower to flower, the honeybee will also consume this nutritional substance once it is taken back to the hive. Pollen is rich in sugar, protein, carbohydrates, and a range of minerals, vitamins, and enzymes that are all required by the honeybee.

Nectar is a liquid produced by flowers to entice insects and birds, who will then help spread the plant’s pollen and allow it to reproduce (the above-mentioned pollination process). Because it contains sugar, nectar is enticing for bees, and it is what they use to make honey.

The honeybee sucks the nectar from the flower through its proboscis, which is a tubular mouthpart. Once they have stored it in their honey stomachs (also known as the crop), they will take it back to the hive. Here it is transferred to house bees who will chew it up to soften it and, in the process, remove some of the water content. The house bees transfer the nectar from one mouth to another until they have converted it all to honey. Honey is fed to larvae and is also used to feed the drones and worker bees within the hive.

What Does the Queen Bee Eat?

The queen bee does not eat the honey. Instead, she will be fed on a diet of royal jelly, which is a substance produced by the young worker bees. This white substance is made from a mix of pollen and chemicals found in the glands of these young worker bees.

They will secrete this nutritious substance, which is then fed to larvae in the first few days of their development. After that, only the queen and larvae that have been chosen to be future queens will be fed royal jelly.

Royal jelly contains a variety of vitamins and minerals as well as all the dietary supplements required by the queen. With a diet of such a nutritional substance, the queen will grow to twice the size of other bees in the hive and she can live for up to five years.

common carder bumblebee
Common carder bumblebee

Do You Need to Feed Your Bees?

In most cases, the honey your bees produce will be enough to feed the colony during the lean winter months when worker bees are unable to leave the hive to forage for nectar and pollen. However, if a hive is new, the colony may not be fully established and may not have had enough time to build sufficient stores for the winter. This can also happen if a beekeeper inadvertently takes too much honey from a hive and not left enough for the bees.

If you are worried that your colony of bees will not have enough honey to make it through the winter, you can provide additional food. A good way to tell whether the hive is light on honey is to try to lift the hive. If this can be done easily enough, then it may be the case that there is not enough honey inside (bearing in mind that a colony will require around sixty pounds of honey for winter survival).

What to Feed Bees

There are a number of options for when it comes to feeding your colony. The ideal food is honey, but you should never provide commercially produced honey to bees as it could contaminate the hive. The best honey to provide is that which you have previously taken from the hive. However, if you do not have this, you can make alternatives instead:

Sugar Syrup

It is easy to make sugar syrup for bees. If the syrup is to be used as a replacement for honey during the winter, mix two parts sugar with one part water. Place the mixture on a medium heat to dissolve the sugar in the water. When the sugar has completely dissolved and the syrup is clear, allow it to cool before giving it to your bees.

Fondant

Fondant is thicker than syrup and can also be used to feed bees during the winter. To make fondant for your bees, mix four parts of 2:1 sugar syrup with four parts sugar and three parts water.

Boil the water before adding your sugar syrup and sugar gradually. Continue heating the mixture until all the sugar and syrup has dissolved and the temperature has reached 238 degrees Fahrenheit.

Allow the mixture to cool and once it is warm, mix it until it lightens in color. Separate the mixture into shallow dishes and allow it to firm up. Store the fondant in airtight containers and when needed place them in the hive on the crown board.

Which Plants Do Bees Like?

Maybe you are not a beekeeper but want to know which plants will attract bees to your garden. If so, know that bees locate flowers using their vision rather than their smell. They do not see red as their spectrum of vision ranges from ultraviolet to orange.

Bees are attracted to bright flowers that have shiny patches of ultraviolet known as nectar or bee guides. These guides cannot be seen by the human eye, but they guide the bee to the nectar.

There are many plants and flowers favored by bees including lavender, lilac, abelia, foxglove, and crocus. Planting a variety of flowering plants will ensure local bees visit your garden to feed on nectar and pollen.

Summary

Bees eat pollen and nectar that is found in flowering plants. These natural substances are full of vitamins and minerals required by the bees. Bees convert nectar to honey, which they also eat.

Young larvae are fed royal jelly in the first few days of development, but then this rich substance is kept solely for the queen and any larvae chosen to be future queens.

If you are a beekeeper, there may be times when you need to provide additional food for your bees, such as sugar syrup or fondant. This usually happens when the bees have not had a chance to store enough honey for the winter.


To help take your beekeeping to the next level, why not check out these product reviews I recently wrote:

The Top 11 Beekeeping Veils

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Anthony

Anthony is a content creator by profession but beekeeping is one of his great passions.

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