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Nutrition of Honey Bees

Good nutrition is very important to a colony

As with all creatures, good nutrition is very important to a colony of bees. Many beekeepers only look at the amount of liquid stores a colony has, but pollen is equally important, yet often ignored. A lack of liquid stores can lead to starvation in both summer and winter, but a shortage of pollen can have a serious effect for some time, as poorly nourished larvae can result in poorly performing or unhealthy adults.

As a beekeeper, it is important to "read" a colony, because it is telling you something all the time. On each inspection, get into the habit of looking into a few cells where there are freshly hatched larvae, around 4-5 days from egg laying. If there is plenty of food coming in, the larvae will be in a big puddle of brood food, but if there is little food coming in, the bottoms of the cells will be almost dry. I wish this sort of observation was taught more by teachers.

Pollen varies in constituents, depending on the source and it is generally accepted that a wide variety results in healthier colonies. When inspecting colonies, have a look at the colour of pollen. The greater the variation of colours, the greater the diversity of sources. Sometimes, when inspecting several colonies in the same apiary on the same day, you can see some colonies that have largely one colour of pollen, suggesting the bees have become locked onto one source, yet other colonies will have a variety of colours.

Poor nutrition doesn't always mean a shortage of forage, but can be caused because the ratio between nurse bees and larvae is low, such as you get in the spring when a colony is building up, or if a nucleus or colony is made up with an imbalance of bees. An example of this that always sticks out in my mind was when I visited a BKA teaching apiary, where I had asked for a nuc to be prepared a day or so in advance for demonstrating. There were 5 frames of brood, largely unsealed, little food and very few bees. I suspect it was made up with too few bees and the flyers went home. I often see similar situations, especially beginners, when they are trying to get their second colony.

Colonies that suffer from poor nutrition become susceptible to disease, chalk brood and European Foul Brood (EFB) in particular. Both are often more of a problem in spring, due to the shortage of nurse bees to feed the larvae.

The buttons on the top left are links to other material on the internet. I have given a short note on each one below. Please read them, as there is some good information. Please remember that some may not have been written for your location and you will have to make allowances.

There is much more information on the internet and I suggest a search. The principle is the same, all you need do is take the information in context with your own location.

Roger Patterson.

Page created 22/06/2014

Page updated 26/12/2022