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Is it safe to feed bees honey from a colony collapse disorder hive?

Honeybee on kale flower

Warre hiveIf all goes as planned, our two packages of chemical-free bees should arrive today.  Next time, we're going to plan further ahead so we're not putting the finishing touches on our hives the night before!

We've still got one major decision to make, and I'm hoping experienced beekeepers will weigh in.  New package bees have to be fed, and I've got quite a bit of honey leftover from the hives that died of colony collapse disorder last fall.  But I can't decide if it's safe to feed the honey to our new bees.

As a data point, our neighbor's bees have been robbing those hives ever since our original bees died.  I should have just harvested the honey, but it's tough to get honey out of the comb during cold weather, so I only took a bit at a time.  Alternatively I should have blocked off the hives, but I never thought of it except when I saw the bees robbing, and I didn't want to shut the workers in.

Hovering honeybee80% of my neighbor's bees died over the winter, and without an autopsy, the cause of death is uncertain.  Even if my neighbor's bees died of the same thing as my bees, both apiaries could have come down with the problem independently simply due to living in the same region.  They might have died of different things entirely.  Or my honey might have killed them.

So, my question to you is --- which of the following would you feed new package bees:

  • Sugar water just to play it safe (even though it's less nutritious)
  • Honey from my dead hives (most of which is crystalized due to being extracted during cold weather)
  • Honey-filled comb from my dead hives (which has the benefit of containing pollen, but the disadvantage of being the most likely to carry disease)

While you're at it, if you want to tell me your favorite way of feeding bees in Warre and top bar hives, I'd appreciate it.  Thanks for your wisdom!

Our chicken waterer makes care of the backyard flock so easy, you'll soon branch out into other livestock.


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i'd feed them with Organic sugar. i lean toward being sure your bees aren't being further treated with poison residues from conventional products.
Comment by kevin Fri Apr 27 10:59:21 2012
I'm not a bee keeper, but I adore our buzzing friends! (I would love to have a hive, but I live on 1/10 of an acre with the play areas of small children in very close proximity.) If I were to be the one in your position, I would err on the side of caution and use something other than the honey from the dead hives. While the honey may be the perfect food for your girls, I would suggest keeping it for your own consumption rather than give it to them and chance any contamination. I wish you the best of luck and will be keeping my fingers crossed for your lil ladies!
Comment by MamaHomesteader Fri Apr 27 13:07:51 2012
Kevin and MamaHomesteader -- That's what my gut is saying too --- better safe than sorry. Sugar water it is, unless someone in the know tells me differently.
Comment by anna Fri Apr 27 13:49:33 2012
I know next to nothing on this subject. Is colony collapse thought to be caused by a pathogen? If so could you pasteurize the honey?
Comment by Dave V Fri Apr 27 14:32:36 2012

I'd go a little further to say that I wouldn't feed bees honey from any other colony but their own, not only for the sake of keeping pesticides out of your new colony but spores, viruses, and anything else that might've gained purchase in a compromised hive. Refined white sugar is the best option, and it's not like it's a permanent - just until they start bringing in pollen.

Nice hives!!

Comment by Dean Fri Apr 27 15:39:35 2012

P.S. I use a baggie feeder, a ½ gallon zip-lock in a shim just beneath the quilt. I've used a similar technique with my KTBH but had to place it on the floor of the hive. It ended up running out in the first night and drowned a few bees in the process. I didn't have much initial success with the horizontal long hives and need to revisit that style when I have a schedule that better permits for the time those require.

my post on feeding: http://bee-folk.dreamwidth.org/13996.html

Comment by Dean Fri Apr 27 15:55:36 2012

Dean --- Thanks for chiming in! I think you're the most experienced beekeeper who comments on our blog, so I'll take your word as gospel. :-)

(Actually, I'm not sure why I hadn't subscribed to your blog before this. I'll be reading now!)

Comment by anna Fri Apr 27 16:29:04 2012
Dave V --- That's the trouble --- no one is entirely sure what causes colony collapse disorder. In the last year, I've heard scientists who seemed positive it is caused by exposure to neonicotenoids (a type of pesticide used widely in conventional agriculture). But I also read what I thought was a better study that suggested colony collapse disorder is caused by a parasitic fly. I suspect the reason we can't pin down the cause is because it's really caused by a suite of problems.
Comment by anna Fri Apr 27 17:01:48 2012

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