Research continues to reveal that nutrition plays a very important role in the healthy of honey bees. At times we have to feed bees sugar water which they are unable to find natural nectar. After bees cure nectar, it is called honey. Honey has a healthy pH balance and sugar water doesn't. So let's do some investigating more into this subject.
What is the pH balance of honey and how does that compare to vinegar, water, milk, coffee and other things in my kitchen. Is it important to raise the pH balance in what we feed our bees? Read on!
pH stands for the power of hydrogen. When you write it, the "p" is lower case and since hydrogen is an element, it is capitalized. Water has a pH of 7. Anything 7 and above is considered an alkaline and anything below 7 is consider to be acidic. The lower the number the higher the acid.
So I grabbed my pH meter and tested different things in my kitchen this morning. Remember, the lower the number the more acidic. I snapped some pictures below so you can see for yourself.
It's hard to see, but there is a decimal point after the first number. So Coffee is 5.66. My ginger ale is a special kind that I buy that has real, fresh ginger so it is really tart and burns your throat when you swallow. Honey is close to that same pH level. Haven't you noticed that honey does sometimes make your throat burn just a little. It's because honey is acidic. That is what aids in preventing bacterial growth. Water is considered having no acidic trace and is around 7 pH. The higher the number the more alkaline.
I discovered that by adding sugar to water, it actually raised the alkalinity by.09 elevating it further away from the level found in bees' natural food of honey. If bees eat honey at 3.52, then is it possible to increase the acidic content in sugar water to nearly match honey and still be healthy for bees? The rest of my conclusion on this subject can be found on my main website at: www.honeybeesonline.com
I discovered that by adding sugar to water, it actually changed the alkalinity by 0.09. If bees normally eat honey with a pH of 3.52, then would it be possible to increase the acidic content in sugar syrup to closely match that of honey, and still be healthy for bees, retaining the acidic level necessary for bee health? In one study that I reviewed (Farjan et al., 2012), scientists reported on this very subject of adding vitamin C to honey bee syrup. This line caught my attention: “The mean of bee losses over winter were about 33% lower in colonies receiving vitamin C.” Another part of the study says, “These results suggest that vitamin C can be recommended as a natural, safe, and relatively cheap diet supplement, elevating resistance to stress factors (including diseases, in which oxidative stress plays a key role) of wintering bees and spring generation of worker bees.” (Farjan, et al. 2012. Supplementation of the honey bee diet with vitamin C: The effect on the antioxidative system of Apis mellifera carnica brood at different stages. Journal of Apicultural Research 51(3): 263-270.)
I noticed in my apple slices I buy, ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) has been added to keep the sliced apples fresh. Ascorbic acid is known for its antioxidant properties. It can be purchased at most pharmacies or health food stores, in powder or liquid and it is very cheap and takes only drops to increase the acidic level in bee food.
So what is 1:1 sugar water? What is sugar water with amino acids and vitamin C? More pictures:
So what does all this mean? It means that we are learning more and more about the importance of bee nutrition. It does NOT mean that 1:1 sugar water is bad for bees because it is not like honey. Certainly, bees will be most healthy when eating honey and pollen. However, when someone is sick and dehydrated they are usually taken to the hospital and given an IV of...well basically sugar water (dextrose and sodium chloride). Dextrose is a form of glucose derived from starches. It is one of the most commonly used ingredients in packaged foods. But it saves our lives and returns us to good health. But it is not a health food. I view feeding bees the same way. We feed bees briefly to help them along until they can return to eating healthy.
To not feed sugar to a starving colony will result in the hive dying. We should not try to create a year long replacement for honey and pollen and bee bread. However, I do add a few things to my temporary, "emergency" feeding of sugar water and candy boards to make them more than just sugar.
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