Please Don't Feed the Honeybees
I'd like to explain how you can best help Houston honeybees right now after the freeze. People are being very considerate and thoughtful, and I appreciate that.
1) PLEASE DO NOT PUT OUT SUGAR, SUGAR SYRUP, OR HONEY TO FEED THE BEES.
Especially in urban areas, open feeding bees can spread diseases and encourage fighting. Additionally, not all sugars are processed by bees, some can even cause dysentery. Honey, unless you are familiar with the source and the background of that source (i.e. you are the beekeeper and are feeding back your honey to your bees), should not be fed to bees. Many honeys from unknown sources can contain and preserve viruses, spores, and bacteria that can harm bees.
You might think, "But they need food! All the flowers are gone!"
It is true that bees are out looking for food sources right now - if you have already open fed, you might have seen how ravenous the bees are. The forager bee's job is... to forage. And if you put out an easy-access all-you-can-eat buffet, you best believe that they are telling all their sisters to come get some grub. It's not dissimilar to the toilet paper frenzy of last spring or the empty shelves at HEB last week - bees will go crazy if they think it's the only thing available.
I actually got a "swarm" call last week, asking for a removal of bees. After inquiring further, I found that the caller put out honey to feed the bees and it resulted in thousands of bees flying in their yard. They were scared, some were coming in the house, etc. By the time I explained to them what happened, the bees had left. The honey was all gone and they went looking for additional food.
The truth of the matter is, just like the toilet paper, that these bees probably already have honey stored at home. It doesn't matter, they will continue to go out and look for more food. If it's a feral hive, they likely have plenty as none was harvested. If it's a managed hive, it's the beekeeper's responsibility to provide nutrition to her bees. A beekeeper might have frames of honey they can add to the hive or if not, they can safely feed a good sugar supplement inside of the hive for that colony only. It is true that a lot of bees "brooded up" early this year with our warm winter and the colony now has a lot of extra mouths to feed. They may work through their stored honey much quicker than anticipated. It will be critical in the next few weeks for beekeepers to make sure the bees do not starve.
Bee2Bee, being a Collective, has built up a library of stored honey frames that we can distribute among our colonies if necessary. We do not feed our hives sugar if we can help it - it's not nearly as nutritious - but if Houstonians are open feeding in their backyards, we have no choice. The bees will go to that source as it's just so easy. We do not want table sugar in our honey!
GOOD NEWS: bees are indeed finding pollen and nectar locally!! Not all hope is lost. There are blooms who survived the freeze as well as gardens/trees/plants that were protected. After surveying our hives, we found that many still had the surplus we left in December and we were even able to harvest from three hives!
Note: it is a common practice for commercial beekeepers in rural areas to open feed bees as opposed to them having to feed each individual hive. This is not recommended for urban/suburban areas.
2) What you can do: plant bee-friendly flowers!
Things to keep in mind:
- trees are the best sources of nectar per square foot
- plant things that will be in bloom in the off-season (July-August/January-February)
- herbs are great sources of nectar
- natives are preferable
- do not use chemicals
- avoid buying from big box stores
3) The VERY BEST thing you can do as a Houstonian is make a water source for the bees:
- a bee bog
- a bee waterer (Two Hives Honey has a great resource: https://www.twohiveshoney.com/dont-forget-to-water-the-bees/)
- a fountain with coarse concrete so that the bees do not drown
- a pond with lilies
4) Of course, a great way to help is to support local beekeepers. Especially those with beecentric practices and maybe even with an educational mission
We have a rough start this year. Beekeepers are going to have to work a little harder this spring than usual to make sure hives are strong and fed. Spring is the hardest time of the year for beekeepers as it's when we start new apiaries, we make splits and prevent swarms. It's also the the time where we are at the lowest point in our inventories - after the holidays and before our first harvest. Bee2Bee will sell out of neighborhood honey and hope to harvest more come June. June seems so far away! We do still have local wildflower honey from a larger apiary, our varietals (while they last), our infusions, our elderberry syrup and our wax products.