A 5 Pound Sugar Brick

A 7-minute video of me dumping a 2.3kg (5 lbs) sugar brick into a hive where the colony of honey bees trying to stay alive is running low on honey. (Plus 15 minutes of bonus material for the truly dedicated.)

Some notes:

Note #1: I’ve posted loads of bee-feeding videos that demonstrate in detail how I make sugar bricks and other supplementary feed for honey bees. Anyone reading this on a desktop can scroll down until the FEEDING category shows up.  There’s a tonne of stuff down there.

Sugar bricks drying on top of my fridge for a few days.

Note #2: Despite what has been promoted by at least one local beekeeper, feeding domesticated honey bees sugar when they need it is not the foundation of habitat loss in Newfoundland, whether for native pollinators or non-native honey bees. Idealistic beliefs like that are not a reliable basis for developing sound beekeeping practices. (But if someone can explain the sugar = habitat loss equation to me, please do so in the comments section of this post.)

Pollen patty in sugar brick mould.

It’s important for new beekeepers (and all beekeepers) to do their homework and not automatically believe everything someone says simply because they seem like the benevolent beekeeper we all want to believe in. Idealism draws most of us into beekeeping, and almost every beekeeper at some point gets drawn into believing something that isn’t true.

Pieces of a pollen patty mixed in with the sugar.

But perhaps good beekeepers are vigitant about what they want to believe and what’s actually true.  That seems to be a constant battle these days, especially in Newfoundland where media coverage has attracted more people to beekeeping but usually does so without providing reliable sources for evidence-based beekeeping.

Sugar bricks drying in an unheated oven with the light on.

I know beekeeping-related stories tend to be puff pieces that don’t need to meet the usual rigors of journalistic integrity. But when they provide a platform for misinformation (e.g., the sugar = habitat loss belief), does it help anyone become a better beekeeper?


I know highly processed white granulated sugar is supposed to be evil. Most humans are better off not going near the stuff. I can’t argue with that. But the biology of a honey bee colony isn’t the same as the biology of a human body. Other than maintaining a relatively similar core temperature, I think it’s fair to say that human biology and honey bee biology are not in the same ball park. To echo our friend Sam Jackson, they’re not even the same sport.

The thought of chowing down on 5 pounds of white sugar doesn’t appeal to me either, but that sugar can mean the difference between life and death for a honey bee colony that could be running low on honey for reasons that were beyond the beekeeper’s control. And, without digressing into a biochemistry lesson, it’s precisely because the sugar is highly processed that it works so well for the bees — even better than their own honey under some conditions.

Less processed sugar (e.g., “raw” sugar), and even honey, contains solids that the bees need to clear from their bodies eventually, which can be difficult for them if the weather is too cold to allow them cleansing flights — to go outside and poop. The highly processed white granulated sugar contains virtually zero solids and therefore can provide the bees with an energy source but without as much need for cleansing flights. It’s for this reason that some honey bee colonies do better over the winter — especially cold winters — surviving off sugar instead of honey.

I don’t like using sugar, but if I believed, “Sugar is evil and I’ll never give it to my bees,” I’m pretty sure I’d eventually have some dead bees on my hands because of that belief. Idealised approaches to beekeeping that disregard evidence-based methodologies can produce less than ideal results in our beehives when taken too far. It seems we need to always be guard about this kind of thing.