Syrup as a Medicine?


The specks of poop in the sugar could be signs of nosema, a mild case of it. (April 4th, 2022.)

I think I may have discovered Nosema, possibly a fatal case of it, in at least one of my colonies — and I’m not posting a photo of that one just yet because it’ll make you barf. When everything inside the hive is covered with feces as if the bees were locked inside and couldn’t get out for cleansing flights, even though the front door is about two inches away from the cluster — that pretty much screams Nosema with a capital N. It could be dysentery, which is also gross and not as troublesome as Nosema. Still, everything points to Nosema at the moment.

Nosema is present in honey bee colonies all the time, but healthy and robust colonies can deal with it. My two colonies that might have Nosema were a bit stinky in the late fall and I noticed they were a bit stinky a few weeks ago too.

I’ve had stinky hives before, stinky because it was too cold for a small number of bees to get out for cleansing flights and they end up pooping inside the hive. That’s dysentery and it happens all the time, usually in small amounts that doesn’t hurt the bees.

That was my first thought. It only takes a few bees pooping inside the hive to stink it up big time. I wasn’t too concerned.

Then I saw the inside of the hive next to the one shown above and it was completely painted with poop, not just a few specks of it as can been seen in the above photo. The cluster was large and somehow actually looked healthy. But everything else was gross beyond gross.

The problem with dysentery — i.e., the bees pooping inside the hive because they can’t get outside for cleansing flights — is that the bees want to clean up the mess, and in doing so, they end up spreading whatever pathogens are in the poop all around the hive. So they inadvertently make a made situation worse. If I’m lucky, that’s all that’s happening in my pooped-up hive, and Nosema isn’t the cause of the mess.

Some beekeepers argue that the pH level of sugar syrup, as opposed to honey, is a breeding ground for various beekeeping diseases including the Nosema fungus, and while there may be some truth to that, thin sugar syrup is commonly used to help clean out the bees’ guts in the spring when natural nectar isn’t available (often the case in places like Newfoundland), a cleaning out of the digestive tract that rids the bees of all the baddies that were giving them a sick stomach. So…

This post won’t dive deep into any of that. I’ll save it for another time when I can better collect my thoughts. At the moment, I’m more concerned with the question: “What am I going to do with this hive full of poop?” So I’ll save that for another day.

For now, I’m just posting a short follow-up video about the small colony that I last mentioned in my post titled, These Bees Are Goners. In this video I mention how thin sugar syrup is used to clean out the bees’ guts like I just explained. I hope it works. Fill the bees up with light syrup so that on the first warm day, they can go outside for cleansing flights and wash the stink of winter away and get on with building up the brood nest. Giving them a pollen patty — which fills their guts up with solids — while I’m trying to clean out their guts with light syrup may have been a mistake, but this also an experiment with a small colony that I don’t think is going to make it anyway.

One thought I will share, though, is that it seems crucial to me to have strong colonies going into winter. If they’re small colonies with poorly mated queens, or there’s something just “off” about them or they’re simply not strong and robust with frames packed with honey — that’s a recipe for trouble when it comes to winter survival. This is a reminder to myself that when I have doubts, listen to those doubts, because 95% of the time when I think something is off and I can’t pin it down, I’m right.