California Is Feeding Its Bees Artificial Nectar to Keep Them From Starving

Thanks to a historic drought, honeybees in the state are going hungry.

National Journal
Marina Koren
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Marina Koren
June 17, 2014, 8:47 a.m.

In a good year, Cali­for­nia pro­duces more honey than any oth­er state. But the Golden State hasn’t seen a good year in al­most four years.

In that time, a drought has parched nat­ur­al for­age lands — and the wild flowers that provide hon­ey­bees with nec­tar. So Cali­for­nia bee­keep­ers have star­ted feed­ing their bees ar­ti­fi­cial nec­tar to keep them from starving, ac­cord­ing to KQED ra­dio.

The sta­tion fol­lowed bee­keep­er Dav­id Brad­shaw, who says, “You can tell the bees are hungry”:

In a nor­mal year, Brad­shaw takes his bees to hills laden with wild­flowers. But this year, those hills are bone dry, and they look bar­ren. Plants are mostly dormant, and that means the nat­ur­al nec­tar pro­duc­tion line is shut down.

When wild­flowers do bloom, they make nec­tar from sug­ar and wa­ter. Bees use the nec­tar to make honey. But a drought means less wa­ter, less nec­tar, and less honey.

So Brad­shaw is keep­ing his bees on the val­ley floor. In ad­di­tion to the syr­up, he’s feed­ing them a doughy pro­tein sup­ple­ment: soy flour, brew­er’s yeast, vit­am­ins, and min­er­als.

Ar­ti­fi­cial nec­tar isn’t cheap, either. Brad­shaw will spend $80,000 on the syr­up this sum­mer just to keep his colon­ies from starving, the sta­tion re­ports. His hives usu­ally pro­duce about 250 bar­rels of honey each year; they have gen­er­ated about one-tenth of that in the past three years.

In Cali­for­nia, a pro­longed drought is just one of sev­er­al un­for­tu­nate cir­cum­stances af­fect­ing the hon­ey­bee pop­u­la­tions. In­creas­ing rates of hab­it­at loss and pesti­cide use have also con­trib­uted to shrink­ing bee num­bers. This year’s hur­ricane sea­son is ex­pec­ted to bring heavy rains to the West Coast, but weath­er ex­perts are un­sure wheth­er they will be enough to help quench Cali­for­nia’s thirst — and its bees’ hun­ger.

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