In US I understand it’s more common than in Europe to let the bees keep honey for winter. On the other hand I’ve heard more and more beekeepers giving sugar for winter. And the discussion which sugar is the best for wintering. It seems sucrose is the best, from cane or beet. Of the sugars. The very best is of course honey. But is it, if sugar is much cheaper? And how is it, doesn’t honey produce a lot of residues filling up the guts and producing dysentery and bad overwintering? Yes it might, if you have bees making a lot of brood during winter, thus having to eat a lot. And without any possibility for cleansing flights.
In older times in Sweden honey was used a lot for wintering bees. In fact I saw a comment in an old beekeepers magazine that this particular year the autumn flow had been bad so the bees had had no opportunity to gather winter stores on the Heather. Heather honey today is said to create big problems for bees’s if overwintering on it. A tixotropic dark strong honey. In Sweden normally the bees are confined to the hive without any cleansing flight for at least five months.
What’s happened I think is that bees that brood too much in winter to be able to winter on difficult honeys are surviving because they have been wintered on sugar to the biggest part. We have weakened the bees and because of greed, thinking we are smart. It had been a better investment letting the bees keep enough honey for winter to make up at least the major part of the winter food.
Tobias Olofsson and Alejandra Vasquez have discovered many lactic acid bacteria are important for the health of bees. They live in the guts of bees and feed on nectar, honey and pollen, just as bees. They originate from other bee guts, not from flowers, but bees that visit flowers share these microbes that way too, besides directly in the hive to new generations.
They are continuing their research concerning overwintering on honey or sugar.
In an article in the Swedish journal Bitidningen Tobias is describing a new product for boosting bees with lactic acid bacteria. http://dmweb.v-tab.se/webpages/Bitidningen/bitid-13-0010.html, page 11-13. He is also describing a small test finding out what happened with the lactic acid bacteria when wintering on honey (2 colonies) and on sucros (2 colonies). The number of bacteria was much lower in the sugar colonies. These colonies used much more food, their colony strenght was much lower and they were irritated in temper.
Olofsson and Vaquez have produced a product they call SymBeeotic which is supposed to be used to boost a colony with low amount of lactic acid bacteria, for example after winter. But of course it’s better to leave enough honey in the colony for winter.