Your Source For Beekeeping News, Information and Entertainment
Sept. 27, 2021

Good Nutrition, Good Bees with David Aston (S4, E15)

This week we talk with researcher and author, David Aston about his book, Good Nutrition, Good Bees. It’s exciting to see how much information on honey bee nutrition is becoming available. This is happening as both new research and looking at...

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David AstonThis week we talk with researcher and author, David Aston about his book, Good Nutrition, Good Bees. It’s exciting to see how much information on honey bee nutrition is becoming available. This is happening as both new research and looking at existing research in a new light.

David Aston, and his coauthor and wife Sally Bucknall, have focused on presenting much existing information, along with some of their newer work in a unique format.

Imagine, if you will, all of the things a bee does during his or her life. Starting with being a larva, pupa, then adult. Each of these stages requires a different diet, either in content, amount or timing. What happens if there isn’t enough food, or the quality is below what’s needed, or suddenly there isn’t any at all.

Then imagine the series of tasks an adult bee undertakes. Feeding larvae, raising queens, flying and foraging, making beeswax, dancing, laying eggs, mating, producing venom, and all of the rest of the tasks in their busy lives. Does the diet of a worker bee need to change as she matures? Once a queen starts laying eggs, how much food does she need to produce 1000, 1500 eggs a day? Does a bee know where to find the food needed to produce venom?

What plants are fatty acids, lipids, vitamins, inorganic elements, sterols and all the rest found that are needed to do all the things bees do? And if you are feeding you bees, what do you feed them? And how much, and when?

David Aston tackles all of these questions in his podcast and in his book. It is simply a wealth of information, so you can make sure your bees have enough good food, all of the time, for every bee in the bunch.

Listen Today!

Links and websites mentioned in this podcast:

Honey Bee Obscura


This episode is brought to you by Global Patties! Global Patties is a family business that manufactures protein supplement patties for honey bees. Feeding your hives protein supplement pattieswill help ensure that they produce strong and health colonies by increasing brood production and overall honey flow. Global offers a variety of standard patties, as well as custom patties to meet your specific needs. Visit them today at and let them know you appreciate them sponsoring this episode! 

We welcome Betterbee as sponsor of today's episode. BetterBee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customerBetterBeeservice, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, BetterBee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at

Thanks to Strong Microbials for their support of Beekeeping TodayStrong MicrobialsPodcast. Find out more about heir line of probiotics in our Season 3, Episode 12 episode and from their website:

2 Million Blossoms

We want to also thank 2 Million Blossoms as a sponsor of the podcast. 2 Million Blossoms is a quarterly magazine destined for
your coffee table. Each page of the magazine is dedicated to the stories and photos of all pollinators and written by leading researchers, photographers and our very own, Kim Flottum.

HiveAlive is the #1 feed supplement for honeybees worldwide. HiveAlive has been proven to give more bees, more honey, improved overwinter survival and improved intestinal wellbeing. It contains a unique blend of seaweed extracts, thyme and lemongrass. Whilst it is unusual for bees to be fed seaweed, the practice of adding seaweed to other animal feed is long established. Seaweeds are fed to animals for multiple benefits such as productivity, general health, gut health, immune function and nutrition. As well as providing multiple benefits for the bees, HiveAlive is super easy to use and also prevents syrup from fermenting. Simply add just 2 tsp of our concentrated formula per gallon of syrup.
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Ask for HiveAlive and our new HiveAlive Fondant Patty at your local beekeeping store or find it online at Listeners of the podcast can claim a special discount online using the code "BTP" at the checkout. 


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Podcast music: Young Presidents, "Be Strong"; Musicalman, "Epilogue". Original guitar background instrumental by Jeff Ott

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S4, E15 – Good Nutrition, Good Bees with David Aston


Jeff Ott:Welcome to Beekeeping Today Podcast presented by Bee Culture. Beekeeping Today Podcast is your source for beekeeping news information and entertainment. I'm Jeff OT

Kim Fottum:I'm Kim Flatto.

Introduction:Hey, Jeff and Kim, today's sponsor is Global Patties. They're a family-operated business that manufactures protein supplement patties for honey bees. It's a good time to think about honeybee nutrition. Feeding your hives protein supplement patties will ensure that they produce strong and healthy colonies by increasing brew production and overall honey flow. Now is a great time to consider what type of patty is right for your area and your honeybees. Global offers a variety of standard patties as well as custom patties to meet your needs. No matter where you are, Global is ready to serve you out of their manufacturing plants in Airdrie, Alberta and in Butte Montana or from distribution depots across the continent. Visit them today at

Jeff:Thanks Sherry and thank you Global Patties. You know, each week we get to talk about how much we appreciate our sponsor support and you know we'd rather get right into talking about bees but we need to appreciate our sponsors. They are critical to help making this all happen from the hosting fees, to software, to hardware, microphones and recorders, they enable each episode. With that, thanks to Bee Culture Magazinefor continuing their presenting sponsorship of this podcast. Bee Culture's been the magazine for American beekeeping since 1873.

Subscribe to Bee Culture today. We also want to thank 2 Million Blossoms that sponsored this episode. 2 Million Blossoms is a quarterly magazine dedicated to protecting all pollinators. Learn more in our season two episode nine podcast with Editor Kirsten Trainer and from visiting That is with the number two and also check out the new 2 Million Blossoms the podcast also available on our website or from wherever you download your shows. Hey everybody, we're finally back to you. Thanks for joining us. We're truly happy you're here. Hey Kim, how's your fall going?

Kim:It's 72 degrees. The sun is shining. There's a little breeze today. It's probably the nicest day we've had since I don't know, about four or five years ago.

Jeff:Wow. I wondered why you're sitting there next to the pool and with your feet-

Kim:You got it.

Jeff:-dangling in there.


Jeff:How are your bees doing?

Kim:Well, it's a mixed bag. Some are doing good and some are doing great and a couple aren't doing good at all and I can't tell you why.

Jeff:In other words it depends. [laughs]

Kim:Yes it depends. Nothing's changed.

Jeff:So far so good. The bees are looking real good here. I just was looking at my brew minor sensors just online today. You can see that the queen is shut down pretty good. Just because you see the lower temperatures in the brew chamber area. They're compacting that brewed nest size and that's funda monitor and see the weights holding steady. That's a good sign. I'm hopeful for this year. Oh, done my OAV treatments so they're all pretty much set other than monitoring.

Kim:Well, we're close to the end of the golden Ru flow here and it has not been extraordinary and that is never a good sign.

Jeff:Well, fingers crossed.

Kim:Yes, yes.

Jeff:Hey, you know each week we ask our listeners to write or leave a voicemail with the questions. This week we have Elizabeth who left a voicemail on the website. Let's listen to it now and see if we can answer her question.

Elizabeth:Hi Kim, hi Jeff. This is Elizabeth from Western Massachusetts. The interview with the wasp catcher was fascinating except you didn't answer the most important question I had, which was what on earth do humans do with wasp venom? So many questions. How do they get it? What do they do with it? What else are wasps good for? Please tell me more. Thanks. Bye.

Kim:Well, you're right Elizabeth. That is a good question for people who haven't had much experience with it. I can tell you exactly what they do with that venom because I have had to use it. When allergist begin to work with you and you've got an allergy to something and let's say it's honey V venom. One of the ways that they treat you is they begin to expose you to minute amounts of it on a regular basis. Your body gradually grows tolerance to it. A lot of years ago, I went through this treatment. It took about three months and they get you up to the point where your body can absorb the venom of three or four stings.

If you continue to get stung on a fairly regular basis, your body will maintain that level of tolerance and you won't die when you get stung, which is a good thing. People collecting venom, yellow jackets, hornets, whatever it is, honey bees, are performing a service that basically keeps me alive.

Jeff:That's pretty impressive. Zach who was our guest for that short bit, we'll have him back on the show when he is out of his busy season and hope to have a representative from the lab he works with too. We'll have a full episode dedicated to the hornet collection and the yellow jacket collection from that side. Then we'll talk to the lab and find out in further detail how they actually go about collecting the venom. That'll be a fun show, watch for that coming up in the near future. Thanks, Elizabeth for your question. Hey everybody, you too can leave a question just like Elizabeth did by clicking on the little microphone icon in the lower right-hand corner of any webpage on our website. We'll answer the question on an upcoming podcast.

Kim:Hey Jeff. I happened to catch just recently a podcast by Tom Theobald. You remember Tom?

Jeff:Oh, yes.

Kim:He's been on our show.

Jeff:He's been on the show a couple times.

Kim:He has two queen colonies and his beekeeping techniques.

Jeff:He's talked about Neon Nick to know it too.

Kim:He wrote for a local newspaper for about 30 years. What he started doing is going back 30 years and recording those columns and you get one a week and it's called Notes From A Bee Yard. It's not a lot about beekeeping. Although bees are the thread that take it but it's what life was like. What things interested him, what things didn't interest him much more than bees and beekeeping, but bees and beekeeping is the thread. If you want to go back 30 years and he lives in Colorado, you'll get a taste of life a long time ago.

Jeff:It's fun listening to Tom. It's a wonderful podcast. We'll have links to it in the show notes. When I moved to Colorado from Ohio, that was one of the first things I picked up was the local newspaper because it was in the birthed recorder, his articles from the Bee Yard.Of course, Sherry knew him from working with the national honey board. For me, it is something I look forward to every week reading his columns and actually now listening to the podcast where he's re-reading his articles, his columns in his own voice. It's fun. It's really very folksy, very homey. I encourage our listeners if you're looking for a good beekeeping-related podcast to check it out.

Kim:I knew him all those years ago, but I never read any of his articles. You were there, you get to read them firsthand. Well, I'm catching up. [chuckles]

Jeff:It's time well spent, Kim, time well spent. We have a great show coming up. We have David Aston who's an author and researcher who just released a book called Good Nutrition, Good Bees. It's a great book. Isn't it, Kim?

Kim:Well, it is, but it's not at all what you might expect. I've had the chance to read it and the review is in bee culture and he's gathered facts and put them together in ways you would not think like what kind of nutrition do bees need over the course of their life? Because their diet changes, we talked to Gloria, it's different in the spring and in the fall. What do bees need to do a lot of foraging versus what do bees need who do a lot of house cleaning and what do drones need and where do you get venom? This will be fun. I'm eager to talk to him.

Jeff:It is real good. Let's get right into that but first, a quick word from our friends at Strong Microbials.


Sponsor:Hello, beekeepers, your honeybees face a lot of challenges out there. Unbalanced food sources from monoculture crops, holding yards, drought, food shortages, antibiotics, pesticides, and pathogens like chop root. To overcome these challenges, your bees need the multiple bacteria that are in all nectars, pollens, and the environment. These bacteria aid honeybees' digestion and improve your honeybees' response and resilience to pesticides. Now, you can help improve your honey colony health with a quick, easy and safe to use product. Strong Microbials, Super DFM honeybee uses naturally occurring bacteria to restore the healthy gut biome of your honeybees. Check them out today at

Jeff:While you're on the Strong Microbials site, make sure you click on and subscribe to the hive. Their regular newsletter full of beekeeping information and useful product detail. Hey, everybody, welcome back. Sitting across a virtual Zoom table right now from us is Dr. David Aston of Yorkshire, England. Thanks for staying up so late and joining us.

David Aston:Thank you very much for the invitation.

Jeff:You bet.

Kim:It's good to see you again, David. It's been a while at the National Honey Show some time ago, but I'm glad you could make it today.

David:Thank you, indeed.

Jeff:As we've mentioned before, we've invited David here to talk to us about his new book. It's just been released, it's called Good Nutrition, Good Bees. In the last couple of weeks, we've been talking about the importance of honeybee nutrition. If you're looking for one book to have on honeybee nutrition, I suggest this is the book you get. It is just packed full of information and it will keep you reading for a long time, it'll answer many questions and help you develop a few more along the way. David, this is a fantastic book. You wrote it with a writing partner?

David:I did, yes. I wrote it with my wife Sally.

Jeff:Very good. She's also a PhD, I see, in Biology?

David:That's right. She's basically a plant scientist, and then joined me at Aberdeen where we did a master's in ecology. She stayed on to do a PhD, working on the byproducts of whisky distillation, Scotch whisky, and I stayed on working on scotch. Then we got it together and the rest is history, as they say.

Jeff:The late-night studies on the whisky distillation must be some study parties, I'd have to imagine.

David:It was very interesting time, yes.


Jeff:Fantastic. Well, good. Tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, and your beekeeping history. I know you're very involved in bees as well. You're more than just a researcher.

David:I've retired now, thankfully. I spent my career actually, believe it or not, working in the industrial wood preservation industry. That's where I spent all my working life, in the technical, environmental, commercial, outsize marketing sides of the business. I was fortunate to travel quite a lot around the world doing various things. Then my wife decided I needed a hobby. Her grandmother was a scapist. She said, why don't I think about doing beekeeping? Actually, it fitted quite well because, as I said, I was traveling quite extensively, something that I could organize around my work. I got started and I just got hooked by it, actually fascinated by it.

I went into our beekeeping associations, got very much involved in the education side of beekeeping, from the technical side and so on, and then eventually became chair of the British Beekeepers Association, and eventually president. I'm a very, very small-scale beekeeper. Maximum number of hives now I keep are 10. Partly that's because of physical capabilities to manage them, but also, more importantly, how much forage there is available to my bees without having to migratory beekeep them, which is something I really, with my personal circumstances don't have the time to do. I have about 10 colonies now at the top of my garden.

Kim:Well, 10 will keep you busy a lot. There's no doubt about that. I'm at three and it keeps me busy a lot. Well, David, when I went through this book, what I came away with-- I review lots of books and what I try to do is sum up the essence of what this book is in a sentence, two at the most. What I came up with with your book was applied honeybee nutrition. You've taken the science of honeybee nutrition and nutrition in general for living things, and you've applied that information, grouped them together, and made me aware of what bees need, when, and why. Am I summing that up about right?

David:It's absolutely spot on. Yes, indeed, because beekeepers now, they're very much taught a mechanistic way of keeping bees. Problems is very little understanding of the natural history of the bee and things like that, and certainly not being taught, I don't think now, to observe both in terms of what's going on in the hive, but more importantly, what's going on around in the environment, which is going to provide the forage for the bees. It is applied. The idea being that the beekeeper, or in fact, the people that are generating the policies for land management, whether they're farmers or even gardeners and so on, have an idea of what honeybees, and it is honeybees that we focus on in our book, require for sustaining their colonies and for being able to thrive.

Kim:You've directed some attention to the people who are planting plants for bees towards the end of the book. I want to get back to that because I'm a plant person also, I found that very interesting. Just to go over the beginning of the book, you started with the history of the honeybee in the British Isles. I'm going to mention it that there's that chapter, and then I want to move on quickly to the colony lifecycle and composition that you looked at, more of the bee biology, if you will, and then honeybee physiology. In honeybee physiology, you were talking about the fat body. Honeybee fat body has garnered a ton of attention in the last few months because of its role with varroa. Can you tell us a little bit more about your perception of how important the fat body is?

David:It seems to be a very important body, mainly from its protein storage properties and also the fact that, as we've seen with the work that's being done, I think by Dr. Samuel, with the varroa consuming the fat bodies and the impact that has on the physiology. There's the actual contribution that the fat body makes to honeybees' physiology and so on, and the fact that it's a potential target for a pest. If that pest gains access and damages the fat body, then the individual honeybees are in trouble and hence the colony is in trouble.

Jeff:Speaking of fat body, there's been some mention about it lately, that there's really no photographs or drawings of the fat body. Do you find the same thing?

David:Yes, absolutely. I was asked to write an article for a magazine, and I looked around for fat body pictures on the net, as you do, and in one of the books that I had, and really, even one of the most recent books by Professor Lipinski. His fat body picture is quite difficult to see. Yes, I've tried to photograph it and it is quite difficult. It can be quite diffused through the body cavity of the bee, certainly.

Jeff:I want to warn our listeners to make sure you're very explicit in your Google search for fat bodies. Make sure you say it's honeybee fat bodies. Otherwise, you might see something you're not expecting.

Kim:[laughs] A fellow countryman of yours, Ian Stell, had an anatomy book out. If I was going to go anywhere looking for pictures of honeybee anatomy, that's the book that I would use.

Jeff:Does it have fat body in it?

Kim:Yes, and he does a nice job. He has photographs, but he also has drawings, and the drawings are specific.

David:I've not had the pleasure of reading that yet, Kim, but yes, I've seen some comments about it, and it looks very interesting.

Kim:Yes, it's a good book. If you can't find what you're looking for anywhere else, I would go there, but you were right on the study of the fat body. I'm glad that that secret piece of information is finally being exposed because it is so critical to varroa control, without a doubt. Then you move on and you just talk about the key nutrients that bees need. I'm not enough of a nutritionist to know the value of some of these compared to the value of others. If you were going to look at this, you name them all, and you talk about where they come from and things. Tell us a little bit generally, if you would, about the nutrients that bees need.

David:My experience or our experience in researching for this book is a bit like an onion. You peel off one layer and you came then to another layer, which you then have to work your way through. You could envisage the general headings of compounds that were important. But then as you looked into the research that the publications, the degree of interconnectedness of the substances, actually can be quite mind-boggling to cope with. You start off with the levels of carbohydrates and then you find carbohydrates.

From sales, quite complicated materials, chemicals, then you get to the proteins and the amino acids and essential amino acids and then vitamins and et cetera, et cetera. It's surprising actually, there is still not a lot of knowledge about many of these substances and exactly what the bees need and when they need them in their life cycles. Now, there's more and more research being published. One of the troubles in trying to write something for the general reader is the moment you've written something, it's immediately out of date because somebody has published some more information. It was a big challenge for us.

Sherry:Better Bee is pleased to sponsor today's episode of Beekeeping Today Podcast. For over 40 years Better Bee has supplied beekeepers across the country with the tools, equipment, and knowledge needed to succeed. Because many Better Bee employees are beekeepers themselves, they understand your needs and challenges, and are better prepared to answer your beekeeping questions. From their colorful catalogs or their supportive beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast Better Bee truly lives up to their tagline of beekeepers, serving beekeepers, see for yourself at

Kim:Jeff, I think one of the things I don't know if you cut this out when you were looking at the book is, and it made me sit back and think for a bit, the nutrients that you and I need, the bees need that all animals need, some of those nutrients make some part of me or feed some part of me, for instance, skin and muscle tissue. Some parts of it are bone and hair tissue. Think about this, nutrients that bees need, some of the producers, the exoskeleton, some of it produces venom. How is venom made?

David:Good question. I'd have to go deep into the book and find out. I don't have any information on the top of my head, but what I'm hoping is that that's just the question that a reader or a possessor of this bespoken thing are. I'll go to that section on venom and find out, and then hopefully there's enough information there either to satisfy their immediate needs or some signpost to point them as to where they might look for more information. Certainly, they do seem to be certain specific substances that are a part of the production of the venom brand. Again, they seem to come from certain parts of some plant colonies.

Kim:This is I think the most applied part from my perspective of nutrition is you talk about all of the things that bees do and make happen in a colony. The bees that feed the queen, the bees that forage, the bees that are feeding the young, the bees that are creating beeswax, the bees that are carrying out the dead, all of these require different strengths and different nutrient-- I want to say different diets, I guess maybe is the way I should put it. The bees that are forging have to find the materials that these bees need to do that. I'm wondering are bees out all looking for the stuff that makes venom?

David:I don't know. I still have an open mind from the literature now, maybe a more informed reader, maybe I can pull my weight, but I'm still not sure whether the bees specifically go out looking for specific substances, specific chemicals. When they go out looking for specific materials like pollen, like resins for properties and the various nectars. Now, whether they actually specifically look for say materials and terpenes or other chemicals, I really don't know.

Kim:You've got a bee out there sitting on a flower, tasting it and going, "Oh, I'm looking for the stuff that makes bee bread or something, and this doesn't have it. I'm going to go to another flower." I can see where some of it is very similar that the food that you feed to the young and the food that you feed to the queen is probably very similar. I'm going to guess, because so much of it is used. It's probably fairly common in the plant world.

David:Yes. As raw materials, if then what the bees do with it, how they synthesize it in their hypopharyngeal glands and so on that then impacts on what is done with that, with that material.

Kim:One of the other questions that comes up in the book, and that I've always wondered about, if you've got bees that can't find the right food, because you talk about the forage in the landscape. There's not enough of it out there, or they get just almost enough, but then it runs out or there's a freeze or something happens. Then what happens if they don't get any of some of these things as a colony? Does the bee perish, does the colony perish? What I liked is how you address that and knowing if I'm a beekeeper, knowing that what's going on out there right now is important, and it needs to keep going on for another three months or all of my baby bees get raised, that sort of thing.

David:Absolutely. I think that's what we've seen with these, the national survey, that the British beekeepers have done over the years, how important starvation actually is. Now, that's a fairly endpoint situation. There's an awful long way between being malnourished and under nourished and then actually starving. Really, I think and I always suspect that a lot of honey bee colonies here and the British Isles are suboptimal in terms of their health. When any pest and pathogens come along to challenge them, they are somewhat weakened to be able to cope with them.

Kim:You also spent a fair amount of time talking about feeding because beekeepers, at some point in time are going to need to feed. You talk, what I found interesting is because you have different kinds of equipment than we do here is what do you use to feed bees with? I want to talk about what do you feed them in a minute, but you've addressed a range of different kinds of feeders, well, tell me about how you feed bees.

David:Well, I'm talking now as I feel like I hope is speaking for small scale beekeeper with bees. I'm not talking about a person who's on the point of view of somebody who is managing tens of hundreds of hives, in which we do have some, commercial beekeepers in the UK. They will scale up and will transport their sugar syrup around in bulk-sized containers. For a person like me, I will apply the-- If it's a liquid feed, sugar syrup, white granulated sugar, there's various ways that we do that. Either contact feeders or frame feeders within the hives. They've all got that their merits and their complications in terms of you using them.

I'm sure it's the same in your neck of the woods. There's so many gadgets that you can use. I think that the principle really is to place the sugar feed in a position where the bees can access it readily and utilize it. That's the trick.

Kim:Make it easy, basically. What do you think of high fructose corn syrup?

David:I'll start with my bee feed philosophy from the point of view, I don't wish to feed my bees. I try and manage my priority beekeeping strategy is to manage my bee, so I don't have to give them any food during the year at all.

Kim:Wow. I'd like to be able to do that.

David:Yes, and I know it's very difficult to do. In most years, I have to supplement to feed them at some time but my philosophy is as I've said, to leave enough stores maybe supplemented a little bit at the back end to survive over winter. Increasingly important I think to actually have a boost population of bees in the summer because I think a lot of the damage which is done to colonies throughout the winter survive is because the bees that are produced in the summer, they're malnourished because of impacts on forest and weather pattern changes, landscape changes, deforestation intensification, et cetera.

The bees that they're going to produce in autumn or winter bees themselves are under poor condition to produce these extra special bees that are going to take the colony through the winter. Nutrition is a year-round activity. Now, in terms of your specific question, I have no experience with using this, and judging from what I've read, I don't think I'd want to, but that's a personal view.


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Kim:Looking at, you mentioned a malnourished and undernourished colony in the summer. Do malnourished/undernourished bees forage less often, die young? What would a malnourished colony do different than one fully nourished?

David:I think it would be the quality of the subsequent generations of bees, the worker bees in the colonies as they're raised. If the nurse bees are poorly nourished, they are going to not be able to produce sufficient food for the young developing larvae, they're in turn going to be malnourished and at a metabolic level, probably then vulnerable to disease.

Kim:Okay, that makes sense. I guess what I'm thinking of is that in the middle of the summer, and I'm looking at my colony and it's just, there aren't as many bees as I thought there should be. The queen seems to be performing adequately if not excellently, but bees they're bringing in enough food but it's poor quality and it's because of what's available. That colony then isn't going to be able to raise as many young or the young that it raises aren't going to be as healthy? I'm trying to look down the road here.

David:Yes, probably all of those.

Kim:All of those, yes. Okay, all right.

David:In different combinations and it's different extents. One of the challenges we have certainly in the heart of England, where I live, is we get no extended periods where there's very, very little forage for the bees and so the colonies' nutritional status really dives. What I've not really seen here and it'll be interesting to do is actually some studies, some assessments of colony nutritional status, however you define that. I think that's a gap in the literature which I've not really seen, certainly not for beekeeping in this part of Europe.

Jeff:That brings up or in line with a recent guest we had on a recent episode Dr. Gloria Hoffman from the USDA ERS bee lab in Tucson, Arizona. We talked with her about the importance of seasonal pollens, fall pollens going into winter and spring pollens going into the summer, all along the lines of the bees needing what they need for that time of season. This is all related. Have you seen that in your literature, in your reviews, the importance of the seasonal pollens?

David:I've seen references to it. The question really is the relevance to the British flora. Yes, I think there's work to be done. I think it's created some to be definitely done in the States, of course, but then you've got to relate that to what is the flora that we have in Britain. Bear in mind that Britain itself, it's very diverse from a floristic point of view, in a relatively small geographical area. We have a big variety but in general, what we're seeing now, is that there's a huge reduction in the floristic diversity. The number of species is getting less and less and less. Basically, the bees, in my view, I'm saying what I've observed with mine, is they just have to go and forage what they can get. Whether there's any degree of selectivity or anything like that, it will be quite difficult to determine, I think.

Kim:Yes. It's what you can get rather than what you want.

Jeff:That's right. Like around here it's in one of those drought periods for us, basically from June to October. During this early part of the season, I know the honeybees will not visit what we call the false dandelions. They're not true dandelions, they're a false dandelion. They ignore them because there's plenty of other sources, but now the false dandelion, that's the only thing that's really up and sprouting up through the brown grass around fields. Of course, they're after that, they're taking what they can, so I have to believe that exactly what you're talking about, they're picking up what they can.

David:We have the same issue here with bees foraging on a tree cone. They're taking the pollen out of that. That has a very low crude protein content and limits in terms of some essential amino acids. Yet the bees will-- If they're working that, in my view, that shows they're in extremist situation.

Kim:They're packing it away and storing it and they'll have it available sometime later in the season. You'll have trouble down the road, A, because of what you collected and the second half of that is, well, that's all we've got to eat, take it or leave it.

Jeff:Shut up and be quiet, it's what we're eating tonight.


David:I think what we've also seen very much here is that we may have a crop show, say something like field or tip beans or even oilseed grape. You call it canola, is that right?


David:We've been having very dry periods, so the flowers have been set very quickly and they're withering very quickly and all the nectar is drying up very quickly. We've had lots of field beans planted but they're very little in the way of nectar availability and with a lot of other-- Because of the paucity of floral diversity, they really are thrown back on very little results. Now, the honeybee, of course, it has the advantage it has the mechanisms to forage in a wide range of flower species. When you compare that to some of the behaviors of some of the bumblebees, some of these more specialist bees, and if they are forage flowers species aren't there or they're not producing, then it's no wonder we've got problems with this on the other bee species.

Kim:I can see how that happens, having watched bumblebees forage on the same flowers that honey bees are foraging on, they attack them, certainly differently. They're bigger, they're stronger, able to get at some flowers that maybe honey bees can't get into.

David:Indeed, yes.

Kim:What that brings me to is the parts-- what you did with plants at the end of the book here, you did so much. You looked at plant families and the type of nectary that they form, and it really makes a difference for a honey bee, doesn't it? The shape, and the size, and the depth of the nectars.

David:Indeed, and there's an actual physical limitation of the length of the proboscis. Also, of course, the weather conditions can affect the amount of nectar. If it's a flower that's more like a tube, and the nectar rises in that tube, the honey bee can access it better. Whereas if it's appeared when they're built to take their flowers. Buddleia is perhaps an example. The nectar falls in the tube, the honey bees can't get at it but other species can, so it's not just the actual basic flower structure, it's the environmental conditions at the time when that flower is out.

Jeff:What was the flower you used as an example?


Jeff:I'm not familiar. Are you familiar with that Kim?


Jeff:Okay. I know that was going to throw our transcription service off.

David:When I opened my mouth and I thought, "Oh, perhaps I shouldn't have mentioned that one," because I was trying to think what it would be called in the States.

Kim:The other part of what else you looked at in the plant world-- these are for the landscape people now who are looking to improve forage in their area. What do I plant, A, and what's the soil that I'm planting it in so that I get the best plant for the type of soil that I have? I don't know anybody that's looked at that previous to this.

David:It's an attempt really to give some guidance to people who are designing planting schemes and people who are putting together seed mixes of whatever they are. The other thing that I wanted us to also do was cover trees because trees are actually a very big potential forage source for honey bees. I can't remember where I read it but people talk about, 'one tree being an acre in the sky,' in terms of forage equivalence. You can see that, I think, in some species like lions and things like that. That's another passage at what we're trying to write, to give guidance to or interest to people who would either design these schemes or policymakers who were considering what they could do.

Kim:If you've got clay soil Jeff, the word you use, Davis, calcareous, right?



David:Yes. Calcareous. Yes



Kim:PH positive. If you've got that kind of soil, Jeff, you're going to be planting something different than if it's very acidic. Although the plant may live in both places, it will thrive in one and not so much the other and/or grow differently.

Jeff:I wonder if what it provides nutritionally is different based on the soil it's on. That's basically what you're saying, right? You put the same plant in acidic soil and the same plant in alkaline soil, will it provide the same kind of nutrients?

David:I think what happens in that situation is where the nutrients get to. Do they actually get into the flower itself and then into the nectar? Going through the nectar secreting process, or do they get into the pollen? That's another field of study, really, in terms of understanding what the relationship is in these flowers species with their nutritional value.


Kim:Well, there's some way you could spend the next 40 years of your life, Jeff, examining the nutritional value of nectar from different locations, from the same tree, when you have nothing better to do.

Jeff:In my spare time.

Kim:David this has been fun. I know it's a huge book and we've just barely touched on any of the aspects, but what have we missed that you think people should know about?

David:The thing we wanted to do with this was to re-engage humans, the human species with the honey bee, because at the moment I think the honey bee's very much seen of as being livestock, a species to be exploited. Of course, when we look at the news feeds in terms of honey bees having problems, of course, we see all the kinds of practices which are done in the States with migratory beekeeping and the vast numbers of bees and that sort of thing. I actually say to try and get people to understand that we've had a long relationship with this particular species and that's what it makes it fascinating in terms of the history, the sociology, and all those sorts of things.

I'm trying to engage people to relook at this particular species and understand why it is so significant to us. At the moment, certainly in this county, there's a strong lobby for people to promote the concerns about other pollinator species, which is fine, bumblebees, solitary bees, wasps, moths, all those sorts of things, and the tendency is to be a little bit disparaging towards that, the honey bee, because it's managed, it's exploited, and we wanted to try and just readjust that balance. We try and encourage the reader and the public to perhaps look at these insects in a slightly different light because they have been so much part of our culture and our society.

Kim:Definitely. Definitely, it's a good thought. I encourage people to get a copy of this book. It's easy to read but you're not going to sit down and read it in four nights, but you're going to refer to it again and again and again when you've got specific questions. I'll go back to my original thought, applied nutrition, I think is a good way to describe this book. How nutrition plays all the roles that it plays. David thank you again for being here. This has been fun and I hope your book does well.

David:Thank you, it's been a great pleasure.

Jeff:It's been great having you on the show David, thankyou. Hey, Kim, two shows back to back on honey bee nutrition. I think that's a fantastic topic and so much to learn.

Kim:Yes, there is, and the two people that we've talked to are shedding lots of light on the things that we don't know. This book is a huge book, it's 428 pages long and there isn't a picture in it, it's all copy. There's a lot of information, it's good information. I'm a plant person. I love the fact that he's looking at the structure of plants, the family of plants, and the value of the types of plants, where they grow, there's all of that, and then there's everything else that bees need to be bees.

Jeff:Yes. I would definitely recommend this book for every beekeeper out there on your bookshelf. If you're a beekeeper, there should be, well, all of Kim's books.

Kim:Of course.

Jeff:There are seven or eight of them, aren't there, right? If you have only the funds for three books, make sure two of them are the ABC-XYZ of beekeeping and this book on nutrition available from--

Kim:Northern Bee Books, or you can get it on Amazon. It's available wherever books are sold.

Jeff:Nutrition is such an important key aspect and it's only now just becoming into its own spotlight. There have been people who have been focused on it in the past but the importance is coming around, it's turning the spotlight.

Kim:You're right. There are people over the years who have looked in great detail at very, very narrow pieces of the role that nutrition plays in a honey bee's life. This is the one that, like I said, I consider to be applied nutrition. What do you need to know about nutrition, and what does it do, why do they need it? All the questions are answered for all of the questions.

Jeff:It's based on available research so that's really, really good. Listeners, if you look at it and there's a couple of sections on beekeeping in the British Isles and everything, don't let that throw you off. The meat of the book, the majority of the book, is on the honeybee. nutrition. Get this and add it to your collection.

Well, that wraps it up for this episode. Before we go I want to encourage our listeners to rate us five stars on Apple podcast or wherever you download and stream the show. Your vote helps other beekeepers find us quicker. Even better, write a review and let other beekeepers looking for a new podcast know what you like. You can get there directly from our website by clicking on reviews along the top of any webpage. As always we thank Bee culture the magazine for American beekeeping for their continued support of Beekeeping TodayPodcast. We want to thank our regular episode sponsor Global Patties. Check them out at We want to thank Strong Microbials for their support of the podcast. Check out their probiotic line at We want to thank Better Bee for being a supporter. Check out their full line of beekeeping supplies at

Finally and most importantly we want to thank you, the Beekeeping Today Podacstlistener for joining us on this show. Feel free to send us questions and comments to We'd love to hear from you. Anything else Kim?

Kim:I'll stress that again. Feel free to send us questions or comments.

Jeff:That's right. Thanks a lot. Everybody. Bye-bye.

Kim:Take care.

[00:51:22] [END OF AUDIO]

Dr David AstonProfile Photo

Dr David Aston


I am a retired biologist who spent his working life in the international wood preservation industry. I live in England (UK) and have kept honeybees continuously for 40 years. I am a Master Beekeeper and also hold the NDB UK National Diploma in Beekeeping.

Through my beekeeping life I have been active in the British Beekeepers Association participating in a number of areas including education, examinations and qualifications, research, technical and environmental aspects and have served as Chair of Trustees and then President. In addition I am a Trustee of the CB Dennis British Beekeepers' Research Trust and a former Chair and now a member of the Executive for the National Diploma in Beekeeping Board.

In partnership with my wife Dr Sally Bucknall we have written three books on aspects of beekeeping.