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Just the facts, ma’am

Blogging frustrates me because when I think I am communicating, I am not. Just when I think I am being crystal clear, the reader comments prove me wrong. It can get so bad, I wonder why I bother.

Yesterday’s post on organic sugar vs. refined sugar elicited a barrage of comments, e-mails, and Tweets that proved that most people had no clue about what I was saying. Several readers insisted they would feed their bees only “wholesome brown sugar,” while others chimed in (again) on the evils of feeding sugar to bees and questioning the moral fabric of those who do. While in the past I’ve written ad nauseum on the rightness of feeding bees, I didn’t broach that subject yesterday.

The purpose of yesterday’s post was merely to compare two products as bee feed. End of story. The post was written for people who have already decided to feed their bees and are wondering if it would be better to use organic sugar or regular table sugar. I thought it was an interesting question and I learned a lot, even if no one else did.

I seriously don’t believe I should have to reiterate the entire moral controversy about feeding every time I mention the word “sugar.” Surprisingly, questions about feeding bees outnumber nearly all others. Most of these folks want facts, not lectures. And in any case, my goal is not to persuade all beekeepers to do things my way but to provide alternatives based on as much science as I can dig up. If you are going to be one of those people who unsubscribe or un-friend me because I say something you don’t like, then go for it: this site is not for you.

I believe every beekeeper must make his or her own decisions–my job is merely to illustrate issues and alternatives. But, yes, I do have my own biases–things that irk me no end–and passion without knowledge is right up there. Passion is great, but before you stomp willy-nilly on everyone around you, you damn-well better have your facts in a row.




Wow. My first thought on reading yesterday’s post was gratitude for such clear communication and advice. I had come to the same conclusion when researching sugars earlier this spring, and I was glad you were making it easy for others to avoid well-meaning mistakes. Like you, I use organic sugar in my kitchen for baking, but that doesn’t mean it is best for bees. I do stick to cane sugar when feeding the bees, though, in an attempt to avoid GMOs.

As for those who won’t feed sugar under any circumstances, I respectfully disagree.

Please keep writing! My bees and I need you.



Thanks for the vote of confidence. When someone first asked me about organic sugar, my initial thought was, “of course it is fine for bees.” But when I started to look into it, the problem became obvious. I think the entire subject is fascinating.

Jim Withers

Hi Rusty.

It’s too bad that some people who disagree with what you share can’t do so amicably. I know you spend a great deal of time researching these issues before you so generously take the time to share what you’ve discovered with all of us. I am so thankful to have found your forum. I feel your deep compassion for nature when I read your posts. And I have learned much from you. As someone who has made many presentations on the art/science of beekeeping to many mixed crowds, I think I have a feel for what you’re dealing with. As you know, all too well by now, criticism goes with the territory. What’s unfair, however, is people calling your morality into question. Again, been there, done that.

May I be so forward as to offer some advice? People who can’t disagree agreeably are seeking to repair their own egos. In their mind, if you’re right, they must be wrong. Some egos simply cannot withstand being wrong. And, if their convictions about beekeeping include moral imperatives, they feel the need to attack you in order to repair their own ego. So here’s the advice. Let their animosity flow by like a summer breeze. Respond to their angry replies with kindness and empathy. If they have any connection with their own heart, they will have learned yet another lesson from you. If not, at least you threw some water on their fire. More importantly, you will no longer be hanging on to the hot coal. Keep up the good work Rusty. There are many of us here that very much appreciate your efforts.

Your Friend
Jim Withers


Thank you, Jim, for taking the time to write. I appreciate your words of wisdom.


You ARE communicating. You ARE crystal clear. Please keep “bothering”!


Crikey. All the local beekeepers I know feed their bees on either fondant or sugar syrup made from white granulated cane sugar when needed, to prevent bees dying of starvation. There’s no controversy about it that I’ve ever come across! Feel sorry for any bees that get fed wholesome brown sugar that gives them nice wholesome diarrhoea.


[Comment received via e-mail. Author’s identity withheld.]

Hi Rusty,

I’ve been reading your blog for a few months now and I love it. I
really like your focus on science, especially when so many people just
make assertions on what’s “good” or “bad” without any reliable
supporting information besides anecdotes and gut feelings. Not that
anecdotes and gut feelings are completely useless, but they tend to be
used by the type of people with the conviction that their experience
is the “right” experience.

Anyway, if you read almost any blog (or news) comment section,
especially blogs with more readers, the level of reading comprehension
is on average pretty low. It’s such a great platform for righteously
spewing some belief and feeling like you won an argument, even if it’s
an argument you started that’s only tangentially related to the
original post. It’s not a problem with your blog entries, it’s a
problem with the blog platform.

Your blog’s great! I’m sure it’s appreciated by plenty of people that
don’t play know-it-all’s on the internet.


Hi there Rusty,

I’m a new beekeeper (actually, I lost my first hive but will start again in the Spring) and I find your posts invaluable. I love the combination of sentiment and science that you put forth in your approach to bees and beekeeping. As an earlier response stated, please keep posting!


Amazing that you got the response you did. What is it about our society now that so many who disagree start throwing around insults and slams? If one doesn’t agree, simply state so and WHY. Want to kill your bees with molasses? Go right ahead. As for me, if my hives are light in late winter, I opt to not let them die. People can choose.

If you want to feed your bees maltose, lactose, fructose, sugar or whatever, go right ahead. I’m sick of knee jerk responses from all sides of everything.

As to why you should continue…..because you think it’s important and you just might have something to contribute. You do. We learn more from those we disagree with than sitting in a circle, noding our heads, not by calling people names instantly. Closed minds don’t learn and they don’t teach, either. They simply find others with whom they agree.


Your blog is one I look forward to reading. Keep up the good work.
David in Arkansas

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