Several times a year, I find myself mixing up a recipe of sugar water for bees in my apiary. As a Master Beekeeper, I know that sugar water does not replace natural nectar nutritionally. But, it will sustain a colony that is low on food. Here I share the various ratios of sugar to water than I routinely use for my colonies and why I do it this way.
Just remember, if you see someone pushing a cart full of sugar through the market, that person might be a beekeeper – we do get some funny looks. However, this is a labor of love and an important part of good hive management.
How to Make Sugar Water For Bees
Sugar water is made by dissolving regular white cane sugar in water in various concentrations.
As you learn the various methods of making sugar water for your bees, be prepared for some criticism. Some beekeepers feel that you should never feed your hives, period. Others recognize the importance of feeding bees when hives conditions warrant.
No matter what you choose, be prepared to have some well-meaning beekeepers at the local beekeeping association meeting to tell you that you are wrong!
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Bee Sugar Water Recipes
There are 2 basic recipes for bee sugar water commonly used by beekeepers. You can measure by weight or volume it does not matter – don’t overthink this part.
While it is not exactly the same nutritionally, it is very similar in sweetness and provides the bees with energy. Also, honey bees are accustomed to collecting liquid food.
1:1 Sugar Water
Mix equal amounts of granulated sugar and water to create a 1:1 syrup. You can measure with cups or use weight as the unit of measure. It does not matter because either method will result in a 1:1 mixture. Equal parts sugar – water.
2:1 Sugar Water
A 2:1 ratio contains twice as much sugar as water. For example, 8 cups of sugar to 4 cups of water. When using this mixture, use very warm water to dissolve the sugar easier. However, do not boil your bee syrup, this is not good and it is not necessary.
How to Make 1 Gallon of Sugar Water
I normally make larger amounts of sugar water for my bees – but for a couple of hives you make want to mix up only 1 gallon of liquid.
These measurements will get you close to a gallon of liquid in a 1:1 ratio. Do not stress over exact measurements. Even in the field, nectar sources vary a bit in sweetness.
- 10 2/3 cups of granulated sugar
- 10 2/3 cups of warm water
How to Mix It Up
When making sugar water for your bees, it is important to only use white sugar. Never use molasses or brown sugar as this will make your colonies sick – or dead.
These are thought to promote better bee health too. Be cautious, these products are concentrated- add only a small amount.
Sugar Water By the Season
Why are 2 different sugar water recipes/ratios used in feeding honey bees? I’m glad you asked. While both recipes provide carbohydrates, they have different effects on the honey bee colonies.
Spring Feeding (for Buildup)
Spring is a time of growth as over-wintered colonies are busy raising new bee brood for the season. New hives that are started from installing bee packages (or captured swarms) are struggling to get their colony established.
Spring beekeeping is a busy time for bees and beekeeper. Could the colony benefit from some sugar water until abundant natural food is available? Feeding honey bees a 1:1 ratio, promotes brood rearing.
This thin mixture is closest to the sweetness of most natural nectars. With “new nectar” being placed in the comb, the bees are not afraid of starvation and are more likely to ramp up brood rearing.
This same method of feeding 1:1 applies to any time throughout the season when you have a colony in need of food. Perhaps a new split hive could benefit from some supplemental feeding.
Fall Sugar Water (Food Storage)
One of the best secrets to successful Fall bee feeding. is to get out there and get it done in late summer before the weather cools.
Poor foraging conditions in the Fall prevents storage of food for Winter survival. It is not uncommon to find hives that are not quite ready for Winter. The ratio of 2:1 sugar water promotes food storage. – perfect for Fall.
This mix is not as likely to encourage brood rearing and more likely to end up stored in comb. Of course, this will not be real honey but the colony will store it as such.
Remember, established colonies can usually survive on their own unless they have problems or experience nectar dearths. If you know that your hive has enough food stored for Winter-you don’t need to feed.
- supplemental feeding does not take the place of natural nectar and pollen
- do not give bees sugar water without a reason – you can overfeed
- always try to evaluate why the colony needs sugar water (weather conditions, low population, etc.)
- The biggest mistake made by beekeepers is failing to feed a new colony long enough. T
Sugar water is made by dissolving regular granular sugar into water. Various ratios or sugar water recipes are used by beekeepers.
Two situations when a beekeeper may need to provide supplemental food is for a new colony starting from scratch or established hives with insufficient food stores for any reason.
If you purchase bees in a package, they arrive on the scene with no resources. They have no drawn beeswax comb, food stores, or brood.
Begin feeding a new colony 1:1 sugar water immediately and continue until all of their comb is drawn out.
Problems with your queen honey bee, a late freeze that causes a nectar dearth and other issues can be very difficult – even for established hives.
Offering these colonies a helping hand can be the difference between a strong colony going into Winter or a weak one that is dead before Christmas.
Feeding bees does not make them lazy. In fact, honey bees prefer natural nectar when good sources are available. They may ignore your sugar water if food in the field is plentiful.
There will be times when you should stop feeding bees sugar water. These include the cold months of Winter (unless you are in a very warm climate) and when your honey collection supers are on.
When you add a honey super to your hive to collect honey for yourself – feeders should come off.
The bees will use any nectar (or nectar-like substance) to make honey. Honey produced from sugar water instead of nectar – that’s a no no. And, its not real honey.
Yes, sugar water you make for your bees can get moldy. Only make the amount your bees can use before it gets stale.
Providing sugar water for bees is a lot of work and expense (if you have more than one hive). You should not have to feed every colony all season. If this is happening, something is wrong. How much extra sugar water your hives require will depend on your climate and other conditions. Another reason to connect with local beekeepers.