Sugar Syrup for Bees

A quart of syrup we use during classes to show what 1:1 sugar syrup looks like and what it does

Do you feed your bees?

As a beekeeper, you have the responsibility to take care of your bees. To be a good steward of your bees, you may give them supplemental sugar syrup, also called sugar water. Sugar syrup is no doubt, a poor substitute for nectar from flowers, but it is necessary to keep your bees alive from time to time.

Sugar syrup is used to help bees recover from an unnatural situation a beekeeper has forced them into, like a package. Feeding a 3-lb package of bees is common and needed because the bees lack the ability and resources to build comb quickly. 

During the spring, packages of bees are delivered to eager and nervous beekeepers. As packages arrive, so is the need for equipment and sugar water. To make that process easier, we want to give you a quick guide for making 1:1 sugar syrup. It is also called spring feed, simple syrup and thin syrup.

You can feed your bees a thin syrup or a thick syrup in the spring and summer time. The bees will consumer it both ways, as long as the syrup is warm enough and the bees have access to it. 

Don't feed your bees during a nectar flow?

You may be tempted, just as we were, to not feed your new hives while there is a "nectar flow" happening. A nectar flow is a time when there is a significant amount of nectar being produced by flowers. This time is usually 1-2 months long and occurs when most packages and nucleus hives are delivered. The most common argument for not feeding new hives during a nectar flow is there is no need to feed sugar water if there is plenty of naturally occurring food available. This sounds nice but is poor advice. 

Imagine that your new package or nucleus hive is a toddler. And imagine that a full size, 2-year-old hive is the Duggar family.  Both groups are participating in an easter egg hunt with hundreds of eggs. When the hunt starts, both groups search nonstop, collecting every egg they find. Even though both groups had access to hundreds of eggs, only the Duggar Family has the knowledge, numbers, and resources to capitalize on the available eggs. This is how your new hives deal with the nectar flow. Yes, they can work sun up to sun down, looking for nectar. But your new hive lacks the bees to make the most of it before it ends. 

Using a boardman feeder to give bees a quart of sugar syrup in a top bar hive


Should you make it by weight or by volume?

You hear the advice, "It doesn't matter, whether you make it by weight or by volume; they are the same thing".  It actually isn't the same thing, they just have the same result. We make our sugar syrup by weight, not because it's better for the bees (the bees don't care either way). Measuring by weight is just better for the beekeeper. Measuring by weight means you have no bowls or measuring cups to clean (which is a huge bonus). Less measuring means less spilling; less spilling means less cleaning. A beekeeper that doesn't have to clean up sticky messes, is a happy beekeeper. So bee happy, don't make messes.


When you have a 2 or more hives to feed, we find it easier to make about 5 gallons of syrup at a time, rather than 1 gallon at a time. To do this, we measured out the fill marks on the inside of 2 (5-gallon) buckets. Each bucket has a fill line for the water and a separate fill line for the sugar. 

We did the sticky work to make it easy for you

  1. Find two, 5-gallon buckets, a permanent marker and measuring tape
  2. Measure 7 1/2-inches from the inside of the bottom of each bucket and draw a bold line
  3. Write "1:1 water level, 24 pounds / 48 cups water" on both buckets near line
  4. Measure 8-inches from the inside of the bottom of each bucket and draw another bold line
  5. Write "1:1 sugar level, 24 pounds / 55 cups sugar" on both buckets near line
  6. In one bucket, fill with hot water up to water line
  7. In other bucket, fill with white sugar up to sugar line
  8. Pour hot water over sugar, stirring periodically as you add water

 

The guides below gets you close to making 1 gallon and 5 gallons of sugar water. It is easier for the beekeeper to round up when making it, but you may wan't exactly 1 gallon at times. To make exactly 1 gallon of 1:1 sugar syrup. Combine 4.75 pounds (about 10 3/4 cups) sugar and 4.75 pounds (9 1/2 cups) hot water together. 

The guides below are also a great cheat for measuring how much you need to feed your bees to equal a medium or deep frame. It also gives you an idea how much it is costing you to feed your bees. A lot of work has gone into making it, so please do not take credit for the work or distribute it without permission.

 

Happy Beekeeeping