Beekeepers have an important responsibility to feed their bees when natural food sources are scarce. Syrup made from white sugar provides vital nutrition when nectar is limited or honey stores are low.
This emergency ration helps sustain colonies through lean times and prevent starvation. After reading our sugar syrup recipes and feeding techniques, you will be able to prepare for your bees’ inevitable hungry seasons.
Why Bees Need Supplementary Feeding?
Honey bees consume honey they’ve produced and stored all year round. But this supply gets depleted during dearth periods when flowers are not blooming. Heavy feeding of sugar syrup is crucial for:
- Newly installed package bees – Syrup spurs wax comb production and gets colonies actively foraging and drawing comb.
- Overwintering – Colonies require robust autumn food stores to survive until spring.
- After honey extraction – Taking too much honey without replacing calories stresses colonies.
- Dearth periods – Lack of natural forage from seasonal changes or drought causes hunger.
- Early spring buildup – Brood rearing resumes before adequate nectar and pollen is available.
- Any time stocks within the hive start running low.
When to Feed Bees Sugar Syrup?
The exact feeding schedule depends on your local climate and nectar flows. But here are some general tips:
- Newly installed package bees require heavy feeding immediately after hiving and for several weeks after. Feed until they cease taking syrup, which signals the start of a strong nectar flow.
- Colonies being prepared for winter should receive supplemental syrup in early fall if honey stores appear low. Feed early enough so bees can properly cure syrup before cold weather begins.
- After pulling honey in late summer or fall, assess remaining honey supplies. If minimal, start emergency feeding right away.
- Feed any time you inspect hive frames and see a shortage of honey stored. Don’t let colonies approach starvation levels.
- Early spring feeding helps bees rear brood before fresh nectar and pollen is abundantly available.
Spring Versus Fall Sugar Syrup Recipes
For spring stimulation feeding, a 1:1 ratio of 1 part sugar to 1 part water works well. This thinner syrup encourages wax building, brood production, and general colony growth.
For urgent fall feeding, thicker 2:1 syrup (2 parts sugar to 1 part water) provides more concentrated nutrition when bees desperately need to stock up for winter.
Sugar Syrup Recipe For Beekeepers
Learn how to make Sugar Syrup for bees:
- Assemble granulated white sugar and water in the desired 1:1 or 2:1 proportions. Cane or beet sugar is best – avoid organic, raw, or brown sugar.
- Heat the water in a pan on the stove or microwave. Bring just to a boil then remove from heat.
- Slowly add the sugar to the hot water, stirring constantly until it fully dissolves.
- Let the syrup cool to room temperature before feeding to bees.
- Avoid boiling the finished syrup as this alters the sugar composition.
- Make fresh syrup every few weeks, stored syrup can ferment.
Bee Feeding Methods
Inside Hive Feeding
Only feed sugar syrup inside the hive where robbing is not an issue. Never leave syrup openly accessible outside. Good hive-feeding methods include:
- Inverted jars or buckets over the hive top bars. Poke small holes in the lid.
- Plastic bags with slits laid directly on the frames.
- Frame or division board feeders set inside empty supers.
- Shallow trays or pans with floating supports to prevent drowning.
Entrance feeders are not recommended since they encourage robbing. Only use these when extremely weak colonies need prompting to take syrup.
Dry Sugar Feeding
When temperatures drop below 50°F, bees will not take up liquid syrup. Switch to feeding dry white sugar or thick fondant directly in the hive:
- Plain white sugar in piles or spread out on trays, mats, or sheets of paper placed on top bars.
- Fondant placed on top bars in chunks or inside food-safe bags with slits.
- Hard sugar or fondant “candy boards” positioned above or between frames as emergency food.
- Candy boards can supplement dry sugar feeding.
Bees will cluster around and slowly liquefy solid sugar when needed. Dry feeding requires more work from the bees to utilize the sugar.
How Much Sugar Syrup to Feed?
For package bees, feed a minimum of 1-2 quarts initially, then keep the feeder full for 6-8 weeks until they cease consuming syrup.
For established colonies, monitor feed consumption and refill as needed:
- Weak or small colonies may take only a pint before filling up.
- Large hives may drain a half gallon or more at a time.
- Replenish feeders every 3-5 days to ensure an uninterrupted supply.
Better to feed excessively than risk starvation. If you see capped sugar syrup in the combs, temporarily stop feeding until those cells open back up.
Overwintering Tips for Bees
For winter prep, feed as much thick 2:1 syrup as bees will take through early fall. Aim to stimulate brood rearing and storage of well-ripened syrup before the hive goes dormant.
Take care not to extract any combs still containing unfinished sugar syrup – this will contaminate your honey.
Install your heaviest syrup-fed frames in the core broodnest for winter insulation. Check hives periodically and resume emergency feeding if needed.
With some basic syrup recipes and proper feeding techniques, you can ensure your bees pull through harsh weather and seasonal nectar dearths. Routine sugar supplementation preempts starvation and provides essential nutrients during periods of poor forage. Your bees will thank you.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you make homemade bee feed?
Mix white granulated sugar with water in a 1:1 ratio for spring or 2:1 ratio for fall. Heat the water to help dissolve the sugar completely before feeding.
What is the best food to feed bees?
Plain white refined cane or beet sugar is best. This provides pure sucrose without additives, flavors, or impurities.
Should you feed bees sugar water?
Yes, sugar syrup is essential for supplementing when nectar is scarce. The sugar helps bees survive periods of starvation risk.
What is 2 to 1 sugar syrup?
A 2:1 ratio contains 2 parts sugar dissolved into 1 part hot water. This thicker syrup is ideal for fall buildup and winter stores.
Is it OK to feed bees sugar water?
Absolutely! Sugar syrup gives bees vital calories during dearths but will not harm them when fed properly.
Here are the key points to remember about feeding bees sugar syrup:
- Syrup supplements nutrition when nectar and honey stores are low
- Spring and fall are critical times for heavy feeding
- 1:1 thinner syrup for spring, 2:1 thicker for fall
- Mix just sugar and water. Heat water first
- Always feed inside the hive to prevent robbing
- Dry sugar or fondant can be fed when too cold for syrup
- Monitor consumption and refill feeders frequently
- Feeding prevents starvation during lean times