How To Feed Your Bees Sugar Water Or Syrup

Sugar water (or syrup) is a combination of white cane sugar and water fed to bees as a short-term replacement for honey. The sugar is mixed with the water and gradually heated until the sugar is completely dissolved.

When cool, the sugar water or syrup can be fed to a honeybee colony. The ratio of sugar to water depends on what the mixture is used for.

Honey bees landing on a pot

When Should You Feed Bees Sugar Water?

Sugar water is a temporary replacement for stored honey when your colony is in need of more food. You should never feed bees honey from an unknown source (such as the supermarket or another beehive) because it could lead to infection and have a disastrous effect on the hive.

You can feed your bees sugar water as a food supplement in the following situations:

A New Hive

You may have received a new hive of bees that haven’t yet had the chance to build up enough honey stores to eat. It will take the colony a few days to settle and find suitable food sources in its new location.

The bees will need the energy to undertake everyday tasks such as feeding the colony, building comb, and gathering nectar and pollen. To help meet these energy requirements, sugar water or syrup can be fed as a supplement.

A Weak Hive

A weak hive with not many worker bees will have trouble surviving the winter. Before the start of fall (autumn), you’ll need to feed your hive sugar water or syrup so the bees can build up a supply of stored honey during winter when nectar is in short supply.

Low Supply Of Nectar

A nectar shortage in Summer is often caused by a lack of rain and/or high temperatures. If your hive has insufficient nectar nearby, they may need sugar water to help tide them over until more nectar is available.

Difficult Weather Conditions

Difficult weather conditions can affect the collection of nectar. Weather that is unusually cold, wet, or windy makes it challenging for your bees to forage for nectar. When this happens, your colony might need sugar water or syrup to supplement the nectar shortage.

Sugar Water Or Syrup Recipe For Bees

Sugar water is made up of different concentrations and quantities depending upon what it is used for. There are two main reasons why bees are fed sugar water or syrup:

  1. When you want to aid the growth of the colony or when rearing queens. This type of sugar water feeding is done in spring and should be given to the hive in small quantities. In this case, the ratio of sugar to water is 1 part white sugar to 1 part water. In other words, for every cup of water, there should also be 1 cup of sugar.
  2. When you want to provide winter stores for your colony. This takes place in fall (autumn), and quantities are substantially larger. This recipe is thicker and is known as sugar syrup. The ratio is 2 parts white sugar to 1 part water. In other words, for every cup of water, there should also be 2 cups of sugar.

What Type Of Sugar Should You Use For Sugar Water?

White cane sugar should be used because it doesn’t contain any additives, which may cause digestive complaints in bees. It’s also readily available and inexpensive to buy, making it economical because you may use it in large quantities.

Some Beekeepers Add Essential Oils To Their Sugar Water

I’ve read that some beekeepers may add essential oils to sugar water to help control pests. However, I have never done so and don’t know any beekeeper who uses oils in this way.

This is most likely because in southern Australia, where I live, beekeepers may have no need (yet) to incorporate them. Fortunately, the varroa mite has not yet infiltrated Australia.

Essential oils may be added to help prevent the sugar water from becoming moldy and to aid the control of some pests, such as varroa mite, within the hive. The most popular oils used in sugar water are thyme, spearmint, or lemongrass oil.

Using essential oils within sugar water requires you to find a reliable recipe that is approved by an authoritative source. Essential oils are powerful compounds that must be measured accurately when added to sugar water or syrup.

If you’re not sure whether or not to add essential oils to your sugar water, I’d recommend you seek advice from an experienced beekeeper within your local area first.

You can join a nearby beekeeping club by searching the internet. There are many experienced beekeepers there who would be happy to inspect your hive and give you advice as to whether your hive would benefit from using essential oils.

How To Make Bees Sugar Water – Step By Step

Whether using sugar water to stimulate the growth of your colony or sugar syrup to supplement a shortage of stored honey, the method I use to make it is the same:

  1. Measure the required amount of water into a large saucepan or pot.
  2. Measure and add the correct amount of white cane sugar to the water.
  3. Slowly heat the mixture, stirring continuously.
  4. When the sugar is dissolved, remove the saucepan and allow the sugar water or syrup to cool.

How To Feed Bees Sugar Water – Step By Step

I feed sugar water or syrup to my bees using either a large zip lock bag with perforations or an inverted, empty tin with small holes in the lid. I’ve found both of these feeders effective and also cheap.

The large zip lock bags I use can hold up to 8 cups of sugar water or syrup. Here’s how I prepare the bag and place it on the hive:

  1. Pour the sugar water or syrup into the zip lock bag.
  2. Carefully remove as much air as possible, then close the bag securely.
  3. Remove the lid of the hive.
  4. Place the bag horizontally on the hive mat, which sits on top of the frames.
  5. Using a utility knife or sharp scissors, slice several slits in the bag so the sugar water or syrup is coming through.
  6. Replace the lid of the hive.
Honey bees eating sugar syrup from a plastic bag

Alternatively, you can use a tin. I use an empty Milo tin, but an empty coffee tin or other tin would suffice.

I recommend having at least two so you can change them over at the same time without opening the hive twice. Just make sure the tins are clean and dry before using.

I position two rulers on the frames to support the inverted tin, so it’s not lying directly on the frames. You will need an empty super to place over the tin, so it’s not exposed.

  1. Puncture many small holes in the lid using a hammer and nail.
  2. Fill the tin with the cooled sugar water (syrup) and secure the lid.
  3. Remove the lid and place the two rulers in the appropriate position.
  4. Invert the tin over the hive and carefully place the tin in position.
  5. Place an empty super on top of the hive and replace the lid.
Beekeeper placing sugar syrup inside open hive

There are many other types of feeders you can either make yourself or buy online. The feeders I use have the advantage of being inexpensive, readily available, and easy to make. They are used internally, so the syrup is not out in the open where wasps or bees from other colonies may rob.

The quantity of sugar water or syrup you use will determine how often you should check the feeder. If using a feeder that contains 1-2 liters (34-68 ounces), you should check the hive approximately every two weeks, depending on the weather. Pick a day that is sunny with little wind.

If using a feeder that holds more than two liters (68 ounces), the hive can be checked every three weeks approximately. For information on when to stop feeding your bees sugar water, see my post on the subject.

Final Thoughts

There are times when the strategic use of sugar water or syrup as a supplement can enhance a colony’s productivity and, in some cases, help them survive.

Sugar syrup feeders can be either made or bought, depending on your personal preference and situation as a beekeeper. There are feeders that will suit everyone, from a hobbyist beekeeper to one with a commercial apiary.

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