Sugar syrup is essentially a liquid containing sugar dissolved into water. This syrup can be used by beekeepers to feed their bees. Bees collect, consume and store sugar syrup in much the same way as they would with nectar harvested from plants.
This syrup does, however, differ from naturally collected nectar, and it is less than ideal for bees health to be fed strictly on sugar syrup.
When do beekeepers use sugar syrup?
Beekeepers may choose to feed their bees sugar syrup at various points throughout the year.
A beekeeper may notice that a hive has used all of its stored honey and has limited wild nectar available to it. In this instance, the hive risks dying out due to starvation. To rectify this, the beekeeper may decide to feed their bees sugar syrup to effectively keep them from starving. This can be a good temporary solution and does save many bee colonies when times are tough.
Establishing a new colony
After removing a beehive from a location where it was not wanted, or when rehoming a swarm of bees, a beekeeper may also decide to feed their bees some sugar syrup. In both instances, the beehive has left all of its honey resources behind and its bees are effectively refugees.
By feeding the hive some sugar syrup the bees can afford to expend more energy building up their new hive. Building new wax comb takes a lot of energy and the bees can often really do with the boost that the readily available sugar syrup provides.
Coming out of Winter
In nature, bees will grow their population as there becomes an abundance of nectar available. When a beekeeper seeks to yeild a large honey crop from their bees, they want to have their hives at peak capacity, in terms of the number of foraging age bees in the hive, just when the nectar is coming in.
In order to achieve this peak of numbers, a beekeeper can simulate a nectar flow by the use of sugar syrup.
This sugar syrup makes the bees believe that conditions are ready to build numbers and if timed right, means that they have raised up a heap of new bees and they have matured to foraging age.
Doing the maths on this, with a worker bee taking 21 days to hatch, and then another 21 days to reach foraging age, this means that a beekeeper should be aiming to simulate a flow approx 6 weeks prior to the actual nectar flow.
By adding some light sugar syrup to their hives at around the end of Winter, beekeepers can ensure their hives hit the ground running come early Spring.
Prior to Winter
In preparation for Winter, beekeepers should aim to leave some honey stores for the bees to survive on during the colder months. If however, a beekeeper finds that their bees have not accumulated enough honey (or that they have harvested too much from them), then sugar syrup can help.
By adding a thick mix of sugar syrup to a hive in Autumn, the bees will set about storing this as a reserve to get through Winter. This can assist considerably and can help ensure the bees survive the months when they either cannot leave the hive to forage, or when there is nothing outside to forage upon
Should I feed my bees sugar syrup?
Some beekeepers have an objection to using sugar syrup to feed their bees. Many people claim that it is not ethical, nor is it good for the bees.
Our belief is that it should be used sparingly. The use of sugar syrup is no substitute for proper hive management. If a beekeeper finds themself constantly having to use sugar syrup for their bees, then they should probably seek help to assess what they are doing wrong.
It should also be noted that sugar syrup cannot ever yield the bees any actual honey. While the frames of capped off sugar syrup may look like honey, they are not. One should avoid feeding bees sugar syrup when there are honey supers on the hive. This is to ensure that the beekeeper does not end up harvesting frames of sugar syrup, as this will dilute and compromise their honey harvest.
Is it safe to feed sugar syrup to bees?
So long as the sugar used to feed the bees is white sugar, it is generally considered to be safe for the bees. The use of raw, brown and dark brown sugars or molasses in sugar syrups is harmful to bees and must be avoided. It causes them digestive problems and can lead to issues such as dysentery.
Critics of sugar syrup propose that there is not enough ‘good stuff’ in sugar for bees to survive upon long term. We agree with this, and understand that bees do best on a mixed diet that incorporates all the macronutrients and other beneficial ‘good stuff’ that comes from collecting actual nectar.
As a temporary solution, yes, we believe it is safe and we have never seen any adverse effects. Would we feed our bees on it year-round? Certainly not. So long as you use it only when needed, then sugar syrup can be a useful beekeeping tool.
What kind of sugar syrup ratio to feed to bees
There are a number of different methods and recipes for mixing up sugar syrup.
In essence, the differences centre around the ratio of sugar to water. The following ratios are expressed as sugar to water based on weight.
For example, a 1:1 ratio would be 1 kg of sugar mixed into 1 kg of water (1 litre).
Likewise, a 2:1 ratio would be 2kg of sugar mixed into 1 Litre of water.
The following are a brief breakdown of when you would use certain mixes.
0.5:1 – simulate light nectar flow and stimulate brood production
1:1 – to help feed bees and encourage them to build comb
2:1 – a thick syrup that bees will store away
Below is a calculator to quickly and simply work out how much sugar you would require to mix with water in order to achieve the above ratios.
For a more in-depth calculator, follow this link https://www.buzztech.nz/calc/
Or this link http://www.apiarybook.com/sugarsyrup.html
We hope that this article has given you a better understanding of sugar syrup and when and why beekeepers use it.
If you have any questions please comment below, and if you feel this post may help others, feel free to share it with them.