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Sugar syrup ratios: which one to use

Sugar syrup is usually made in two different ratios depending on the time of the year. Light syrup or spring syrup is 1 part sugar to 1 part water by either weight or volume. Heavy syrup or fall syrup is made from 2 parts sugar to one part water.

The rationale behind these sugar syrup ratios is that light syrup is similar to nectar. The availability of nectar stimulates the production of brood in the spring, and light syrup tends to do the same thing. With a ready supply of nectar or light syrup, the workers will build comb and the queen will lay eggs. Some people advocate the use of 1 part sugar to 2 parts water to stimulate brood rearing, although this isn’t as common as it used to be.

Fall syrup resembles honey and bees tend to store it for winter. It is used in the fall if the beekeeper feels there is not enough honey stored in the hive to make it through the winter. One gallon of heavy syrup (2:1) may increase colony reserves by about 7 pounds.

Plain white sugar is best for bees

It is important to use just plain white granulated sugar, not brown sugar, molasses, sorghum, or fruit juices as these all have impurities that can cause dysentery in bees. Confectioner’s sugar has corn starch in it, which is also not good. Some older recipes recommend the use of cream of tartar (tartaric acid) to keep fall syrup from crystallizing, but this practice has been largely abandoned because it, too, may be bad for bees. Bee dysentery is not a disease caused by a pathogen but a condition caused by poor quality food. It appears as spots of feces around the hive entrance, or inside the hive, and is easily confused with Nosema, which is caused by a pathogen.

The source of the plain white sugar doesn’t really matter. Refined table sugar (sucrose) is a disaccharide derived from glucose and fructose, and has the molecular formula C12H22O11. It is the same whether it came from cane or beets.

In the spring, discontinue syrup when the hive is strong and the nectar is flowing, when the bees lose interest in syrup, or when you install a honey super. In the fall when the weather gets cold enough, the bees will simply stop taking the syrup. When that happens, remove the remaining syrup to prevent fermentation or moisture build-up in the hive.

Rusty

Comments

peggy
Reply

Any idea of how much honey bees can make from a gallon of 2:1 sugar syrup?

Rusty
Reply

Peggy,

The real answer to this question is zero. Bees can’t make any honey from a gallon of sugar syrup because honey is made from nectar.

However, if you mean how much capped syrup can they make, I will give you a very loose estimate.

A gallon of 2:1 syrup is 2/3 sugar and 1/3 water so it is roughly 66% sugar and 34% water. Now, the bees cap nectar at about 17-18% water and we can assume they do the same for syrup. So to get to 17% water, they need to lose about 1/2 of the water in 2:1 syrup. So they are need to lose 1/2 of 1/3 of the gallon, or 1/6. If you assume there are 128 ounces in a gallon, then there are about 21 ounces in 1/6 of a gallon. So 128-21=107 ounces of dehydrated “cappable” 17% syrup.

107 ounces is about 84% of a gallon or 3 quarts and 11 ounces.

Debbi Jaeger Cannizzaro
Reply

Thank you for your scientific analysis of what happens with the bees and the sugar syrups. I tend to analyze everything, so this makes so much more sense to me. The Honey Suite is now on my contact list for information, good info. There is so much out there, I could ask 10 keepers a question and get 12 different answers. I am a new keeper (my first year) and am trying to be an information sponge. I want to be the best beekeeper that I can bee.
Thanks again, DJC

Rusty
Reply

Thank you, Debbi.

Mark Welsch
Reply

I super analyse everything too. Measuring the ratio for sugar water is different if you measure it by volume or weight. This is because:

1 cup of water weighs 8.3214 Ounces at sea level. At my house it weighs 8 1/4 ounces. The higher you are, the same thing will weigh less. 1 cup of white cane sugar weighs 7 1/8 ounces at my house. So, by volume, water weighs about 16% more than the same volume of sugar. I’m not sure, but the fineness of the sugar probably makes a difference in the weight per cup too. I super analyze things, but I’m not going to buy a bunch of different types of sugar to see how much the different sized grains weigh.

Rusty
Reply

Mark,

You may be super-analyzing, but you’re missing the point. Every single flower type has different concentrations of sugar to water. Even the same flower can have different concentrations depending on time of day and rainfall. So worrying about “exactness” when making sugar syrup is not relevant. The ratios we commonly use were decided upon by beekeepers trying to come up with a reasonable alternative. Taking your calculations out to four decimal places does not impress the bees. Dump some sugar into some water and the bees will use it. If they store it, they will dry it down to the level they like.

dana
Reply

I just started feeding sugar syrup for fall and winter. It has not been cold. I have a hive top feeders with a flotation grate. I have found syrup to be crystalizing somewhat. It is the two parts sugar one part water recipe. Any ideas on how to stop the crystalizing? Thanks. Dana

Gav.
Reply

What amount of cider vinegar to two-to-one mix of sugar to water. Please .
Is this Rusty from Otaki bee club?

Rusty
Reply

Gav,

1. Try about one tablespoon per gallon of sugar syrup.

2. No.

charles
Reply

Can you overfeed a package of bees when you install them on drawn out comb? I have them on one hive body right now but they have all taken about 1 and a half gallon of 1-to-1 syrup and aren’t slowing down. Will they fill up all egg space?

Suz
Reply

Hi Rusty,

I wrote to you a few years ago about the bear destroying my hives, and sent you a picture of the hives hopefully fastened to the deck. The only reason the fastening worked, I imagine, is because the furry fellow was very lazy from feeding in the suburbs. With a choice of easy morsels, why spend energy trying to get my hives open. A year later, I put up an electric fence in my back yard, which is 15 feet from my deck. I haven’t seen a bear since that first year. I don’t know if I sent any pictures of the fence or not.

I am writing because I have just been asked to be the editor for our beekeeping club newsletter, and as I wait for members to send in articles, I was wondering if I could share something you have written in our newsletter? I would give you credit and also give your website address so they could enjoy your site.

Could I put either your ariticle on sugar ratios or/and your article on those new Flow Hive?

Rusty
Reply

Suz,

I certainly remember your bear-damage photos; they were something else! Anyway, yes, go ahead and use the articles. I am honored.

Suz
Reply

Thanks very much!

James
Reply

The bees don’t care; it won’t impact their health. Being a GM crop does not automatically make something dangerous or less nutritionally viable.

Mark Welsch
Reply

Why take any chances with GMO crops and the huge amount of pesticides that are sprayed on them? A lot of those sprays kill bees. So, by using GMO sugar I think we would be supporting the use of lots of pesticides.

I will only use cane sugar, and if I can find and afford it, organic sugar.

JB
Reply

How much of the syrup fed to the bees winds up bottled and sold in the store as honey?

Rusty
Reply

JB,

I would imagine quite a bit.

JB
Reply

Thank you Rusty for your candid reply. I guess that means if you are looking to honey for its historical salutary benefits, you will need to get a hive and ‘roll your own’, so to speak, rather than run the risk of the hellish health hazards posed by hi-fructose corn syrup and sugar, which will inevitably contaminate the product of all those who are feeding that crap to the bees. Any idea how to find beekeepers who would feed only honey back to the bees should supplementation become necessary?

Rusty
Reply

JB,

I think the best way is to ask the beekeeper. You can often find them at farmer’s markets and roadside produce stands. Otherwise, you might try calling the local beekeeper’s organization and asking them.

suz
Reply

The whole reason I went into beekeeping is for that very reason. To have honey that is not part sugar syrup nor pesticides used in the hive. I did not feed my bees sugar and they died. Maybe because they didn’t have enough to eat, maybe because of something else. ( I know what starving bees looks like. It is pitiful to see hundreds of little bodies trying to lick the last atom of honey out of a cell.)

Also, I tried to just use essential oils, screened bottom boards, powdered sugar, etc for mite control. Again, the 4 years I’ve been keeping bees, they have died each winter. (One year demolished by bears).

I’m sure somewhere somebody is doing it. I haven’t figured it out. Or there is an issue with something. It doesn’t work if a beekeeper isn’t proactive. I don’t know of a single beekeeper in my area who doesn’t use sugar syrup or mite treatments.

This year, I have fed my nucs sugar syrup regularly and pollen patties this fall. Good Luck. I would like to hear how things turn out.

Margaret Christman
Reply

1. I have been feeding honey bees for several weeks now… it is only in the 50’s and windy… so I figure they are desperate. Do I feed them until I see Spring flowers? (Last year I fed them for about a week and only about 8 bees at at time, this year there are about 150 bees and I have expanded my feeders.)

2. I tried feeding them 2 parts sugar to one part water and found quite a few crystallized dead bees the next day… so I have gone back to my hummingbird formula of 1 part sugar to 3 parts water. Will they get enough sugar from that?

3. As desperate as they are… should I get something with pollen for them too?

Thank you.

Rusty
Reply

Hi Margaret,

If I understand, you are feeding wild honey bees, not a hive of bees. Is that correct?

For feeding wild bees, there is really no right and wrong formula. If you think about it, each type of flower has nectar with a different sweetness. Beekeepers generally feed 2:1 syrup in fall, and 1:1 in spring, but that is because they are looking for certain outcomes. That is, they want storage of the syrup in fall, but in the spring they want to stimulate brood development.

I’m not sure why you found crystallized dead bees. Did they fall in the syrup? Always make sure they have something to stand on. Honey bees start to forage in 50-degree weather, but that is pretty cold for them. If the syrup is cold, they may get chilled. If they get too cold, they get sluggish and eventually can’t move.

Bees can always use pollen or a pollen substitute. If you can put it in a place protected from the weather, they would probably take it.

Margaret Christman
Reply

Don’t know if they are wild or someone has a hive. We have lots of kept hives around here because of farming. (They have transportable hives in styrofoam containers).

I only feed them for about 3 hours per day with the sugar/water mix, figuring that is the warmest part of the day and when the sun is on my feeders… I leave them the dry sugar for the rest of the day (not sure what they do with it since it is dry, but it keeps them busy). They eat so fast I have to refill the feeders about every hour before they come looking for me. (who knew bees would hunt you down when they need refills??)

Rusty
Reply

It’s been dry in your area, right? The bees are probably short of food and happy of your offering.

Margaret Christman
Reply

Our average rainfall is 4 inches per year, but the Colorado River is about 1/2 mile away.

Will the bees eventually stop eating the sugar water I have out? I don’t want to just stop feeding them… it’s amazing how much they can suck down in a few hours a day!

Rusty
Reply

Margaret,

They usually stop drinking sugar water when a reliable nectar source becomes available.

Ray Andrews
Reply

I am excited to be a beekeeper. This will be my first hive. Your sight has been a Godsend for information. I hope to do well. Thanks Rusty for your help. Ray

Rusty
Reply

Ray,

Let us know how it goes!

Adam
Reply

I’m looking to mix 100 gallons of sugar water real soon. For a 1:2 ratio does anyone know approximately how much sugar that really is? I have seen so many different recipes thanks.

Rusty
Reply

Adam,

One part sugar to two parts water? Well, I would take one pound of sugar and add two pounds of water, mix it well, and then measure the volume. I tried it and got 40 ounces. Then just figure out how many times 40 ounces (or whatever it is) goes into 100 gallons (12800 ounces). In this case 12800/40=320. So you will need 320 of those three pound units that you mixed up, in other words, 320 pounds of sugar and 640 pounds of water.

Richie
Reply

Hi Rusty,
I went to my first local beekeepers club meeting Thursday and a gentleman was there that was giving out a sheet with syrup mixture ratios. He said a 1:1 mixture by weight. I go home and checked and found that that 1 gal. of water weighs ~ 8.3 pounds, 1 gal. of granulated sugar weighs ~4.2 pounds. What is a standard 1:1 syrup, by weight or volume ? Thanks, this is a great site.

Rusty
Reply

Richie,

The sugar weight cannot be right.

Richie
Reply

Hi again, well, trust the internet to confuse. I typed” how much does a gallon of sugar weigh” that took me to a science site where it said ” 4.2 Lb.” , I blindly trusted that . Then I started thinking about it and thought, it seems like an 8lb. sack of sugar looks close to a gallon. I then went to several other sites and got answers from 7.05-9.5 with 7.1 being the most common. Domino lists 7.05 lb./gal. That means that really you wouldn’t be that far off either way just as you said. I apologize for questioning , but I just wanted to make sure I was mixing it right.

Rusty
Reply

Richie,

Don’t worry about mixing it right. It’s just sugar syrup so there is no right or wrong, it just weaker or stronger.

Joe Folsom
Reply

Can pure cane organic sugar be used. It is usually unbleached, looks beige in color but has no additives……..Just sugar?

Linda M.
Reply

I love referring to your site when I’m in doubt of beekeeping, so much information -thank you!

I do have a question on feeding. I have 15 hives (started with two last year). One hive was a split that didn’t make a queen right away – I tried frames of brood and they finally made one. She’s a laying machine! Very pleased with her. I want them to have 2 full brood boxes for winter and because the queen only just started laying a month ago they have 4 frames of brood and 2 honey/nectar and 2 empty outside frames. 8-frame box obviously and by the way I live in western NY. The goldenrod is just starting to bloom too. I want to make sure they are ready for winter so I put another brood box on and started feeding 2/1. So, my question is will they make wax and build out the foundation frames and store the sugar syrup in those or will they start filling up their bottom box and backfilling the brood chamber? Thanks for any advise!

Rusty
Reply

Linda,

I’m guessing they will not build comb but will backfill the empty spaces. It’s that time of year.

Tom
Reply

My bees are in central new jersey. How long into the fall/winter do you feed sugar syrup. I have a hive that really needs some more food but I am concerned that the bees wont be able to fan out enough moisture in the syrup if the weather gets too cold.

Rusty
Reply

Tom,

You can feed sugar syrup until the syrup itself (not the air) gets down to around 50 degrees F. You can tell when it reaches that point because the bees just stop drinking it. After that, just give them granulated sugar, fondant, candy cakes. Please see a list of posts under the tab Sugar, Sugar.

Tom
Reply

Thank you. The 50 degree I presume is a daytime temp?

Tom

Rusty
Reply

Tom,

No. Day or night, light or dark doesn’t matter. It is the temperature of the syrup that matters. Once it gets too cold, they can’t drink it.

Tom
Reply

Thanks again. Read sugar, sugar. Makes sense. I’ll actually take the temp. of the syrup.

Debra Butler
Reply

I’m putting out sugar water at the hummingbird level, 1 cup sugar to 4 cups water, and the bees, yellowjackets and hornets(?) are crazy over it, just as they are during warmer weather! They almost don’t let the hummingbird have access! Is this too weak for them? I will change it for their health and well being. I’m in South Carolina and don’t have hives, I’m just trying to keep bees alive.

Rusty
Reply

Debra,

No, it’s not too weak. In fact, it more closely resembles nectar than thicker syrup. Beekeepers use heavier mixtures because they are trying to get their bees to store it for winter. But bees—both honey bees and wild bees—will enjoy and benefit from the nectar-like syrup.

BJ
Reply

I have 6 gallons of prepared 2:1 syrup left over from fall feeding. Can I convert this to a fondant recipe for candy boards for winter? My usual recipe for fondant is 3 cups water, 4 lb bag sugar, 1 cup karo and 1 tsp lemon juice per batch. I’m trying to figure out a conversion without much luck. Have you used left over syrup to make fondant?

Rusty
Reply

BJ,

Here is post for you: Notes on cooking sugar syrup. The thing to remember is that when we make anything with sugar we add water to dissolve the crystals, and then we drive the water back out until the sugar reaches the constancy we want. It doesn’t matter how much water you add because you can always drive it back out with heat. The downside is the more water you add, the longer it takes to drive it out.

In your case, I would just start boiling the syrup until your candy thermometer says you have reached the “fondant” stage. That’s all you have to do. Usually, you wait for it to cool and then knead it a bit. It will take quite a while to boil 2:1 syrup into fondant, but it is definitely doable.

People tend to make this a lot more complicated than it really is. Just boil it and you will get there. It’s easiest to use a thermometer.

Ralph Badgley
Reply

Hi Rusty,

I live in Canada and I would just like to say thank you for all the advice you put out there and your followers too. I’m trying my hardest to help save the bees. I’m planting wild flowers everywhere on my property to get them to stay home. Again thank-you for your wealth of information.

PJ
Reply

We feed sugar syrup to our bees which is clear and thick, it’s delivered to us by tanker truck.. This seasons sugar is gold in colour and has started fermenting, is tastes more like a raw sugar than a white sugar…

Does anyone have any advice….not sure if we should send the syrup back.

Rusty
Reply

PJ,

If it’s fermenting, I would send it back. Alcohol is not good for bees.

Thabang Gregory Mane
Reply

I really get a lot of important information by reading your email publications about “Bee-Keeping”. Please send me your newsletters. You’re doing great work indeed, please keep-on giving us this very important knowledge about the bees.

Rusty
Reply

I only have one sign-up for both updates and an occasional newsletter. If you are on the email list already, that’s it.

Ray Andrews
Reply

Hi Rusty,

On March 7, 2016 I made a comment on one of your blogs about sugar syrup articles. I had no bees at that time. Now here it is May 3, 2017 and I have brought my two hives through a Colo. winter with all and more of my bees. I do feed my bees 2:1 syrup in winter and 1:1 in the spring and I do put apple cider vinegar in my syrup to keep it from spoiling. I read about the lady that was having a problem with her syrup crystallizing and the only time I have any of that problem is if I let it dry around the lid of the container that I pour the syrup from. If I put a small amount of crisco oil on a paper towel and lightly go around the threads of the lid it does not stick and I do not get crystallizing. I am now going into my second season with more faith in myself as a beekeeper. Thank you for being here for all of us. Ray

Rusty
Reply

Hi Ray,

Thank you for a great idea. I agree that once crystals start, they can “seed” the mix and begin the crystallization process. Using the oil probably prevents the whole thing from getting started.

Question: You say you feed 2:1 syrup in winter. I’m going to assume your feeder is enclosed within the hive. Is that correct? I’m very interested in learning more about liquid feed in winter because I’m hearing about it more often. With a good-sized colony, I imagine the syrup can stay quite warm if it’s enclosed. Also, how big is the feeder? Very curious. Thanks.

Dheerayupa Avery
Reply

Dear Rusty,

We live in the Down Under, but your website is our great source of knowledge. Thank you so much!

Here in Australia we are approaching winter, so ten days ago my hubby fed our bees 1:1 syrup, using top feeder. A week later the syrup in every of our five hives of two supers was all gone. So, we topped it up to ensure our bees had enough supply to go through the winter. Reading your article again, I realized that we made a mistake!

I’m now starting to worry if the bees will have an unconventional idea of swarming just before winter?

So worried.

Thank you.

Dheerayupa

Rusty
Reply

Dheerayupa,

Don’t worry. The timing of syrup ratios is something that is over-rated. In nature, every single flower type has a different ratio of sugar to water and none of it upsets the bees. In fall, they have to work harder to fan off all the water, so it’s best to use a heavier syrup, but it isn’t going to cause your bees to swarm. Most likely, you don’t even have drones this time of year. Since they can’t produce mated queens, they are not going to swarm.

Dheerayupa Avery
Reply

Dear Rusty,

You’re simply wonderful!

Lots of love to you and your bees!

John Gawler
Reply

Thanks very much Rusty – This is helpful. I just installed a nuc without any frames of honey to give ’em and I will feed some 1 to 1 until the weather warms up and the nectar flows sufficiently. john

Madeleine Timbes
Reply

I have two horizontal hives that I installed packages of Italian bees and queens. My recipe for syrup was 10 cups of water to 5 pounds of sugar. What do you think? They eat or rather drink a quart a day. So would that be 8 cups of water to 4 pounds of sugar as that is how it comes now. And my figuring it that it is neither 1:1 or 2:1 because 5 pounds of sugar is 11 1/4 cups.

Thanks for your site-great information!

Rusty
Reply

Madeleine,

The point is, it doesn’t matter. Every single plant produces nectar with a different ratio of sugar to water. No plant is using a recipe and neither are the bees. The ratios are simply guidelines you can follow if you want. Personally, I put some sugar in a container and top it off with water. Sometimes it’s thick, sometimes it’s thin, but the bees have never complained.

Steph
Reply

Rusty,

I have surfed your site for some time now and finally started with my first package of bees this spring. I have to say, out of the countless hours of which I read and have read up on bees, your site tends to be the most mobile friendly (which is a big plus in my book!) informative, and concise one that I have found. I always find the straight scoop on what I’m needing to know and then if I still have questions, I simply surf the comments and it’s usually answered there.

My bees and I are grateful.

Rusty
Reply

Thank you, Steph!

Gregory
Reply

Hi Rusty
Just came across your site, well written, congrats. In reading some of the posts on the sugar/water ratio, a very easy way is using metric measures. While metric is not much used in the US, much of the info is already on the measuring cups and on the sugar labels. And luckily for us 1 kilo of sugar has the same mass as 1 liter of water. So a 1:1 ratio is 1 kg of sugar to 1 liter of water, a 2:1 ratio is 2 kg of sugar to 1 liter of water….for information 3,785 liters is equal to 1 US gallon, 1000ml is equal to 1 liter, 1 cup is equivalent to 236 ml… Have a good day

Anne Marie Fogarty
Reply

Rusty, your site is the beekeepers bible. Thank you.

My question:

1. Can I keep bees without giving them sugar syrup at all by leaving them with some of the honey they have produced themselves? I don’t want to feed sugar syrup if possible as I feel I will have a more pure product although less honey.

2. Would using oxalic acid crystals vs apiguard to treat mites also mean I have a more pure product?

3. Would I have less disease using the above methods or not?

This is my first year. I have fed sugar syrup to get the bees to draw foundation. I have not taken any honey as I don’t want a poor quality product. I have a national brood box and a super on for the winter both with capped honey/sugar syrup and I hope they will have that eaten by winter and I can start getting pure honey next year.

Pure product and not pure profit is my objective while not robbing the bees of all they have worked hard for over the year. I am aware that other bees may rob them and then I will have no option but to feed. Am I in dreamland?

PS, I don’t know how you get to answer all our queries. Thank you again.

Rusty
Reply

Anne Marie,

Good management techniques can keep your honey free of syrup and chemicals, whether you use them or not. You need to follow the instructions found on labels, and you need to understand what is going on in the hive. Timing is critical.

1. Yes, you can keep bees without feeding them syrup. But you need to monitor them to make sure they don’t run out of food.

2. If used properly by following all labeling instructions, your honey crop should be fine using either oxalic acid or thymol (Apiguard). These are considered “natural” products in the sense that they occur naturally in the environment and were not “invented” by man. However, the concentrations of chemical found in these products is way above anything found in nature, so careful use is important.

3. Less disease? Oddly, your bees are more likely to come down with honey bee dysentery when fed honey than when fed syrup. Honey bee dysentery is not caused by a pathogen like human dysentery, it just comes from too many solids accumulating in the bee gut between cleansing flights. It turns out that honey has many more solids than refined sugar. However, honey contains more vitamins and minerals. Feeding light-colored honey is a good compromise, as light-colored honey contains fewer solids than dark-colored honey.

The oxalic acid controls varroa mites and the thymol controls varroa mites and sometimes tracheal mites. The mites are parasites, not pathogens, by they can carry pathogens such as viruses.

Rusty
Reply

Anne Marie,

Good management techniques can keep your honey free of syrup and chemicals, whether you use them or not. You need to follow the instructions found on labels, and you need to understand what is going on in the hive. Timing is critical.

1. Yes, you can keep bees without feeding them syrup. But you need to monitor them to make sure they don’t run out of food.

2. If used properly by following all labeling instructions, your honey crop should be fine using either oxalic acid or thymol (Apiguard). These are considered “natural” products in the sense that they occur naturally in the environment and were not “invented” by man. However, the concentrations of chemical found in these products is way above anything found in nature, so careful use is important.

3. Less disease? Oddly, your bees are more likely to come down with honey bee dysentery when fed honey than when fed syrup. Honey bee dysentery is not caused by a pathogen like human dysentery, it just comes from too many solids accumulating in the bee gut between cleansing flights. It turns out that honey has many more solids than refined sugar. However, honey contains more vitamins and minerals. Feeding light-colored honey is a good compromise, as light-colored honey contains fewer solids than dark-colored honey.

The oxalic acid controls varroa mites and the thymol controls varroa mites and sometimes tracheal mites. The mites are parasites, not pathogens, by they can carry pathogens such as viruses.

Anne Marie
Reply

Thanks very much Rusty. That helps me greatly to better understand feeding principles and mite control.

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