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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.

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.

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.

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.

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