Why feed sugar syrup to honey bees?
Spring is one of the times when you may have to feed your bees sugar syrup. If you are new to beekeeping it helps to understand why, when, what, and how to feed. I will try to cover the main points.
If your bees have used up their winter stores of honey, they may need syrup for a few weeks until the nectar starts to flow. This can happen even if you didn’t harvest any honey in the previous season. Sometimes a dry summer prevents the bees from making enough honey, sometimes a winter cluster is a bit too large and eats through the supplies early, and sometimes the nectar flows are late. And, yes, sometimes the beekeeper harvested too much the year before. In any case, a few weeks of sugar syrup can often save the colony.
Another springtime need for syrup occurs when you set up a new hive with a package of bees. They don’t have anything to start with unless you give them frames of honey or sugar syrup. If you’re just starting out, and you don’t have frames of honey laying around, sugar syrup will do the trick. Never give your bees honey that didn’t come from your own apiary. Honey can harbor disease organisms that can infect your new bees. Stick with sugar syrup.
Check your existing hives in the very early spring to see if they have enough honey. If they don’t, you can start them on syrup if it’s warm enough for them to break cluster and feed on it. Otherwise, you might want to use a candy board until the weather gets warmer.
A spring syrup is usually mixed in a 1:1 ratio, either by weight or volume—they are close enough that it doesn’t much matter. Every type of nectar has a different ratio of sugar to water, so the bees can handle a little variation. Don’t obsess over it. Just heat the water to about a simmer, remove it from the stove and dump in the sugar, then stir until all the crystals are dissolved. You can also dissolve the sugar in cold water, it just takes more stirring.
At this point you can add some Honey-B-Healthy if you like, or a couple of drops of an essential oil, such as spearmint or lemongrass. These oils are supposed to be good for the bees and, in any case, the bees love them and will finish the syrup in no time. Honey-B-Healthy is a commercial product that contains these essential oils along with an emulsifier to keep them in solution. It’s an excellent product, but expensive, so some beekeepers like to make a substitute. Either is fine, but the Honey-B-Healthy is easier to handle.
I will write about the different kinds of feeders in a separate post. In the meantime, you can stock up on sugar. You will be pleased to know that the price of sugar reached all-time highs this past year thanks to the sugar tariffs imposed by our government.