Supplemental feeding may be necessary when starting new colonies to promote brood rearing and queen production in early spring or during inclement weather, often using 2:1 sugar water syrup as the preferred solution.
Some beekeepers add citric acid to their syrup in order to mimic honey more closely, or inverting sugar so bees can more easily digest it.
Commercial beekeepers frequently utilize supplemental syrup feeding to stave off starvation during periods of low nectar availability and to stimulate comb building in spring (Goodwin 1997). Supplemental feeding also increases pollen foraging among colony members, leading to greater brood rearing efficiency and enhanced pollination (Goodwin 1997).
Beekeepers must understand what ingredients are included in their sugar syrup for bees to thrive, particularly as certain syrups contain additives which may be difficult for bees to process metabolizing, including potentially toxic 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), found in some commercially produced sucrose products.
HMF, or Honey Bee Mite Fumes (HMF), is an by-product of sugar processing that accumulates over time in syrups over long-term storage. According to studies, HMF can pose serious threats to honey bee health by disrupting glucose oxidase activity within their colonies – thus it is imperative that syrups are tested regularly for HMF content.
Sugar syrup can help the colony during periods of low nectar flow, assist with brood rearing and Queen initiation and be prepared by mixing equal parts sugar to two equal parts water (by weight or volume). To create sugar syrup, simply mix one part sugar to two parts water.
Plain white granulated sugar should be used, not brown sugar, molasses, sorghum or fruit juice which contain impurities that may lead to dysentery in bees. Some older recipes require cream of tartar as a preventative measure against crystallization in fall syrup; this practice should no longer be encouraged as it could prove hazardous to bees’ health.
Amazing Bees conducted trials using citric acid added to a sugar solution and discovered it helped replicate the antibacterial properties of honey while improving bees’ ability to metabolize their syrup. Citric acid helps invert sugar molecules so they’re easier for bees to digest and the resultant solution proved more successful at encouraging secretion of carbohydrate metabolism enzymes by bees.
By mixing equal parts sugar and water, a syrup can be created for bees to consume in fall or winter feedings. Some beekeepers prefer thicker syrup for mid-Winter feedings which is typically made using 1:1 but may also include 2:1 or even 4:1 sugar mixtures. It is essential that refined white cane sugar be used, rather than raw, brown or turbinado varieties as these often contain impurities which compromise bee health; colored varieties could contain harmful additives which could harm bees further.
When creating a sugar solution, it’s essential that the sugar be mixed with almost-boiling water in order to avoid caramelization of its components and become partially indigestible. Once cool enough to room temperature, the solution should then be placed into an appropriate feeder for feeding purposes.
Sugar syrup can be an ideal way to start off a new apiary without risking disease organisms from entering from outside. Granulated sugar also acts as an excellent carrier of pheromones that encourage pollen foraging.
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is often used as an alternative to sucrose but may not be as beneficial to bee health. While both fructose and glucose can be found in HFCS, its lower boiling point makes it more likely that HMF will form when heated which has negative implications on bee health.
As an easy and rapid method for making sugar syrup, simply fill a plastic freezer bag with 1:1 sugar water and cut small slits in its upper surface. Place this on top of the hive (preferably under an empty super) with wooden risers of the same height to keep any potential robbers at bay from accessing your bag.