When the honey supply runs low, sugar syrup should be provided as an alternate food source to your colony to promote comb building and brood rearing while staving off starvation until flowers bloom again (1).
Sugar water production may seem simple enough, but proper preparation, feeding and storage of it could mean life or death for your workers. Here are a few pointers on how to do it right.
Sugar syrup is an artificial nectar used by honey bees during times of drought or poor weather, or to help kickstart their wax comb-drawing activities in Spring. Sugar syrup can also be used as a way of blocking access to Queen cages during queen introduction process or used as an alternative fondant replacement in winter months.
Some beekeepers use a one to two ratio, though different mixes may be needed depending on what goals you’re setting out to accomplish this season. Don’t fret over exact concentrations – bees don’t carry mini hydrometers to test their sugar syrup and will still consume it regardless of any variations above or below its ideal ratios.
Some beekeepers make the mistake of pouring sugar water directly at their hive entrance, which can lead to hungry workers swarming all over it and some drowning in it. Plus, this invites robbers who steal honey from other hives; furthermore, any excess sugar could drip down onto a frozen hive and possibly freezing its inhabitants inside! For an effective solution that reduces risk and conserves resources use an upside down mason jar feeder with holes cut in it like a birdfeeder (see photo).
Sugar syrup can serve as an artificial nectar source to assist comb building and brood rearing activities, or provide energy when real nectar may be scarce. Although honey should always be the first choice when feeding bee colonies, sometimes extracting does not leave enough for nectar collection, or weather conditions prevent nectar collection altogether – and in these situations sugar syrup becomes essential as an energy source to ensure their colony does not starve to death.
There are various recipes for sugar syrup; beekeepers often prefer using a ratio of 2:1; however, others use 5:3, or even 3:1 for their syrup production. When measuring ratios by weight rather than volume it’s important to keep in mind that “two pounds sugar to one pound water” would translate as 2:1 in actual terms.
To create sugar syrup, bring water and sugar to a boil in a pot, mixing well. Allow the syrup to cool at room temperature before feeding it to bees in feeders with access points; adding grass straw or wood shavings as buffers could prevent bees from falling into it and drowning.
Heat the syrup just short of boiling to ensure its clarity for bees to find it, stirring frequently while it heats to ensure all sugar dissolves completely. After this step is completed, store in frame feeder (a hive top with an insert box), or in shallow tray under hive lid using wood riser to prevent lost syrup through entranceway of hive.
Beekeepers employ different ratios for their sugar syrup depending on its intended use, for instance 2:1 is often employed as a supplement during fall feedings and spring brood rearing stimulation, as it contains less water content and thus has reduced likelihood of freezing, making it the optimal winter feed choice.
One downside of open feeding is competition among colonies for their food source, potentially leading to weaker colonies dying or disease being spread and theft occurring.
Sugar syrup can be used to aid bee colonies by encouraging comb building or providing extra winter food stores when natural sources become limited. Beekeepers also often utilize it when starting new colonies; different ratios will need to be considered depending on the season and colony size.
When mixing sugar water, make sure that its ratio is appropriately measured – by weight rather than volume – otherwise, using an incorrect ratio could result in thicker than necessary syrup.
Never boil sugar water as this will caramelise and become indigestible for bees. Some beekeepers add a teaspoon each of Thymol and surgical spirit to their sugar syrup mix in order to prevent mold growth.
Feed sugar syrup to colonies at least eight inches from their hive to avoid inviting in robbers. Some beekeepers place it in a shallow super on top of the hive for protection, or put in in an outside feeder near its entrance.