Sugar Syrup for Bees: A Sweet Treat That Can Help Keep Your Hive Healthy

bee eating syrup
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As a beekeeper, one of your top priorities is keeping your bee colony happy and healthy. While bees get most of their energy from flower nectar and pollen, there are times when feeding your bees sugar syrup can give them a beneficial boost.

Sugar syrup provides bees with a quick source of carbohydrates to fuel their bodies and their strenuous work. Feeding sugar syrup at strategic times can stimulate brood rearing, help bees survive winter, and give their immune systems an extra lift. Making and feeding sugar syrup is an easy beekeeping task that every keeper should know how to do properly.

In this in-depth guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about feeding your bees sugar syrup. You’ll learn:

  • What is sugar syrup and why is it useful for bees?
  • When you should feed your bees sugar syrup
  • Step-by-step instructions for making sugar syrup
  • How to feed sugar syrup safely to your bee colony
  • The many benefits sugar syrup provides for bees

Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be ready to whip up nutritious sugar syrup for your bees any time it’s needed. Let’s dive in and learn how this sweet treat keeps hives happy and healthy!

What Is Sugar Syrup and Why Do Bees Need It?

Before we get into how and when to feed your bees sugar syrup, let’s make sure we understand exactly what sugar syrup is.

Sugar syrup is a mixture of sugar and water. Plain white table sugar is dissolved into hot water at a specific ratio, then cooled before feeding to bees. Sugar syrup provides bees with carbohydrates in the form of sucrose.

In nature, bees get most of their carbohydrates from flower nectar. But early in spring or during long dearths when natural nectar is limited, bees can run low on energy stores. This is where sugar syrup comes in handy for beekeepers.

Sugar syrup gives bees an artificial nectar source to fuel their bodies and provide the energy they need to:

  • Fly long distances to forage
  • Produce wax for comb building
  • Keep the hive warm
  • rear brood (baby bees)

The key is that sugar syrup should be used as a supplemental food source only when natural nectar is scarce. It should never completely replace the nutrition bees get from real flower nectar and pollen. When used wisely at strategic times, sugar syrup gives bees a boost of carbohydrates to keep the colony functioning optimally.

Now that we know why sugar syrup is useful for bees, let’s look at the specific scenarios where you’ll want to feed it.

When Should You Feed Sugar Syrup to Your Bees?

There are four main times during the beekeeping season when feeding bees sugar syrup is recommended:

1. Early Spring Buildup

Early spring is prime time to feed sugar syrup, especially if you live in an area with a prolonged winter.

Coming out of winter, the queen ramps up brood rearing earlier than natural nectar flows start. Sugar syrup stimulates the queen to lay more eggs so your workforce builds up in preparation for the main nectar flow.

Feeding sugar syrup in early spring also:

  • Encourages wax comb building
  • Replenishes food stores that were depleted over winter
  • Provides fuel for cleansing flights and foraging once flowers start blooming

Aim to feed 1:1 sugar syrup every week or so from late winter through early spring. Keep a close eye on food stores in the hive and continue feeding until nectar starts abundantly coming in.

2. Dearth Periods

Dearth periods, also known as summer or seasonal gaps, are times when nectar flow slows down or stops completely for an extended period. This naturally happens in many areas, even if just for a few weeks.

During dearths, feeding sugar syrup:

  • Prevents starvation
  • Keeps nurse bees fed so they can continue rearing brood at the proper rate
  • Provides fuel for foraging bees

Monitor honey stores and feed 1:1 sugar syrup any time stores start looking low. Feed small amounts throughout dearths so bees have a consistent source of carbohydrates.

3. Prepping for Winter

It takes an incredible amount of honey and beebread for a colony to survive the winter. Sugar syrup can help ensure your bees have adequate food reserves going into colder months.

  • Feed 2:1 syrup in early fall to stimulate last minute brood rearing and wax production. This bolsters your workforce right before winter.
  • Switch to heavy 1:2 syrup in late fall to pack on food stores for winter.
  • Stop feeding once the hive feels heavy with adequate reserves, typically when daytime temperatures are consistently under 50°F.

4. Package Bee Colonies

When installing new package bees, feeding sugar syrup right away helps them draw out comb, feed larvae, and overall adjust to their new home. Give packages a hive feeder full of 1:1 sugar syrup that is refilled continuously for at least their first week. Keep monitoring food stores and taper off as they build up natural stores.

Now that we’ve covered when to feed sugar syrup, let’s dive into how to make it.

How to Make Sugar Syrup for Bees

Making sugar syrup for your bees takes just a few simple ingredients and steps. Here is what you’ll need:


  • Granulated white sugar
  • Water


  • Large pot
  • Wooden spoon
  • Mason jar or bucket with lid

Step-by-Step Instructions:

  1. Choose your ratio. Sugar syrup comes in different ratios depending on your purpose. Early spring and dearth feeding calls for 1:1 syrup. Fall heavy feeding uses 2:1 or 1:2 syrup. More details below.
  2. Boil water. Bring clean water to a rolling boil in a large pot. The amount of water needed depends on your batch size and ratio. See the chart below for measurements.
  3. Add sugar and stir. Once boiling, remove from heat. Slowly add sugar while stirring constantly until fully dissolved. Do not return to heat once sugar is added.
  4. Cool completely. Allow the syrup to cool to room temperature. Pour into a covered container.
  5. Store and feed. Store sugar syrup in the fridge if feeding within a few weeks. It keeps for months in the freezer. Gently rewarm before feeding to bees.

Sugar Syrup Ratio Measurements

Ratio Sugar Water Total Volume
1:1 1 cup 1 cup 2 cups
1:1 5 lbs 2.5 quarts 3.75 quarts
2:1 2 cups 1 cup 3 cups
2:1 10 lbs 5 quarts 7.5 quarts
1:2 1 cup 2 cups 3 cups
1:2 5 lbs 5 quarts 6.25 quarts

Let’s quickly break down the differences between these three main feeding ratios:

  • 1:1 sugar syrup – Equal parts sugar and water. Provides carbohydrates without increasing food stores. Used for spring and dearth feeding.
  • 2:1 sugar syrup – 2 parts sugar dissolved into 1 part water. Adds dense carbohydrates and builds winter food stores.
  • 1:2 sugar syrup – 1 part sugar dissolved into 2 parts water. Also builds food stores rapidly but is thinner than 2:1. Used for heavy fall feeding.

We suggest making sugar syrup a gallon or more at a time so you have plenty on hand for feedings whenever needed. Just store leftovers in airtight containers for later.

Note that substituting organic cane sugar, agave, or other sugars can cause diarrhea in bees. Stick with plain white granulated sugar. Now let’s go over the best practices for feeding your bees the sugar syrup.

How to Feed Sugar Syrup to Your Bees

There are a few options for safely delivering sugar syrup to your hive:

Hive Top Feeders

Hive top feeders sit above the brood nest like a box or tray. Bees access the syrup from the top of the frames through slots or holes. These allow bees to feed on syrup inside the hive without spilling.

Place hive top feeders directly over the clustered bees and refill as needed until stores build up. Keep the feeder tray in place for 3-4 days after the final fill so bees have time to fully consume any remnants.

Boardman Feeders

Boardman feeders are inverted jars with holes in the lid that attach to hive entrances. The upside-down jars leak syrup gradually as bees take it. This style prevents robbing but has some drawbacks:

  • Bees can accidentally drown in the syrup
  • Leaking syrup can encourage pests
  • Cool temperatures can make the syrup too thick for bees to access

To use a Boardman feeder safely:

  • Use a 1:1 syrup ratio for optimal viscosity
  • Make sure holes are no bigger than 2-3mm
  • Avoid putting out in cool weather (under 55°F)
  • Check often and refill every 1-2 days as needed
  • Remove once bees stop taking syrup

Frame Feeders

A frame feeder is a plastic or wooden frame that holds sugar syrup, replacing one frame in the hive body. The design allows bees to enter and feed from the syrup in the frame.

Since frame feeders take up space, only use them when brood boxes are not yet full. Place them directly against the brood area for easy access.

Open Feeding

Open feeding involves pouring sugar syrup freely into open containers near hives. While the most convenient for beekeepers, open feeding has risks:

  • Can initiate robbing as bees from any hive steal syrup
  • Leads to issues like small hive beetles and wax moths
  • Bees can drown in buckets of syrup

We strongly advise against open feeding your bees sugar syrup whenever possible. It should only be done as a last resort if all other options have failed. Even then, take precautions like:

  • Feeding in the evening when most foragers are home
  • Ending at least 30 minutes before dark so bees are not out overnight
  • Using floating items as bee ladders to prevent drowning
  • Cleaning up any spilled syrup quickly

If open feeding, stay nearby and supervise the entire time. Never leave open syrup unattended.

Now that we’ve covered how to make and feed sugar syrup properly, let’s discuss why it’s so beneficial for bees.

The Many Benefits of Sugar Syrup for Bees

As we’ve mentioned, sugar syrup has several purposes throughout the beekeeping season. Here are some of the top reasons feeding sugar syrup is helpful for your bees:

Provides Quick Energy

The main benefit of sugar syrup is the rapid energy it gives to bees. The carbohydrates are a fast fuel source they can use immediately for flight, generating body heat, wax production and other energy-intensive tasks.

Stimulates Brood Rearing

The queen relies on a carbohydrate-rich diet to produce the necessary proteins and lipids for laying eggs. Abundant sugar syrup in early spring and fall means she can ramp up ovary development and brood production.

Boosts Immunity

Well-fed bees have stronger immune systems and are better able to ward off diseases and parasites. Sugar syrup prevents malnutrition that makes bees more susceptible to pathogens.

Increases Foraging

Bees need ample energy stores to make it through long foraging trips. Sugar syrup provides fuel to keep foragers collecting nectar and pollen from flowers further away.

Aids in Comb Building

Drawing wax comb requires substantial energy expenditure for bees. Sugar provides the rapid calories they need to produce wax and shape cells. Syrup fuels new comb production in early spring.

Helps Bees Overwinter

Feeding bees heavy sugar syrup creates robust fall food stores so colonies have enough provisions to survive winter months. It provides critical insurance against starvation.

Can Make Bee Packages Stronger

Dousing new package bees in sugar syrup when installing them provides instant energy and nutrients the bees need to adjust to their new home and environment.

Saves Colonies from Starvation

Any time food stores in the brood nest are low, sugar syrup prevents complete starvation. Feed whenever natural forage is scarce and they need a carbohydrate boost.

As you can see, there are many scenarios where feeding sugar syrup benefits bees and gives them an extra layer of insurance when floral nectar is not available.

Now let’s answer some common questions that arise about feeding bees sugar syrup.

Frequently Asked Questions About Sugar Syrup

Does sugar syrup provide complete nutrition for bees?

No, sugar syrup only provides carbohydrates in the form of sucrose. It does not contain the full array of amino acids, vitamins, minerals, lipids, and other nutrients bees need. The nectar and pollen from real flowers is their ideal nutrition source. Only use syrups to supplement natural forage, not replace it entirely.

What is the best sugar to water ratio?

The ideal ratio depends on your purpose:

  • 1:1 syrup is best for spring and dearth feeding.
  • 2:1 or 1:2 syrups are heavier for fall winter prep.
  • Thinner syrup like 1:1 is preferable for package bees.

How much sugar syrup should you feed?

That depends on hive size, time of year, and current food stores. A good rule of thumb is to provide roughly 1 quart (1 liter) of 1:1 syrup per week for a moderately sized colony. Scale up or down depending on population size and observed need.

How often should you feed sugar syrup?

During heavy feeding periods like spring build up or fall winter prep, aim to feed 1-2 times per week. For lighter feeding, every 2 weeks is sufficient. Always check the hive’s current food stores before deciding when to feed again.

When should you stop feeding syrup?

Stop giving heavy fall feedings once temperatures drop below 50°F consistently. In spring, you can stop once abundant nectar starts coming in and food stores build up. For package bees, once natural forage is available and they have drawn out new comb.

What temperature is best for feeding syrup?

The optimal temperature is around 60-80°F. Syrup that is too cold (under 50°F) will be difficult for bees to take. If syrup is too hot, it can kill bees when consumed. Allow any heated syrup to fully cool to room temp before feeding.

Can you overfeed bees with sugar syrup?

Yes, it is possible to give bees too much syrup. This can trigger absconding, encourage robbing, and create overly syrup-laden honey stores. Bee judicious and strategic when feeding syrup, only providing what they need during lean times.


We’ve covered a ton of key details about making and feeding sugar syrup for your bees. Here are some of the main takeaways:

  • Sugar syrup provides supplemental carbohydrates when natural nectar is low. It should never completely replace flower forage.
  • Strategic times to feed syrup include early spring, dearths, fall winter prep, new packages, and during starvation risk.
  • 1:1, 2:1, and 1:2 are common syrup ratios you’ll use for different purposes. Heavier syrup builds food stores.
  • Hive top feeders, Boardman feeders, and frame feeders allow safe in-hive feeding. Avoid open feeding whenever possible.
  • Sugar syrup gives bees quick energy, boosts brood rearing, increases immunity, aids foraging and comb building, and helps colonies survive lean times.
  • Always monitor food stores and only feed as much as needed for the hive to thrive.

We hope this guide gives you the confidence to whip up sugar syrup for your bees and feed it properly. A bit of sweet syrup at the right times makes for a happy, healthy honey bee colony.

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