Sugar slurry: another feeding option
While many of us are debating the virtues of sugar cakes vs. granulated sugar for winter feeding, others avoid the controversy by using a sugar slurry. The slurry is partway between dry sugar and liquid sugar, at a point where the sugar is wet but doesn’t actually dissolve. Technically, a slurry is a thick suspension of solids in a liquid, but this is very close in appearance and texture to a true slurry. It is generally fed in a baggie feeder and is made as follows.
You take a baggie—say a gallon size—and measure into it 9 parts of sugar and 1 part of water by either weight or volume. You close up the bag and knead the mixture with your hands until it is thoroughly combined. You place the bag on the top bars inside an eke or spacer rim, then you slit the bag with a knife. The moisture content is almost ideal for winter feed. It is not so dry that it needs additional moisture, and it is not so wet that the bees refuse to eat it.
The 9:1 proportion yields a solution with roughly 10% water. This is drier than honey but wetter than fondant. Some beekeepers like to get closer to 12% water, which can be achieved by measuring 8 parts of sugar to 1.1 parts water.
In prior years I have made slurries using granulated sugar, pollen substitute, a few drops of essential oil, and just enough water to make it muddy but not wet—about the consistency of thick brownie batter. I use this instead of pollen patties in the spring because it is less likely to dry out and become hard and unpalatable.
One problem I have noticed with slurries is that sometimes the sugar dries out along the slit in the baggie, forming a crust that seals the bag. This can be remedied by cutting an opening about one ¼-inch wide instead of making just a slit. I use a utility knife to remove a rectangular piece of plastic about 4 inches long and ¼-inch wide diagonally across the center of the bag. This makes a feeding trough for the bees.
Another problem with slurries—as with anything fed in a baggie—is that the bees have to eat from the top of the bag instead of from the bottom. This requires them to break cluster and so is most effective on those days when the temperature in the hive is warm enough to allow them to crawl to the top of the bag. However, baggies have the advantage of being thin enough that the entire contents are readily warmed by the heat rising from the cluster.
Slurry bags are easier to prepare than sugar cakes but more work than dry feeding. I don’t advocate one over the other but, if you are anything like I am, you like options. Sometimes a particular hive responds better to one method than another, and slurries offer you another “try-it” for a problem hive.