Sugar syrup ratios: which one to use

Sugar syrup is usually made in two different ratios depending on the time of the year. Light syrup or spring syrup is 1 part sugar to 1 part water by either weight or volume. Heavy syrup or fall syrup is made from 2 parts sugar to one part water.

The rationale behind this is that light syrup is similar to nectar. The availability of nectar stimulates the production of brood in the spring, and light syrup tends to do the same thing. With a ready supply of nectar or light syrup, the workers will build comb and the queen will lay eggs. Some people advocate the use of 1 part sugar to 2 parts water to stimulate brood rearing, although this isn’t as common as it used to be.

Fall syrup resembles honey and bees tend to store it for winter. It is used in the fall if the beekeeper feels there is not enough honey stored in the hive to make it through the winter. One gallon of heavy syrup (2:1) may increase colony reserves by about 7 pounds.

It is important to use just plain white granulated sugar, not brown sugar, molasses, sorghum, or fruit juices as these all have impurities that can cause dysentery in bees. Confectioner’s sugar has corn starch in it, which is also not good. Some older recipes recommend the use of cream of tartar (tartaric acid) to keep fall syrup from crystallizing, but this practice has been largely abandoned because it, too, may be bad for bees. Bee dysentery is not a disease caused by a pathogen but a condition caused by poor quality food. It appears as spots of feces around the hive entrance, or inside the hive, and is easily confused with Nosema, which is caused by a pathogen.

The source of the plain white sugar doesn’t really matter. Refined table sugar (sucrose) is a disaccharide derived from glucose and fructose, and has the molecular formula C12H22O11. It is the same whether it came from cane or beets.

In the spring, discontinue syrup when the hive is strong and the nectar is flowing, when the bees lose interest in syrup, or when you install a honey super. In the fall when the weather gets cold enough, the bees will simply stop taking the syrup. When that happens, remove the remaining syrup to prevent fermentation or moisture build-up in the hive.

Rusty

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Comments

peggy
Reply

Any idea of how much honey bees can make from a gallon of 2:1 sugar syrup?

Rusty
Reply

Peggy,

The real answer to this question is zero. Bees can’t make any honey from a gallon of sugar syrup because honey is made from nectar.

However, if you mean how much capped syrup can they make, I will give you a very loose estimate.

A gallon of 2:1 syrup is 2/3 sugar and 1/3 water so it is roughly 66% sugar and 34% water. Now, the bees cap nectar at about 17-18% water and we can assume they do the same for syrup. So to get to 17% water, they need to lose about 1/2 of the water in 2:1 syrup. So they are need to lose 1/2 of 1/3 of the gallon, or 1/6. If you assume there are 128 ounces in a gallon, then there are about 21 ounces in 1/6 of a gallon. So 128-21=107 ounces of dehydrated “cappable” 17% syrup.

107 ounces is about 84% of a gallon or 3 quarts and 11 ounces.

Debbi Jaeger Cannizzaro
Reply

Thank you for your scientific analysis of what happens with the bees and the sugar syrups. I tend to analyze everything, so this makes so much more sense to me. The Honey Suite is now on my contact list for information, good info. There is so much out there, I could ask 10 keepers a question and get 12 different answers. I am a new keeper (my first year) and am trying to be an information sponge. I want to be the best beekeeper that I can bee.
Thanks again, DJC

Rusty
Reply

Thank you, Debbi.

dana
Reply

I just started feeding sugar syrup for fall and winter. It has not been cold. I have a hive top feeders with a flotation grate. I have found syrup to be crystalizing somewhat. It is the two parts sugar one part water recipe. Any ideas on how to stop the crystalizing? Thanks. Dana

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