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 these sugar syrup ratios 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.




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



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

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


Thank you, Debbi.


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


What amount of cider vinegar to two-to-one mix of sugar to water. Please .
Is this Rusty from Otaki bee club?



1. Try about one tablespoon per gallon of sugar syrup.

2. No.


Can you overfeed a package of bees when you install them on drawn out comb? I have them on one hive body right now but they have all taken about 1 and a half gallon of 1-to-1 syrup and aren’t slowing down. Will they fill up all egg space?


Hi Rusty,

I wrote to you a few years ago about the bear destroying my hives, and sent you a picture of the hives hopefully fastened to the deck. The only reason the fastening worked, I imagine, is because the furry fellow was very lazy from feeding in the suburbs. With a choice of easy morsels, why spend energy trying to get my hives open. A year later, I put up an electric fence in my back yard, which is 15 feet from my deck. I haven’t seen a bear since that first year. I don’t know if I sent any pictures of the fence or not.

I am writing because I have just been asked to be the editor for our beekeeping club newsletter, and as I wait for members to send in articles, I was wondering if I could share something you have written in our newsletter? I would give you credit and also give your website address so they could enjoy your site.

Could I put either your ariticle on sugar ratios or/and your article on those new Flow Hive?



I certainly remember your bear-damage photos; they were something else! Anyway, yes, go ahead and use the articles. I am honored.


Thanks very much!

Perry Phillips

Do NOT use BEET sugar–that is usually GMO.


The bees don’t care; it won’t impact their health. Being a GM crop does not automatically make something dangerous or less nutritionally viable.


How much of the syrup fed to the bees winds up bottled and sold in the store as honey?



I would imagine quite a bit.


Thank you Rusty for your candid reply. I guess that means if you are looking to honey for its historical salutary benefits, you will need to get a hive and ‘roll your own’, so to speak, rather than run the risk of the hellish health hazards posed by hi-fructose corn syrup and sugar, which will inevitably contaminate the product of all those who are feeding that crap to the bees. Any idea how to find beekeepers who would feed only honey back to the bees should supplementation become necessary?



I think the best way is to ask the beekeeper. You can often find them at farmer’s markets and roadside produce stands. Otherwise, you might try calling the local beekeeper’s organization and asking them.


The whole reason I went into beekeeping is for that very reason. To have honey that is not part sugar syrup nor pesticides used in the hive. I did not feed my bees sugar and they died. Maybe because they didn’t have enough to eat, maybe because of something else. ( I know what starving bees looks like. It is pitiful to see hundreds of little bodies trying to lick the last atom of honey out of a cell.)

Also, I tried to just use essential oils, screened bottom boards, powdered sugar, etc for mite control. Again, the 4 years I’ve been keeping bees, they have died each winter. (One year demolished by bears).

I’m sure somewhere somebody is doing it. I haven’t figured it out. Or there is an issue with something. It doesn’t work if a beekeeper isn’t proactive. I don’t know of a single beekeeper in my area who doesn’t use sugar syrup or mite treatments.

This year, I have fed my nucs sugar syrup regularly and pollen patties this fall. Good Luck. I would like to hear how things turn out.