feeding bees

The sugar syrup recipe isn’t hard: don’t overthink

What is it about the sugar syrup recipe? What makes sugar syrup so hard to comprehend? Based on the questions I see, making a simple solution of sugar dissolved in water seems to be the hardest, most mysterious, most whisker-pulling task a beekeeper ever confronts.

Several times I’ve promised myself that I would never again write about sugar or syrup because, at last count, there were about sixty such posts already. Do we really need another?

I have absolutely nothing new to say on the topic, but based on the amount of mail, I think I need to try again. Perhaps I’m not using the right words. Perhaps I haven’t been crystal clear. In any case, here goes one more time.

Sugar syrup ratios are guidelines

When you see a recommendation to feed syrup mixed at a specific ratio of sugar to water, it is a guideline. These sugar syrup ratios have worked as nectar substitutes for thousands of beekeepers over many years. You will often hear of feeding 2:1 in the fall and 1:1 in the spring. There is nothing wrong with these guidelines. They work.

However, they were not etched on tablets and handed down by honey bees. Instead, they were devised by mankind. They are estimates. In fact, I doubt you could find any source of nectar anywhere on the planet that is exactly 1:1 or 2:1 or 1.5:1. These ratios are approximations.

All nectar-producing plants have their own recipe. Each species of plant produces nectar with varying amounts of sugar. Some nectars are low in sugar, such as that produced by pear flowers. Others are high in sugar, such as the nectar from some blackberries. Most are somewhere in the middle, and I doubt that any are exactly the same as homemade sugar syrup.

Even more compelling is the fact that the ratio of sugar to water in a given flower may change according to climatic conditions, rainfall, humidity, and time of day. The honey bees take what they can get—and what they get are nectars that encompass a wide distribution of ever-changing sugar concentrations.

Bad measurements won’t kill your bees

The point is that honey bees can handle any ratio of sugar to water, so you are not going to kill your bees with a concentration that is a little more or a little less than the guidelines suggest—or even a lot more or less.

In previous articles, I have explained that you can measure your ingredients—sugar and water—by volume or weight. In fact, they are close enough that you can measure one by volume and one by weight. These statements always elicit a barrage of explanations of why I’m wrong. A recent letter gave me the weight of a cup of ingredients to the fourth decimal place! Whatever happened to significant digits? Another warned me to use the same brand of measuring cup for all ingredients. Another compared the sea level weights to weights at his elevation. While these may sometimes be important considerations, they are irrelevant to bee syrup.

I’ve seen people run a straight edge across their measuring cups, and clean a few grains out of the bowl so they wouldn’t screw up the ratios. All of this is ludicrous once you stop to realize the ratios are guidelines, approximations, estimates, guesses. They are not any kind of exact science.

I’m not sure why people don’t understand, but I’ve had panic-stricken beekeepers write to say they may have added an extra tablespoon of sugar or worried they used too much water. “Will it kill my bees?” is a common follow-up question. I always read those messages over and over, trying to figure out how to communicate and wondering why I can’t get through. What about the word “approximate” is so hard to understand?

My own backlash sugar syrup recipe

Since I began to encounter these worries, I’ve stopped measuring anything at all. If I need to make 1:1 syrup, I put some water in a bucket, and then pour in what looks to be about the same amount of sugar. Mix. Done. Or, if the result looks a little bit too thick or too thin for my mood, I add some more water or sugar.

My bees haven’t said a word about the change in strategy. In fact, they continue to thrive. For me, making syrup is now less of a hassle and there’s not much to clean up afterward.

The Honey Bee Suite main mission

Since I’m repeating myself today, I will reiterate that the main mission of Honey Bee Suite is to get people to think rationally about bees and beekeeping, and to apply logic rather than emotion or scuttlebutt.

If you stop to think about what bees consume normally (nectars of various sugar content) and the purpose of syrup (a nectar supplement), you can see that there is no law of ratios. Beekeepers have established guidelines based on observations of what has worked well in the past, so by all means use them if they make you comfortable. But remember they are not magic, they are not immutable, and they certainly aren’t precise. I’m not advocating the excessive use of syrup, but if you need to feed, just pour some sugar in some water and relax.

Honey Bee Suite

The sugar syrup recipe is not difficult. Approximate measurements work just fine.
The sugar syrup recipe is not difficult. Approximate measurements work just fine.

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    • Responding 6 years later lol but damn, I’ve been doing it wrong. I was doing 16lbs of sugar for 1 gallon of water to make 1.5 gallons of 2:1 syrup.

      This posting is so soothing to the anxious beekeeper!!!

  • Thanks, Rusty. Indeed, I’m in my second year of beekeeping and have already decided to just eyeball it. I’m actually glad to read this post telling me that eyeballing it is just fine!

      • This was very funny to read for me – we also have horses and people are the same way about horses! I just think some people should pull up a chair and watch the bees ? (or horses) instead of owning them lol. Love this advice, I’m in my first year, and have already gotten tired of precisely measuring the syrup so good news! Ty for sharing your expertise…and I DO know what approximate means! ?

  • I posted a video last year in response to a beekeeper who told me how she boils precisely measured distilled water in a big pot on her stove, then slowly pours in carefully measured organic white sugar, stirring as it dissolves, and then cooks it all with star anise. She has to wait a few hours for it to cool before she can use it.

    My video pictured me with a big bucket, a big bag of sugar and a garden house and a dirty stick I found on the ground. I fill the bucket with water, add some sugar, give it a stir, add some more water, a little more sugar and stir for five minutes. Then I add a bit of anise extract from a bottle near to the end. My method for determining the ratio is explained in the video: “If it looks thick and gloppy, then it’s thick, If it feels more like water, then it’s thin.”

    Funny how simplicity works.

    • I admire the way you do things, Phillip. And there is so much irony with that beekeeper’s method: organic sugar is higher in ash than refined sugar, and boiling sugar creates hydroxymethylfurfural. And distilled water? Really?

        • Phillip,

          That seems so funny because, as you know, the bees prefer water that’s murky with floaters. Plus, if you’re going to boil it, why distill it? I know, I know, I’m preaching to the choir here.

          • I think they buy distilled water for brewing good coffee, and use the same water for making sugar syrup… They didn’t agree with me using water from a garden hose… I assume they’re buying a Flow Hive next. (Now I’m just being mean.) Whatever makes them happy.

  • Rusty,

    Have you found research in peer reviewed science journals linking glyphosate (roundup) exposure to bee colony health. My searches in this area haven’t produced as much concrete information as I would like to see–most of it turns up ‘no direct poisoning, significant forage destruction, possible gut diversity reduction’.

    I didn’t realize that sugarcane is now receiving a pre-harvest ‘ripening’ roundup spray, just as wheat receives these days in the USA, until last month, but it’s been happening for a decade (just google search for ‘sugarcane glyphosate’).

    I’ve come across several groups moving away from the ‘treat and feed’ mantra now…

    Is the most popular pesticide in the world, monsanto’s roundup with a global application of 4 million tons a year or 0.27 kg/ha, finally catching up with us? Even organic honey produced in the USA now contains detectable levels of glyphosate….

    If roundup is wrecking the gut bacteria of bees, just like antibiotics do, should we really be feeding bees sugar water, of which all non-organic sources are now contaminated with roundup? Or from an evolutionary standpoint should we keep bee lines going that can’t produce what they need to survive the winter (special cases excluded).

    I guess a lot of the answers are tied to the question–why do you keep bees…

    Take into consideration the May 20, 2016, Bee Culture article, ‘A closer look:starvation/undernourished colonies’ that indicates feeding bees short-circuits their natural mechanism for raising bees adapted for dearth conditions…it’s a lot to digest.

    Regardless, thanks for your article reminding us that making sugar syrup isn’t rocket science!

    Best Wishes,


  • Luv it! I wanted to say omg?? Really?? As I read some of the extreme measures – erstwhile out there..for me, I use a used juice container..fill it half full with sugar..fill it with warm tap water..shake & pour…if I’m in the mood I might drop a drop of peppermint oil or cider vinegar…no measuring..it’s never the same twice..and always gone.

  • All I will say about the different ratios is that thinner syrups they consume faster, thicker ones slower. Put honey in a jar feeder and place it over a colony, and then do the same thing with honey diluted with water. The diluted honey will be gone much faster. But then again, they do not really want water, but sugar. I believe it is simply easier to suck thinner liquid.

    Lately, I’ve just been mixing sugar and water and let it sit. In 30 minutes everything that will dissolve, does so on its own. The remaining crystals are dissolved in the next batch. I do not boil syrup any more, I simply do not think the cost and time are justified. To give credit, that approach I learned from reading the Brother Adam’s book.

    • Aram,

      I agree. Also, in our modern world, I try not to burn fuels if I don’t have to. I seems a waste to produce carbon dioxide for no clear benefit.

  • LIKE. LIKE, LIKE, LIKE, LIKE, LIIIIIIIIKE! I worried a lot last year, but not so much this year. The bees just seem delighted to be getting fed!

  • I completely agree that there is no magic to a particular ratio and TLAR (That Looks About Right) is a perfectly valid approach.

    But is it OK to indulge my OCD and use my digital scale to the nearest milligram — not because I should but simply BECAUSE I CAN!

    • Trudy,

      Sugar syrup doesn’t smell terrific. The anise oil, known as a feeding stimulant, helps the bees find the food. You can use alternative oils, but honey bees go nuts for anise oil.

  • Since I make it only a quart jar at a time, I bring 2 cups water to a boil, take it off the heat, then whisk in 3 cups of sugar. It dissolves quick without cooking the sugar, and fills a quart jar nearly to the rim. I let it sit on the counter overnight to cool before bringing it out to the hive.

  • I need to admit that I do bring my syrup to boil after I dissolve sugar. I just noticed that brought to boil does not go mouldy. As for proportions of sugar to water, I just do more less half half;) and just regular white sugar. My bees seem to like it this way. If I happened to have some of my own honey, I add a drop to the bucket of cold syrup as that seems to attract them more, but it may be my imagination…

  • I also add “pro health” to my sugar syrup. It has essential oils and aids digestion and promotes health in my bees.

  • My question about the ratios are always: which one is sugar and which one is the water? Sugar to water or water to sugar? Is it by weight or volume? 2 cups of water to 3 cups of sugar doesn’t seem to be 2:1 OR 1:1, but I have never actually weighed the water or sugar for this —

  • To save all the confusion most seem to have about ratios, just call 1:1 50/50 and 2:1 100/50. This will be sure to open up a whole new line of discussion!

    Ah, Rusty, you have but yet again scratched the surface. What about the whole raw versus white granulated versus organic versus beet versus cane sugar debates?

    I like the “kiss”method of measuring, be it making syrup for bees or baking for beekeepers. Near enough is good enough and that looks about right.

    Agree wholeheartedly with the aniseed oil as a stimulant. Think crack cocaine for bees!!

    • Jeff,

      Remember those 60 sugar posts I mentioned? Most of those issues are cover in there. Trouble is, I can’t repeat everything I’ve already said in every post. They’d get kinda long.

  • I really like Michael Palmer’s method for 2:1 syrup. Fill a bucket (any container, really) with dry sugar to any point you choose and make a mark inside the bucket at the level of the sugar. Saturate with HOT water and mix with a mixing paddle on a drill. Continue filling with water up to the mark you just made in the bucket, stirring thoroughly. Michael Palmer says he has checked it with a refractometer, and it comes out to be 65% every time. Close enough to 2:1 for me, and couldn’t be more simple.

  • SInce I only have one hive too feed and a 2 qt top feeder…my 2:1 ratio is really simple. 4 lb bag of sugar. 4 cups of warm water (which is 1 quart or 32 oz of water). One drop of anise oil. My bees love it. For 1:1…same 4 lb bag of sugar and j8 cups of water (2 quart or 64 oz).

    I just use warm tap water and let the mix sit overnight to make sure it all dissolves. Even if it doesn’t, my bees keep chewing away at any remaining crystals in the feeder.. After all, what is bee fondant anyways but small particles crystallized sugar…my bees slurp it down like nothing, no matter if I’m a little off or not on ratio.

    I suspect many people have issues with figuring out ratios as most people find dealing with large quantities and converting volumes to weight by bulk density of materials difficult.

  • Not feeding yet, but I loved your post! Yes, I love the concept of ‘guesstimate”! Close enough, they put it away no matter what. This isn’t honey I’ll extract, it’s winter survival food! Or dearth, if that fits better.
    Thanks Rusty!
    53N, 115 W, El.850M

  • I’ve never seen bees hold up score cards rating sugar syrup. They take it if they want – almost always when they need it – when they can’t get natural resources. We are starting our dearth here and I make sure that colonies which are or have recently undergone requeening get some syrup, always fed inside the hive. (I would like to see Boardman type feeders outlawed for feeding syrup – they are ok for water) Syrup is super easy to make. 5 gallon pail on a package scale, dumped into a trash barrel where I stir the sugar into hot tap water with a canoe paddle. I only use additives (HBH) when I want the bees to take syrup when they are reluctant to. Works for me!

  • Hi Rusty, This is not directly related to sugar water, but I wanted to share. A friend who had bought a new (old) house lamented that what appeared to be a green lawn was really mostly white clover. I suggested to him to enjoy it and feed the bees. He has since researched and announced that clover is (now) in his opinion a far superior lawn, nice to walk on, helps the bees, requires little to no irrigation and little to no fertilizer. He is now proud of his clover lawn!

  • Perhaps the reason for so much new mail about an issue already addressed many times in the past is that there are so many new beekeepers each year. I think that many of the people who look online for information are new to beekeeping.

  • Thanks for this essay. I’m certain your aware of the fact that you’re dealing with human behavior more than anything remotely related to bee needs. It’s 2 parallel universes united by some very distant common ancestor. That’s our condition, an unlikely to change in the immediate future.

  • OMG….I can’t believe that people can’t figure out a simple ratio like that, let alone get their knickers twisted of the extent of “exactness”, since it only needs to be an approximation.

    Thanks for the info about anise oil…I didn’t know that. Will have to give it a try
    My gurlz are now at “summer camp” in the fireweed above Port Renfrew (Vancouver Island). Hoping for some good nectar flow since the fireweed was about 3 weeks late this year (last year was 2 months early for EVERYTHING around here. Had to feed through the summer because it was a dearth from June – end August)

    Enjoying your blog immensely. Keep up the good work.


  • When I got into this I was anal. Since then I have learned that for all the books and all of the comments on sites like this, bees don’t get to comment or edit. If they did they would say that you people are [deleted]. Wwe are bees that have existed for 30,000,000 years without your help. Yes we have issues-mites, cdc?? people. Yes we can try to help but how about a little common sense. I really think that more should bee less. Right now i have had 6″ of rain and it is still coming down. Guess where the bees are and where i am? In a warm dry place. sipping on a manhattan and life is good.

  • How does Lin know that her mix aids in the bees digestion? Does she do a subatomic analysis of the poop on her windshield? Come on. Really. Give them a chai tea latte with skim milk and see what happens.

  • I keep bees at my home-6 hives and at a local brewery with 250+ acres. brewery in the sun 24/7. home in the shade. temperature plays a big difference. farm, sun two gallons gone in two/three days if sunny. home in the shade not as quickly. so temp, humidity, rain makes a big difference. if it is raining they won’t go out. they drink at the local bar-HOME.

  • I am doing my best to avoid feeding syrup altogether by holding on to enough honey frames to feed those that run short. But I am glad to read this as I have worried about whether the measurements were by weight or volume when I have had to feed. Great relief to know it was fine whichever.

  • What a hoot! I love the hose and stick method! Only in America can bees be so spoiled as to get precisely measured sugar Water!

  • I have not measured in a few years. I use an old coffee carafe, and pour hot water over sugar that I just dump in, I make the syrup pretty thick. I use the same dirty spoon, and dirty carafe. The bees love it just the same. I use the same approximate mix whether spring or fall. I totally agree that there is no need to really measure.

  • Hysterical!!! For the last 16 years I have been teaching new beekeepers. They all seem to think of feeding as some magical formula. I use a 3 gallon bucket. Half and half or 1/3, 2/3. EZ MIX with the hot water in the hose. Add lemongrass sparingly.

    I can’t wait to try anise.

  • My god! The joys of the internet…if people writing to you have nothing better to do with their time than ‘warn you to use precisely the same cup, or numbers to the fourth or fifth decimal place’, etc. why waste any more of yours in responding? We have access to more information than ever before, but people seem to have lost the ability to think for themselves or to actually take the time to work something out for themselves. If they spent more time practising at the subject they become so pedantic or irate about, there would be far fewer inane posts/responses. However, it wouldn’t then be anywhere near as entertaining to read…..

  • P.S I find your blog an incredibly helpful, insightful & interesting, joyful & entertaining resource. Thank you for making the time.

  • I do not bother at all with 1:1 or 2:1 but fill a mason quart jar to the beginning of the rounding neck with sugar and add boiling water to dissolve. So they get “thick” syrup all year round. My rationale is that they have to evaporate excess liquid to get down to 18% so why not give them a head start. Plus, I only feed in spring for new no-drawn comb colonies or fall for winter feed.

    Rusty is absolutely right to not boil the sugar syrup. In addition to HMF, it will invert, which is not good for the bees for overwintering.

  • If you get the mixture too thin… such as what is used in hummingbird feeders (1 sugar to 4 parts water) .. your bees will starve. There was a local bee keeper wondering why his bees were not flourishing because he was feeding them. The problem was his wife was making the syrup 1:4 and using it in the hummer feeders. The bees were starving…. Cannot blame his wife, the bee keeper did not know 1:4 syrup was too thin either.

    If you see honey bees at a hummer feeder it could mean several things…. one the hummer mixture is too strong…. or there is absolutely NO other source available, in which case you will probably see weaker hives being robbed because of the nectar dearth. I have not seen honey bees on hummer feeder, but I have received complains of them visiting H feeders. I have had 5 colonies within 50 feet of two hummer feeders and have not seen honey bees on them. Only yellow jackets.

    • Steve,

      I don’t actually agree with this. Nectars can range from about 4% sugar into the 70% range, but most are about 15-35% sugar. Hummingbird feed at 1:4 falls easily within this range.

      • Really does not matter to me whether you agree with me or not. if you are interested in real facts, then stop feeding your bees 1:1 or 2:1 syrup and switch to 1:4 The colony or colonies will flounder in comparison to the same number of colonies you feed at 1:1, 2:1 or greater….

        • Steve,

          I checked about a dozen peer-reviewed journal articles for concentrations of sugar in nectar before I answered your comment, so I have some “real facts” to work with. If you will give me your sources of information, I will gladly read them. Anecdotal information based on a few observations can be an excellent starting point for further research, but anecdotal evidence by itself means little in a world of exogenous variables. There are a host of reasons for floundering colonies, and unless those variables can be controlled and eliminated, an anecdotal observation is just that.

  • I totally agree Rusty! As a third year beekeeper with only two hives, when I need to feed them, the 4 pound bags of sugar work great. I boil about 6 cups of water (I like mine a bit thicker), remove from heat, dump in the bag of sugar and stir till dissolved. Cool and done. Then I pour some in a small container and dilute it down to approximately 1:4 for my hummingbird feeders, and will also sometimes take a spoonful or two of the syrup as it’s cooling to sweeten my iced tea. So I get bee syrup, hummingbird food and simple syrup out of the same pot.

  • …and long-time followers of this wonderful blog aren’t asking for your syrup recipe

  • Saw two of my girls checking the ratio of the syrup I left for them, one said it was a little too sweet whilst the other said it definitely needed more sugar, but they both took some just the same, just can’t please everyone.

    Ken A

  • Ha Rusty u made me laugh again u are so very funny u are just great thanks for all the work u put in to your web page here on bee keeping.

    one question do u use honey be healthy or any thing like that in your sugar syrup for the bees thanks, and have a wonderful day

      • Where do u get it from and what brand do u use? Amazon has bunches. thanks

        • Frances,

          I use food grade anise oil made from Pimpinella anisum in the Apiaceae family. I have never tried oil from star anise, which is Illicium verum in the Schisandraceae family. Since I’ve had great results from Pimpinella, I stick with it. You might try this one from Lorann Oils on Amazon.

          You can also read an old post on anise.

  • Vita mix. Don’t use it for soups ,smoothies, nor any other healthful benefit. Glad to have sugar syrup to whirl in it to shamefacedly justify the cost if the thing.

  • Hi Rusty,

    Not sure if this is on topic enough for you to comment but if I put a ten-frame full-depth super of foundation on top of a hive, could I feed syrup just till they draw out the combs or do they fill the comb with syrup as they build it ? 1:1 of course hot water straight out the tap, we have litres and kilograms down here in Australia so 10 of each in a big bucket give it a stir and leave it overnight then in the morning it just like the bought stuff.

    • Noah,

      You can check on them as they proceed, of course, but I find they usually build some comb and fill it while they are building more comb. So they are more or less filling as they go.

  • Since I wanted to finish building all my bee gear before getting a nuc, I have three hives and zero bees so far. and….since dissolving sugar in water appears to be so difficult, perhaps I should limit my hive involvement to the empty ones and the ones that itch. Removing tongue from cheek. aloha

  • Hi Rusty

    I gave up on the stove when I walked away for a few minutes maybe 5 and I came back to a fire ? on my stove boiling syrup all over the place I had to put out the fire ? clean the stove and pledged to my self to never! Never Do that again before my wife got home. I think she got a hint with The burnt candy smell ??????

    Thanks Rusty your post are very helpful

    PS, I do cool water five gallon bucket outside ?? haha

  • Hi Rusty; Is it correct that honey bees don’t consume the nectar directly , but allow it to evaporate some first? Hummingbirds directly consume nectar for food. If the first statement is true, at what ratio do bees eat the nectar as food?

    • Richard,

      Generally honey bees carry nectar back to the hive in their honey stomachs (not their digestive stomach). While it’s in the honey stomach, enzymes are added to invert the sugars and begin the curing process. Once in the hive, they place the nectar into a cell. The cells are fanned to drive off moisture. What remains is honey. Honey is about 18% water. Bees eat the honey during a dearth.

      However, if bees need energy while they are out foraging, they can swallow some of the nectar directly into their digestive stomach. So actually, they can consume it both ways.

      • Rusty; Thanks for the reply, another reason for the question is that I am tying to understand using 1:1 for brood stimulation and 2:1 for storage supplies. Does it make any difference? So far my feeding has been limited to comb building for new colonies ( I don’t use foundation) and my area is blessed with a good sweet autumn clematis and goldenrod flow in the fall that provides winter stores. Your site has been a real help to me, it is very much appreciated.

        • Richard,

          I don’t often say it because it confuses people, but I make my syrup roughly 1.5:1 all year long. I don’t believe it makes any difference to the bees, so I just use the one formula and I’ve been doing it that way for about 10 years. Sometimes I don’t measure at all, but when I do measure, that’s how I do it.

  • I think I kinda have to defend the newbies on this one. At least to an extent.

    If you’re just getting started, you’ve heard that world plus dog is out to slaughter your bees. Between varroa, pesticides, hive beetles, wax moths, AFB, colony collapse …etc. All with a wide variety of chicken little types on YouTube giving conflicting info…

    And this is a hobby that is going to cost $$$ 100’s of dollars to get into. Maybe even $1000 or better.

    I can see how they could get a little paranoid at first. Kinda like the way you wrap your first kid in bubble wrap, feed them only organic food and treat them like porcelain dolls. But by time you get to the third kid, you don’t bat an eye when they join the dog and drink out of the toilet. lol

  • Is the queen’s egg laying behaviour more along the lines of queen bees running around laying eggs willy and nilly only to have the misplaced ones eaten up (in this reality crazy uncle jack swears that one time he wasn’t paying attention and a queen bee tried to lay an egg in his ear!) or is more like the big fat queen being guided around by her court and told, very specifically I might add which cells to lay in? (In this reality crazy uncle jack made finger puppets and buzzed at the queen while simultaneously waving his fingers wildly about and got her to lay eggs in the cells he wanted) I’ve heard it both ways.

    • Shelly,

      If you watch a queen, she seems to go methodically from cell to cell. She doesn’t run around, nor is she herded. She seems to have a plan that she sticks to. At the rate she is required to lay eggs, she doesn’t have time for horsing around.

  • First, Rusty’s dry sense of humor is always great for a chuckle, and sometimes an uproarious laugh. Rusty, you’re my favorite guru. Glad to have found you as a newbie to set a few things straight. Craig at 9:47 wrote in defense of Newbies. Thanks Craig. I measure, its true, but don’t go to extremes….I just want enough to fit in the feeder bucket with no waste. No boiling. They like our well water.

    I’d read the previous posts on syrup and got the hint. Got to grinning with this one.

  • I have read, In the Hive and the Honey Bee I think, that nectar is collected around 6% sugar and water removed in flight back to the hive, delivered at around 12% sugar. It is then dehydrated further until capped. 12.5% is around 7 to 1 so I would think the ratio can be somewhat from 1:1 to 1:10 and they would still use it.

    They do evaporate water for cooling and use it for making food for brood so the thinner syrup would be used faster as they can do several things with it. Since they will use dry sugar and they do collect water the range of ratio they will use maybe is more like from 0:1 to 1:0 🙂

    grinning as well

    • Keith,

      I almost wrote that in my post, and I suppose I should have. But you are absolutely correct. Bees drink water (0% sucrose) and eat solid refined sugar (100% sucrose) so anything in between is fair game!

  • Rusty,

    I read this the other day and I too got a kick out of it. Beekeepers can be a quirky bunch. When I mix syrup I take an empty gallon milk jug, fill it to the middle with sugar, and then fill it with water the rest of the way. Now I’m always open to doing things differently if there is a better way. Just today I came across a “recipe” that I find intriguing. I would love to get your take on this recipe. The link to the article follows….


    • Paul,

      It reminds me of the recipe Bee Culture ran for bee tea. You can try it and report back, but I’m a bit of a skeptic. I don’t think it would hurt bees, but I’m not sure it would help them either.

  • This was in the comments of the article and describes what each of the “extra” ingredients purportedly does

    “…in a nutshell, the lemon juice makes the syrup more digestible on a molecular level (just as apple cider vinegar does), the chamomile alters the ph favorably and according to Rudolf Steiner, turns the sugar syrup into a more nectar like substance. The sea salt is to add important minerals and the glycerin is to help the essential oil combine with the mixture so if you’re choosing not to use essential oils there’s no need for it. “

    • Paul,

      On the other hand, bees’ saliva contains high amounts of glucose oxidase which first inverts the sucrose into glucose and fructose, making it more digestible for the bees. The fructose gives honey that silky smoothness. During the process, the glucose is further oxidized to form gluconic acid, which gives honey its very low pH. So the bees’ saliva, without help from anyone, does most of this work and requires no inputs other than sucrose, saliva, and water.

      People forget that most nectar is high in sucrose, and it’s not inverted into glucose and fructose until the bees begin work. So honey bees deal with sucrose every day of their lives. The glucose oxidase, by the way, is secreted by the hypopharyngeal gland. [This and other truly fascinating and amazing facts are in my paper, “The Role of Glucose Oxidase in the Antimicrobial Action of Honey.” Written for master beekeeper certification and (possibly) coming to a website near you!]

  • August and my hives have good honey stores for their own food, we are waiting to spin until September or October. We haven’t fed anything during this season. The bees have good water supplies from our pond and we fed dry sugar and wintergreen patties during winter. Should we be feeding sugar syrup all the time now? This is our second year.

    Love your blog and your sense of humor!
    Mid Michigan

    • Linda,

      If your bees made surplus which you can harvest, there shouldn’t be any need to feed syrup. I like to think of syrup as a way to get new packages off to a good start, and for feeding bees in bad years when there was nothing to harvest and the bees are short. Other than that, honey bees should be able to survive on honey alone.

  • Thanks for all of the useful information on this site. Also for agreeing on my dump and mix philosophy of mixing syrup. I dump 25 lbs of sugar, in a bucket with warm water and mix with a cordless drill with a paint mixer. Bees never complain. They are incredibly tough little animals. It ain’t rocket science.

  • Hi Rusty,

    I’ve been making 1:1 no problem, but come fall I’ve tried to make 2:1 with cold water to no success, no matter how much I mixed it wouldn’t all dissolve. Not wanting to make HMF is there a way to make 2:1 without heating the syrup or will warm/hot water do it without making HMF?

    Many thanks

    • Hi Dave,

      The hotter the water, the more quickly HMF is formed. Warm tap water helps and is not as bad as boiling water. Or you can just use less sugar. If your syrup is 1.5:1 or 1.8:1, it won’t make any difference.

      • Thanks 🙂 I’m totally on board with the whole theme here that no exact measurements are needed, bees don’t care and nectar covers near the whole range, certainly the ranges we are talking about.

        What’s your view on efficiency of storing? The only reason I changed ratios was the logic that a higher concentration of sugar means less work between storing and capping, less water in the hive, etc. Am I getting that right? Are they things to consider or in your opinion are they not worth time micromanaging?

        • Dave,

          I don’t know how else to answer. If I need to make syrup for some reason, I pour sugar into water until it looks right to me. I don’t measure and I don’t check the calendar first. Yes, if they want to store it, the bees have to remove the water. That’s what honey bees do; they are masters at the process. I keep adequate ventilation in my hives, so the amount of water in my syrup has never been an issue. In mid-winter, if they run short of honey and are using sugar for feed, I feed granulated sugar.

  • Hi i am a final year student doing a BSC in agriculture. My final year research project is based on evaluating production and colony strength in bees when fed with different rations in the tropics. The different rations are white sugar syrup, white dry sugar, brown sugar syrup and brown dry sugar. If you have any information on the said topic it would be greatly appreciated.

    • Laurean,

      The only thing I know is that honey bees don’t overwinter well on brown sugars in places with cold winters because of the high ash content. Since honey bees don’t have long periods of confinement in the tropics that is probably not a problem. Interesting topic.

  • Well explained and very interesting but I, for one, would like to hear much more about all the different ways you’ve been proved wrong by the experts! 4 decimal places is a really good start, and frankly, that just whets my appetite to read the crazy stuff you get sent!

  • Thank you for this article! As painful as it was to write again, I agree this is painfully clear now 😉

  • This is hysterical! I do a lot of baking and other cooking. Usually, the units of a ratio like this would be the same, but occasionally it might be something like 1 Tbs to 1 cup. After getting a lot of quick, in-passing, but still very dogmatic advice on when to feed 1:1 vs. 2:1, I finally cornered someone at my bee club and asked “1 WHAT to 1 WHAT??” Pounds, I was told, firmly. Now that I’ve read this, I realize that I DID know that sugar and water ARE pretty close, weight or volume.

    I haven’t got quite as casual as some of y’all, and I was never as anal as some of the examples! I’m somewhere in between, and so far my bees are lapping it up without complaint. If I see them spell out any complaints in the brood pattern, I’ll let you know.

    • Just remember: every single flower species produces a different ratio of sugar to water. For the bees, there are no rules. If they like it, they eat it.