honey

How long does it take bees to change sugar syrup to honey?

A really, really long time. In fact, it ain’t gonna happen. Not ever. Sugar syrup is made from table sugar, sucrose, which is a disaccharide of fructose and glucose. Honey is made from the nectar of flowers. Bees are clever, but not clever enough to make honey from plain old sucrose.

Honey has many things in it—all derived from the plants which produced the nectar. These components include other sugars as well as trace amounts of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants, and flavorful compounds. It is all these optional extras that give honey its flavor, aroma, and color.

Bees will collect sugar syrup, dehydrate it, and store it as if it were nectar. What they end up with, however, is inverted, dehydrated, and capped sugar syrup—not honey.

20 Comments

  • After I understood this concept – that converted syrup is not honey – I quit feeding my bees, except for newbies and drought conditions. The is not a lot of farming around me. Pollen is easy for my girls; nectar, not so much. It took me forever to get my first harvest of honey. Four years in fact. But I know what’s in those jars is pure, unadulterated heaven. And that comforts me. When I hear fellow keeps talk about feeding their bees and their big harvests (while feeding), I always feel a little sad. Mostly for the bees. But also for the folks that just don’t get what you are saying. The “honey” isn’t honey and the nutrition for the bees cannot be complete.

  • Don’t the bees convert sucrose into fructose and glucose in there gut before storing? That would not technically be capped sugar syrup. Its not legally honey for us, but it would be to them minus the other sugars and trace compounds

    • Max,

      Yes, the enzymes in their saliva convert the sucrose back into the simple sugars glucose and fructose. So they end up with a dehydrated and capped solution of simple sugars rather than a solution of sucrose . . . but it’s still not honey.

  • My bees have been all over the fallen pears this fall, just like yellowjackets. Does this mean they are starving or are they just enjoying a change of taste? As soon as I saw that I put out the sugar syrup.

    • Janet,

      It just means they are having trouble finding flowers with nectar, so they are collecting pear juice instead. It’s not particularly good for bees because it is high in solids, but a small amount won’t hurt.

      • Does it really mean they are having trouble finding nectar? Or does it simply mean they found something sweet?

        The point of my quesiton is are you suggesting that when nectar flow is high, bees will reject non-floral sources? I’ve heard people say this before, but if bees like sweet stuff, my thinking is they aren’t particulary picky as to where it comes from. Thus they’ll partake from a sugar water feeder, empty soda can, or fallen fruit just as quickly as they’ll forage nectar from a flower. From their standpoint, sugar’s sugar.

        Put into terms I can relate to, even if I’ve got a $100 bill in my pocket, if I see a quarter on the ground, I’m taking the time to pick it up.

        BTW, I don’t know that there is a single right answer nor am I looking to start a holy war by asking. But I am looking for experienced opinion on bee behavior. Is it really true they’ll typically refuse easy-access sugar sources when nectar is aplenty?

        • I say, yes, bees generally prefer floral sources if they can get them. This is most obvious in the spring: they will take syrup until the flow is really good, then they will stop taking it in favor of the nectar. It is more than just sweetness that they are after. Nectar smells better and tastes better than sugar syrup. And somehow the bees instinctively “know” that nectar is vital to their health. Sweetness is one aspect, but not the whole story.

          And, no, I don’t believe “they’ll partake from a sugar water feeder, empty soda can, or fallen fruit just as quickly as they’ll forage nectar from a flower.” In times of dearth, sure, but in times of prolific flower sources, definitely not.

  • At a riverside cafe in London (England) in August we were treated to a series of visits by honey bees, which were landing on the table and drinking at the drink spills. The usual wasp plague was late coming this year due to an unusually wet spring. I’m thinking:

    a) Nature abhors a vacuum, and the bees were doing the wasp’s usual job for them

    b) I can cope with sharing a meal with an insect that only stings when protecting the hive

    c) They must have had a hive close by, and these were tired bees

  • I finally found close to what I am looking for… I’m not a scientist, so bare with me. Can they drink the sugar water and get an immediate boost to help them survive or is it only “food” to them once in their gut, put in a cell and capped? This isn’t a, is it true honey, question. It is a, can I quickly feed this ailing hive to buy them some time to make it on their own. Full story is a split with a new queen yet I did not have enough numbers to do a good split (only 2 frames) so they are limping along until my other hives have some brood to borrow. I need a week or two…

    • Stacey,

      If the bees need food energy, the nectar or syrup will bypass the honey stomach and go straight into their digestive stomach.

    • Irwandi,

      By definition, honey is made from the nectar of flowers. If Neera is made from plant sap, then no, it can’t be called honey. Only nectar from flowers can be made into honey.

  • Hi. I am a second-year beekeeper who had three hives. Last year, in an attempt to increase wax production on my frames, I fed the girls syrup into late fall. As things began to warm up, I found only one hive survived the winter (I live in Colorado). The three hives went into the season with two deeps each and plenty of capped sugar water/syrup. Now, I’m looking at more than 20+ frames of sugar “honey” and not sure what to do with it. I left three deeps out and away from the hives for the bees to rob but surprisingly, they are finding pollen somewhere. What do you recommend I do with all that capped sugar syrup (I don’t have an extractor)? I want to keep the frames but don’t think that sugar is beneficial for the bees. Also, I have two nucs that will be delivered in mid-May, and there won’t be a shortage of pollen and nectar for them. I’m baffled about how to proceed. Thank you.

    • Ralph,

      Consider the stored sugar as a valuable resource. You can remove the frames from the hives and store them somewhere safe from insects where they won’t get moldy. Then, once you remove your honey supers for the year, you can return the frames to the bees as a backup food source. You may experience a dearth in mid-summer and use the frames then, or you may want to keep them until fall and winter.

      Sugar syrup is always beneficial to bees in times of dearth. Coupled with a pollen patty, the bees can live on it for long periods of time. It stores much better capped in a comb than it does elsewhere, so extracting it would be a waste.

      You could also use the syrup frames to build up your nucs. You say there won’t be a shortage of pollen and nectar, but there may be a shortage of bees to collect it. Giving a nuc a few frames of capped syrup to get them started would be a huge boost. Lots of beekeepers would be jealous.

  • Aside from the legalities, capped sugar syrup definitely tastes like sugar, not honey. I do tend to nibble out of my hive, and I’ve had some capped stuff from a brood box that clearly was the sugar I’d fed them. [not bad per se—tasted like unflavored rock candy]
    We’re concerned about imported honey being cut with corn syrup. I wonder if that wouldn’t be equally obvious to the taste, but I suppose it would depend on how badly it was cut.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.