feeding bees how to

How to keep 2:1 syrup from crystallizing

This question, asked by a reader, perplexes me because I’ve never had any 2:1 syrup crystallize. In fact, several different times in the past I’ve had a half gallon or so sit in the fridge all winter long with no problem.

The next question, then, is what did I put in it to prevent crystallization. The answer is nothing. Whenever I store syrup—which sometimes happens after I make too much in the fall—I don’t put anything in it. It’s just two parts sugar to one part water.

My suspicion is that people who have problems with crystallization are boiling the water after they measure it. Boiling—even for a short time—causes water loss through evaporation. Even heating the water just short of boiling drives off a lot of water.

The result of the evaporative loss is that the proportions are no longer 2:1—you are trying to dissolve 2 parts of sugar into less than 1 part of water. The sugar dissolves when the water is still hot but then crystallizes when it cools.

So here are my recommendations:[list icon=”star”]

  • Don’t boil the water. I use hot tap water or I heat the water only slightly before adding the sugar. Dump the sugar in all at once before the water cools. It takes more stirring, but it works.
  • If you insist on boiling the water, add some extra—maybe an ounce or two—to compensate for what is going to boil away.
  • Alternatively, you can measure the water after you boil it.
  • [/list]

If you have a container of crystallized syrup, you can add water to re-dissolve it or you can feed it to the bees inside an empty super. Either way you don’t have to waste the sugar.


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  • One beekeeper told me they were told to boil the syrup for x-number of minutes to sterilize it. For those who are worried about bacterial growth, it is fine to boil the syrup but it must be done with a lid on. This minimizes evaporation and also washes down sugar crystals that splash up onto the side of the pot due to violent boiling action. It only takes one crystal on the side of the pot that gets poured into your feeder to beget more crystals.

  • Here’s a really good point from HB over at Backyard Bee Hive Blog (see above): a lid is an elegant solution to the problem. You can boil the water or syrup without losing it, plus it keeps the side of the pan free of crystals. A gold star for HB! Thank you.

    • Chloie,

      Sugar that becomes scorched or burnt is not good for bees. But the act of boiling syrup doesn’t make the sugar toxic. For example, bees are routinely fed hard candy, which is made by boiling sugar syrup until it reaches a very high temperature–usually 234 to as much as 266 degrees F. This long boiling time drives off the water and causes the syrup to turn into a solid. Solid sugar is much better for winter feeding than syrup.

      On the other hand high-fructose corn syrup, when heated only slightly, produces a toxic substance called hydroxymethylfurfural. HFCS should never be heated or even stored in warm places.

  • I discussed this concern with a relative of mine who is a chemist.
    He suggested that water hardness may be a consideration.
    I live in an area with moderately hard water and have problems with sugar crystalizing in my 2:1 syrup without boiling.

    • Irwin,

      That’s an excellent point. Soft water is an excellent solvent, but hard water not so much. It seems the hardness minerals take up all the space between the water molecules. So yes, that makes sense . . . and yes, I have a water softener.

  • Hi,
    I am a first year bee keeper & I am struggling with the 2:1 sugar syrup. Every time I make it, it crystallizes. I have wasted so much sugar, time & even worse, Honeybee Healthy. I have followed every instruction closely to make the syrup, and also how to prevent crystallization, and still it crystallize. I am so frustrated & I am losing confidence. I am also so worried that my bees haven’t been fed enough to survive the winter. I am wondering if it’s possible to continue feeding 1:1 sugar syrup & add sugar cakes or fondant now, in addition to the 1:1. What do you think? Would that work? Please get back to me at anngertz26@gmail.com.
    Thank you for any help you can give me.

    • Martha,

      Don’t waste the sugar, just add some water back into it. You are reading way too much into the proportions. They are just guidelines, not rules. Your bees don’t care about the proportions. To make syrup I put some sugar in a pot with some warm water, then stir till it dissolves. I don’t measure anything. If the sugar won’t dissolve, I add more water. If I want it thicker, I add more sugar. Bees lived a hundred million years before anyone thought of refined sugar in any proportion, so just forget about it. Bees forage on nectar and every plant has a different proportion of sugar to water. No two are the same.

      Like I said, you can try to re-liquify that crystallized syrup with more water, or just save it for winter feed. Crystallized sugar makes perfect winter feed.

  • Hello, I have made some sugar syrup as I always do, however this one crystallized on me. I may have over-heated it. I added my tea tree oil and lemon grass oil solution of distilled water as always. Is this solid sugar toxic to the bees now? Some beekeepers are telling me it could be toxic…but they are quite new like me…hoping you can help.


    • Gina,

      First read “Hydroxymethylfurfural in sugar syrup.” HMF is formed with fructose is heated. This isn’t too much of a problem with sugar syrup unless you invert the syrup with acid and then heat it. That said, beekeepers have been cooking syrup and making fondant for generations. Some of the bees might die from this, but most make it. I too used to cook syrup, although I no longer do. My opinion is that you should go ahead and use it, but don’t make a habit of it.

      To make syrup, I recommend dissolving the sugar in room temperature water. If you make it about 1.5 or 1.75 to 1 (instead of 2:1) it dissolves easily and works just as well.

  • Cooks Illustrated suggests that the key is prolonged exposure to heat. Bring to a boil then turn heat down and simmer for 10 minutes covered. It should stay crystal-free in the fridge for 2 weeks.

  • I think the reason that some people have crystallizing syrup is that the proportions are not clear. You are going by parts volume. In looking up recipes though, they generally recommend 2 lbs of sugar to every of water (“Beekeeping for Dummies” recommends this), which makes roughly nine cups of sugar to four cups of water. That is a stronger concentration, and in my experience, that will crystallize. So I am going to start doing this by parts volume and see if that remedies the situation.

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