feeding bees

Sugar syrup measurement: weight or volume?

The question of whether to use weight or volume when making honey bee supplemental feeds is a common one. The answer—it doesn’t matter—is confusing to people so here is a short explanation.

1 cup of refined sugar = 200 grams = 7.05 ounces = a little less than 0.5 pound.

1 cup of water = 236 grams = 8.3 ounces = a little more than 0.5 pound.

For the purposes of making sugar syrups for honey bees—either fall syrup (2:1) or spring syrup (1:1)—the numbers are close enough that you can assume that 1 cup of water or sugar equals 8 ounces of water or sugar. You can mix up the measurements freely. For example, you can measure 1 pound of sugar (about 2.25 cups) and 2 cups (about 1 pound) of water for 1:1 syrup.

Yes, these are only approximations. But the point to remember is that we (humans) are making syrup for them (honey bees.) Honey bees, as it turns out, do not have a recorded system of weights and measures. A little bit more or less sugar per volume of water will not bother them. In fact, the nectar that they collect in the field has an infinite range of sugar-to-water ratios.

The rationale behind using the two different ratios is simple. Spring syrup is similar to nectar, and the availability of nectar stimulates the production of brood in the spring. So by feeding light syrup in the spring we coax the workers to build comb and the queen to lay eggs. On the other hand, fall syrup more closely resembles honey and bees tend to store fall syrup for winter.

But again, these proportions are only approximations and there is nothing magical about them. The ratios are no more natural to the honey bees than eating refined sugar.

The moral of the story is this: relax. Your approximation will be close enough. However, if you are one of those types who absolutely must carry out your calculations to the fifth decimal, I highly recommend a little program called convert.exe. I use this little tool constantly. It will convert virtually anything to anything else, and it is quick and easy to use. You can find it here.



  • I am feeding 1:1 syrup to a nuc that hasn’t expanded well and has been requeened twice. The 1:1 encourages them to build the colony. I anticipate a nectar dearth through August. When should I switch to 2:1 so they build stores?

    • Jesslyn,

      As a rule of thumb, you can start feeding the heavier syrup after the spring equinox because after that time, the honey bee colonies begin decreasing in size and preparing for winter. But personally, I don’t worry much about the ratios. I usually feed about 1.5:1 all year long, and even then I don’t measure too carefully.

      If you recall that all nectars have different ratios of sugar to water, and that those ratios change with the climate, rainfall, and time of day, you realize that the bees cannot possibly be too particular. When they get the syrup, they will know what to do with it.

  • Here is some info for people who run into this post looking for the best way to mix their sugar syrup. In the USA we have a disadvantage when it comes to weight and volume measurements. Using the Imperial method for weights and volumes makes things very confusing when it comes to accurately measuring out needed ingredients. A while ago I figured something out that has helped me tremendously to get the moisture content at that beloved 60%-70% for mushroom substrate for my shiitake mushrooms. I figured out that 1 milliliters of water = 1 gram. So if you convert over to metric it makes weighting out volume to weight much easier. Especially when the wet ingredient is water. Then converting this over to imperial is easy. Roughly 4 liters per gallon. However you will have a bit more because of the added sugar molecules.

    For example a 1:1 sugar syrup ratio would be something like this.
    4000 grams of sugar to 4000 milliliters of water

    2:1 sugar syrup ratio would be something like this.
    4000 grams of sugar to 2000 milliliters of water

    Metric is much easier to work with. Give it a shot.

    • Jeremy,

      You are so funny: “I figured out that 1 milliliters of water = 1 gram.” That’s how a gram was originally defined—as the weight (mass) of one cc of water.

      While your calculations are fine, they are so unnecessary. Take any container and fill it once with water and once with sugar for 1:1 syrup. Fill it once with water and twice with sugar for 2:1.

  • Ok, I am a beginner and at a complete loss as to mixing. So if I have a 4 lb bag of sugar do I mix it with half a gallon of water? Also, I have 2 hives (both are new nuc hives) and they are not building any comb so what do I do? East-central Iowa 6/18/20

    • Lyle,

      1. Yes. That will give you 1:1 syrup.
      2. If you are feeding, there is nothing to do but wait. They will get around to it when they’re ready.

    • Vlad,

      First, I don’t sell sugar syrup or anything else. Someone else might, but we don’t know where on Earth you might be.

  • What I can find: Weight of sugar mixed with weight of water = syrup
    What I can’t find: How much syrup (volume) does the above make???

  • So, it’s not that simple. Dry measures and liquid measures are different in the U.S. system. Water would typically be measured in liquid gallons and sugar would typically be measured in dry gallons. For example, 25 pounds of sugar has a volume of a little over 3.54 dry gallons. On the other hand, one liquid gallon of water weighs 8.35 pounds. Twenty-five pounds of water would have a volume of 2.99 liquid gallons or 2.57 dry gallons. Neither measure equals the measure for 25 pounds of sugar.

    Since we’re only making bee syrup, it’s not a huge deal but measuring by weight is not the same as by volume. It’s also important to make sure you use the same volumetric measure for both the sugar and water and not a dry measure for sugar and a liquid measure for water, as one would do for baking. It would be easy to make this mistake if you calculate the volume of 25 pounds of sugar in gallons, for example, then measure your water in a bucket (which would likely have liquid gallons marked on it). You’d be quite a bit off if you used dry gallons for sugar and liquid gallons for water.

    Point of interest: one unit of water mixed with one unit of sugar makes about 1.5 units total. One unit of water and two units of sugar makes about 2.0 total units (no, that’s not an error). Note, these numbers were derived by experiment, by me. So, take them with a grain of salt (or sugar)!

    • Doug,

      I think you’re missing the main point. I never said measuring by weight and volume were the same. I said that FOR THIS APPLICATION (feeding bees), it doesn’t matter how you do it because it doesn’t affect the bees.

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