feeding bees

The truth about honey bees changing syrup into honey

Honey bees can store nectar or sugar syrup, but they cannot turn syrup into honey. Photo by Kat Smith.

Honey bees can store sugar syrup just like they store honey, but they cannot change sugar syrup into honey. Syrup is made from sugar and water, but honey is made from nectar.

The question usually goes like this: “How long does it take for the bees to turn syrup into honey?”

Honey bees cannot transform syrup into honey

The answer is “they can’t.” Bees can never turn sugar water into honey. Harry Potter himself couldn’t do it. Beekeepers make syrup from granulated sugar (sucrose) dissolved in water. After the bees finish finagling with it, enzyming it, fanning it, and storing it you still have sugar dissolved in water. The honey bee enzyme invertase changes the form of the sugar from sucrose to glucose and fructose. But it is still sugar—nothing more.

The idea that bees can change syrup into honey comes from the mistaken belief that enzymes in the bee’s honey stomach are responsible for creating honey. But it’s the chemical compounds in nectar—an astounding array of different substances—that gives honey its flavor and aroma. By definition, honey is made from the nectar of flowers, so if the substance didn’t come from nectar, it’s not honey.

Honey bees store syrup and nectar the same way

In spite of the difference between syrup and honey, bees treat sugar syrup as if it were honey. They take it into their honey stomachs, pass it around, store it in cells, and dry it to the proper moisture level. This is why honey producers never feed syrup while honey supers are in place. If sugar syrup is readily available to bees, the real honey soon becomes diluted with syrup.

I knew a beekeeper who fed sugar to her bees all spring and summer with honey supers in place. At the end of the season, she labeled her product as “pure honey.” When I asked her about it, she explained that the bees ate the syrup which gave them lots of energy to collect nectar and make honey.

She saw nothing wrong with the practice because she thought the bees treated the substances differently: she thought they ate the syrup and stored the nectar. No amount of explanation on my part made an impression on her and, as far as I know, she still does it . . . and teaches a beekeeping class as well.

Time feeding so it doesn’t contaminate the honey

The important point here is that although syrup cannot be made into honey, bees treat syrup no differently than nectar. If we interfere with the bees’ life processes (by feeding sugar syrup) we must understand the consequences of our actions and take steps to avoid problems.

Feeding sugar in any form is fine as long as the honey bees are not actively collecting nectar and making honey. If you feed syrup while the bees are making honey, the honey will be become diluted with the syrup.

Honey Bee Suite

Honey is made from the nectar of flowers. You cannot turn syrup into honey. Pixabay public domain photo.
Honey is made from the nectar of flowers. Pixabay public domain photo.


  • As always, I love reading your blog! But this one left me with questions. I’m still a newbie but I’ve been around long enough to know that syrup fed to bees does not honey make. I have not, however, been around long enough to understand the “consequences of my actions” nor the “steps to avoid problems.” Please expound. What consequences? What steps? What problems? I’m thirsty!

    • Okay, I see I’ll have to expand this in another post. But basically, the consequences of feeding bees sugar syrup when honey supers are in place is that the honey becomes contaminated. It is both unethical and illegal to “extend” honey with syrup, and whether you just pour it in the bottle or you let the bees do it, it amounts to the same thing. Tests have been developed to detect sugar syrup in honey. Unfortunately, it is easier to detect sugar from cane than sugar from beets, but the analyses are getting more sophisticated all the time.

      Certain countries have a reputation for “extending” honey and we try to keep it out of our imports. Then, when we find beekeepers at home doing it, that is really sad. Remember the woman I mentioned, who feeds her bees during honey flow? Imagine someone tasting her honey and deciding honey isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It’s just sweet and syrupy, nothing else. Isn’t that sad? Isn’t it sad for the entire honey industry? Plus the consumer paid for something that she didn’t get. She paid for honey; she got granulated sugar mixed with honey. Misrepresenting the ingredients in a product is a serious crime and it casts a shadow over all beekeepers.

      The major step to avoiding these problems is to be meticulous about removing all syrup before adding supers and realizing that syrup feeding is just a stop-gap measure for saving a hive from starving. It is not something that should be done routinely.

      I hope this helps you for now. I made a note to expand on this in the future.

      • You already stated bees convert dextrose Into glucose n fructose I think. You may mean to say that syrup is sucrose water but you ain’t specified such. My understanding is that the bees stand in a bucket brigade line and pass the nectar or syrup along the line ingesting and regurgitation to convert it to trehalose.

        So you’re saying that if it’s sucrose, then it can’t get converted?

        • Jo,

          The main sugars in nectar depend on which plants provide the nectar, but most often they are sucrose, glucose, and fructose. The main sugars found in honey are glucose and fructose because the bee enzymes have changed much of the sucrose into glucose and fructose. However, other sugars are found in both nectar and honey, including trehalose (which is made of two glucose molecules) and maltose.

          Dextrose is the same as glucose, just another name, and the sugar syrup we make at home is pure sucrose in water.

          From what I’ve read, the amount of trehalose in honey is trivial. The bucket brigade you describe breaks down the disaccharide sucrose into glucose and fructose. I suppose it could also break down other disaccharides such as trehalose, but I don’t know for sure.

  • From my understanding nectar is a mixture of fructose and “sucrose” and thus honey by nature is a mixture of the two . . . When and how quickly honey crystallize is due to the ratio of the 2 sugars . . . I think feeding your honeybees all the time is not for me . . . I want a clean natural product for my own consumption . . . With that said, SUCROSE is sucrose weather from white refined sugar or from plant nectar . . . ALF

  • “No amount of explanation on my part made an impression on her and, as far as I know, she still does it . . . and teaches a beekeeping class as well.”

    Disturbing, disturbing, and disturbing. Some people . . . never mind, I’ll bite my tongue.

  • Thanks, Rusty, for clarifying that part. What scares me more than feeding with supers on is how do these same people handle medications. I have often had that thought pop into my mind – perish the thought!

    • Yes, it’s exactly the same problem. Many bee medications are not to be used with honey supers in place. But how many beekeepers follow these instructions is anybody’s guess.

      Honey tainted with antibiotics has been discovered in imports, but domestic honey is seldom tested.

  • I goofed a few weeks ago and left out some syrup in a mixing bucket. When I came back a week later, the bucket was empty and I said, “Damn!” I made some cut comb today from two frames, each frame from a different hive. Check out the difference:


    The comb on the bottom is virtually colourless. The flavour is somewhat bland. I suspect it was made from sugar syrup. I can’t taste the anise that we use in our sugar syrup, but I got a feeling it’s capped syrup, not honey. If it’s real honey, it’s the lightest honey I’ve ever seen.

    Is virtually white honey produced from any natural sources?

    • Phillip,

      Wow, that is light. Still, some honey is said to look like (clean) water, including black locust. See “Honey bee forage: black locust“. I had some really light honey at the end of last year, but it was more like your top sample. Since my honey is usually dark amber, it seemed really light to me. I think fireweed is also supposed to be water white.

      It would take a lot of syrup to fill a comb. How much syrup did you lose?

  • I think I left out about 6 litres of syrup (about 1.5 gallons). I’m not sure exactly. Probably enough fill a few medium frames.

    I’m not sure about the black locust, but I’ve noticed the bees all over the fireweed. The fireweed is everywhere. Interesting.

  • In the mountains of the southeast, white clover, locust, sourwood also make really light honey, ESP locust 🙂 It worried me a bit, as I am a newbie – all my mentors said to feed my girls sugar syrup to my new packages UNTIL they got the comb drawn out on the 10 frame deeps, and then take it away. I have done that, and just harvested my first honey, which is very light, but not clear like water. I am told it is locust and white clover. I hope I get good enough at this to determine to some degree what I have 🙂 Sourwood is not far away, nor locust 🙂

  • Ughh! I really enjoy reading your website and in most cases I do not argue differences because I accept how many views are out there especially with beekeeping. That is why it pains me to refute this point because some things are false no matter what. I don’t expect to change someone’s view but hear me out.

    The notion that bees cannot turn sugar or syrup into honey is false. Just plain and simple. Okay, perhaps not so simple. Let me explain.

    Honey has an intrinsic characteristic aside from other natural sugars of being a predigested form of different monosaccharides such as sucrose/fructose in an invert state accomplished outside of the reaction under heat. It is rather, a manipulation of enzymes. This I know you agree with.

    However, there are so many different types of nectar that no definition of honey can be derived from the word “nectar” alone. The molecular composition of some nectars far exceed the nutritional content of others. Some nectars are so basic in structure that they resemble little more than pure sucrose. Even given the fact that some minerals and nutrients exist in all nectar, these vary from one to the other. In truth, if humans were to mechanically extract nectar from flowers on a large scale similar to maple syrup, agave etc. they could not add the same enzymes, minerals, or processes to recreate what we call honey.

    Also take into consideration what is occurring during the conversion process of honey in the beehive. Enzymes play only a minimal role, bacteria cultures are crucial in the way sugars ferment. Glucose oxidase is one byproduct of fermentation and has little to do with properties found in nectar.

    In summary, it should be pointed out that bees are the primary factor in honey production and a study of syrup after it has been converted by a bee is fully functional in its characteristics of honey. Its mineral content may be less, but its ability to make mess as well as offer H2O2 as a diluting byproduct itself stands to suggest that what a be makes is honey no mater where the bee got it.

    This is not a complete explanation but I hope it offered a little food for thought.

    • By definition, if isn’t made of nectar it isn’t honey. Glucose oxidase is not a by-product of fermentation, it is an enzyme secreted by the hypopharyngeal gland of the honey bee and added to nectar.

      • As mentioned in an earlier thread concerning honey definitions, here in the States, that duty falls to the FDA apparently. The USDA has issued the grading standards, but successfully dodges the responsibility of the definition. The FDA was charged by the Senate Appropriations Committee to get the definition done promptly, a couple of years ago.

        “…Senate Committee on Appropriations has called on the FDA to address a standard of identity for honey in the reported agriculture appropriations bills for 2010 and 2011. In the Fiscal Year 2011 Senate Report, the FDA was directed to respond to the citizen petition from the American Beekeepers Association within six months and provide monthly status reports to the Senate Appropriations Committee on this effort until a response has been provided.” Source: http://www.agri-pulse.com/Honey_Gillibrand_8042011.asp

        Here in Washington State, we do have a definition. Other states have ‘other’ definitions as does the World Health Organization.

        WA state
        “Honey” defined.
        The term “honey” as used herein is the nectar of floral exudations of plants, gathered and stored in the comb by honey bees (apis mellifica). It is laevo-rotatory, contains not more than twenty-five percent of water, not more than twenty-five one-hundredths of one percent of ash, not more than eight percent of sucrose, its specific gravity is 1.412, its weight not less than eleven pounds twelve ounces per standard gallon of 231 cubic inches at sixty-eight degrees Fahrenheit.
        [1939 c 199 § 14; RRS § 6163-14. Formerly RCW 69.28.010, part.]

        The WHO, as cited here: http://www.honeytraveler.com/types-of-honey/honey-standards/
        World Health Organization (WHO) Codex Alimentarius (CA) for Honey, “Honey is the natural sweet substance, produced by honey bees from the nectar of plants or from secretions of living parts of plants or excretions of plant-sucking insects on the living parts of plants, which the bees collect, transform by combining with specific substances of there own, deposit, dehydrate, store and leave in honeycombs to ripen and mature.”

        Merriam-Webster conscise encyclopedia: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/honey?show=0&t=1391486925
        “Sweet, viscous liquid food, golden in colour, produced in the honey sacs of various bees from the nectar of flowers. Honey has played an important role in human nutrition since ancient times; until about 250 years ago, it was almost the sole sweetening agent. Honey is often produced on a commercial scale from clover (Trifolium) or sweet clover (Melilotus) by the domestic honeybee. The nectar is ripened into honey by inversion of most of its sucrose into the sugars levulose (fructose) and dextrose (glucose) and the removal of excess moisture. Honey is stored in the beehive or nest in a honeycomb, a double layer of uniform hexagonal cells constructed of beeswax and propolis (a plant resin). The honey is used in winter as food for the bee larvae and other members of the colony. Honey extracted for human consumption is usually heated to destroy fermentation-causing yeasts and then strained. See also beekeeping.”

        There is some variation in these definitions, and some points could be argued as being wrong, such as whether or not ‘honeydew’ should be allowed or not or what moisture percentage is allowable as ‘honey’. However, these are consistent in that bees harvest nectar from living plants…

        Comb stored sugar syrup fails this test and should not be referred to nor labelled as ‘honey’.

        Kent WA

  • I realize this is an old post, but it seems to have a few new comments. Very interesting, too. Nice debate.

    Here’s a tangential question: there was a comment in Bee Culture magazine a couple of years ago that grossed me out … The insinuation was that urban beekeepers (and maybe the rest of us) make a lot of honey from dumpster-diving bees. Sweet sticky syrupy goo in and around dumpsters attracts bees, they store it, and what do we call that? Is it honey if the sucrose sugar-water gets in there from some other source?

    By the way, my bees absolutely love chicken mash. Mmm.

    • Gilgamesh,

      Bees will collect syrupy sweets and have been known to store liquified candy canes, maraschino cherry syrup, the coating from M&Ms, etc. However, it is not honey because, by definition, honey is made from plant nectar. Usually beekeepers can spot it by its garish colors and cut it out of the comb or use it for winter feed.

      Chicken mash and similar products with high protein content are often collected by bees and fed to the larvae in place of pollen. Sometimes things like wet coffee grounds are used as a water source and are not being collected at all.

  • As a novice beekeeper of 2 months, I glean every scrap of info I can to make sure I am doing the best for my hive.
    My instructor advised that when acquiring a new colony or a swarm, it is best to feed a sugar solution until they have built up their reserves. Plus, the bees will only take what sugar solution they require.

    I have a thriving colony now with lots of frames with honey. Following guidance, I do not intend to take any honey away this first year.

    But what about next year? The advise is to feed in early spring when the weather is warmer. Also possibly in June when there is a blossom lull.

    Will all the angst against bees taking too much sugar syrup, I am concerned next year I may get it all wrong.
    I have been somewhat surprised at how much sugar syrup they are taking each week. But going with my former advice, I was happily adding it because they were taking it.

    Am I training them to rely on the sugar syrup rather than foraging for themselves?

    • Rosalind,

      You bring up several issues. In my opinion, sugar syrup is a supplement to get your bees through times of shortage; it can also be used to get a new colony started in the spring. Refined sugar is not part of the natural honey bee diet, so the less you feed the better. Remember, refined sugar has no nutrients, no vitamins, and no minerals the way honey does. It is merely empty calories.

      You say your bees have put up lots of honey, but if they’ve taken that much syrup, what you have is a combination of honey and sugar syrup in your combs–not pure honey. That means their winter food supply is not as nutritious as it could be. The best food for bees is pure honey, made from the nectar of flowers.

      You are not training them, you have just made it easy for them. Remove the sugar and they will remember how to forage perfectly well. Just remember that sugar syrup is a tool that can be used when food supplies are low, but it certainly shouldn’t replace nectar in the honey bee diet.

  • My husband and I are new to beekeeping. We bought a hive in April and have caught 2 in swarm catchers. We have been feeding them Pro-Sweet liquid feed from Mann lake until recently. We are now feeding them sugar syrup to help them prepare for the winter. We were told to do that with our new hives. When should we stop? We have not tried to harvest any honey so does it really matter?

    • BJ,

      Your bees will stop taking liquid feed when the temperature of the feed (not the air) drops to 50 degrees F (about 10 degrees C). You can feed them until they stop taking it. If all the syrup is being used for winter feed, it makes no difference as far as honey purity is concerned.

  • Rusty,

    So the 2:1 mix I just fed, about 1 gallon per colony, will be consumed this winter? And will a spring feed, if needed, contaminate their honey with syrup?
    I fed all summer, 1:1, because there was a dearth here, then did the 2:1 for a final feeding last week with a two week break in-between. The stores they have seem adequate…two full mediums on one, almost two full mediums on the other. My guess is about 60 to 70 pounds each colony.


    • Dave,

      The key is to never have extracting supers (or comb honey supers) on while you are feeding. If the boxes you have on the hive are for the bees and not for humans, then the bees can’t store the syrup in the “wrong” place. And yes, what you are feeding them now they will consume during the winter. Pretty much all of it will be gone by spring. In the spring, the same thing applies. You can feed them syrup, but once the honey supers go on, the feed needs to stop.

  • I was going to correct ALFTN about sucrose, but saq they self corrected.

    But will now add to wha ALFTN said about sucrose.

    White sugar, if you study human nurtrition, is a top 5 cause of cancer. People must also keep this in mind. Cancer in people is caused by acidifying the body. Taking the human body from a alkaline state, to an acid state. Cancer cells cannot survive in an alkaline body PH.

    Sucrose contributes to acidity in the human body causing sore muscles and joints, as well as other ailments.

    Sucrose in relationship to bees, is very capable of acidifying body PH. This can contribute to weakening the bee’s immune system. Nobody in my opinion should feed sucrose willy nilly! But should keep in mind what happens to bee health, when they are fed white sugar.

    In my opinion sucrose should only be fed as a last resort. The Natural, nature made way is best for bee health, as well as human health.

    Nectar is best! Honey is immensely healing, nutritious, and tasty! For people and for bees.

    • What do beekeepers do when there is no nectar? We live in the hottest city in the nation, (Lake Havasu City, AZ) we don’t have any flowers within miles of us. Will they live off their stores if they cannot get any food? Just curious. What about the HFCS? Can you feed them that? Beekeepers in California with 1,000’s of hives feed that to them by the tanker load. I appreciate the info.

    • “Cancer cells cannot survive in an alkaline body pH.” Are you sure? Google acid base imbalance.

      Blood is normally slightly basic, with a normal pH range of 7.35 to 7.45. Your diet (bar consuming toxins like alcohol) affects homeostasis less than say your breathing or the clothes you wear. Your body will rebalance pH much more quickly by stretching and breathing than worrying about diet. Having a highly basic pH body to prevent cancer is not a thing. If your body’s pH goes too high above the range mentioned, you could experience alkalosis, or symptoms similar to lock jaw from tetanus and muscle spasms. You would not survive to get cancer! lol

      As many have established, the presence of vitamins and minerals of honey from nectar vs sugar syrup is the focus, they are more nutritious.

  • “Honey is a mixture of glucose and fructose and, yes, it’s the ratio between the two the controls the rate of crystallization.” It is nice to know that it is the ratio that determines the rate of crystallization…while finding ways to differentiate between fake and pure honey [http://durablehealth.net/?p=59] I found out that pure honey crystallizes….that high-fructose honey types crystallize faster…At least I now know that it is not just fructose but the ratio.

  • I will save everyone a long drawn out story about myself and my experiences in life as well as with my beekeeping experiences, but will leave you all with something to ponder. The last beekeper’s meeting I ever attended welcomed the governments top apiarist for our province. Who proceeded to tell a room full of people that new research has determined what has been killing all the bees. It wasn’t pesticides,herbicides, fungicides, g.m.o. foods or neonicatinoids or any other man-made ssues. Nope! Are ya all ready? It was ‘dust’! Yep, dust. Are you frickin serious? Everyone there just sat there eating this cap up too! Again, are you serious? But then he proceeded to tell everyone not to worry because they have an answer! They have a new chemical agent to supress the dust! So being me, I proceeded to ask who funded this research. As suspected of course it was by all the major chemical, agriculture corps. So when I asked him how big was the envelope he received to sit there and plain faced lie to everyone, I was told to remove myself. How convenient their meetings were held in a police station! So when the government or any other affiliate agency of government tells you something….IT DOES NOT MAKE IT SO!!!! WAKE UP PEOPLE!!!

  • My apologies, but now I am on a bit of a rant. If memory serves me correctly, the meeting before this one also seen me as an outsider in the meeting, due again to asking the unpopular question(s). It was told to us that a member of the bee association did a removal of a honey bee hive from someone’s house (outer wall) and that it was a particularly large and healthy colony. Then they proceeded to tell us that they were immediately medicated as per government and bee association standards. So when I asked why they were medicated if they were such a healthy colony I was immediately shunned and outcasted. The only answer I got was because that was the industry standard protocol. Sounds a lot to me like another load of pharmaceutical (chemical) sales crap! People beware, there is an agenda in place. I do not for one second believe it is in any of our best interests.

  • I know this is an older post but saw this directive from The European Parliament.
    Council Directive 2001/110/EC (3) defines honey as the natural sweet substance produced by Apis mellifera bees (‘bees’). Honey consists essentially of different sugars, predominantly fructose and glucose, as well as other substances such as organic acids, enzymes and solid particles derived from honey collection.

    Surely it should have said from Nectar collection.


  • I have diabetes and I have read about the good benefits of honey into our body. But I was confused between a cultured honey (feed by sugars) and wild honey (feed naturally from plants). Is cultured honey still good to a person who suffer diabetes? thanks

    • May,

      There is no such thing as “cultured honey” as you describe it. Honey is made by bees from the nectar of plants. If is has any sugar syrup in it, it is contaminated and not allowed to be sold as pure honey. Whether a diabetic should eat honey is a question for a doctor.

  • How much sugar water at 2:1 should you feed a hive to make it through a Wisconsin winter? They just took 1.5 gallons in less then 24 hours.

    • Mike, the rule of thumb is (once the supers are off) is to feed them sugar water until they stop taking it. The cutoff point will most likely be due to the weather. When it becomes too cold for the bees to fly they will stop feeding from external sugar sources.

  • There is a huge discussion on the issue of sugar syrup honey that was harvested and used as if it were not sugar syrup honey and many are taking the position that they do as you described and stop feeding when the flow is on and therefore it is a none issue and not a problem. I thought it was common to wind up with sugar syrup harvested and used and many do it knowingly.

    • Chet,

      I think many people who do it knowingly believe that the bees can actually turn sugar syrup into honey. But they can’t. What is the point of having bees if you are going to eat sugar syrup? You can buy sugar and invertase and mix them together. Much cheaper.

  • I will go a step further and say that many don’t really care and just want to insure a large harvest. Love your blog!

  • We are new bee”havers.”.. Two hives, (two deeps, frames full). This blog has been one of the best I have read and we will continue reading.
    I read something about sugar and cancer in the blog. I used to think my husband coined the phrase “Trust but Verify”, but that was made famous by Ronald Reagan!!
    In the 1930s, a Nobel prize was won for the discovery that cancer cells in humans survive on fermented sugars. A LOT of research was done and progress was made. Some guy in the UK was even knighted for his research.
    Then Eisenhower had a heart attack and the extremely reputable MD who treated him declared beef was the issue. Ike actually became a vegetarian. He died 7 or so years after..of heart issues.
    From then on, beef became an issue. But sugar was barely noticed. The gentleman in the UK was derided and shamed. He basically lost his career.
    What is now being spoken of ( now that we are doing evidence -based research) is the revelation that Ike’s Doc was heavily involved with the sugar industry. And we were led away from sugar…to beef.
    Look all of this up.
    I get that bees can survive on empty calories of sugar water (whether can or beet) but that cannot be the same as natural pollens/nectars. It just doesn’t make sense. It will help them survive tough times, but it is not healthy for them.
    Know I got off track. Sugar causes untold havoc in humans, why not bees?

  • Rusty, I got a nuc through winter by heavy feeding in the fall. In spring I transferred into 8 frame and a few weeks later I added a second 8 frame brood box. I wanted to taste early season honey so I removed a frame from the top box. It was beautiful light yellow. At first I thought it was delicious (and maybe had some maple) but over time I am suspicious that the bees may have transferred some of the sugar water “honey” from the lower box into the upper box. I fear this because the honey that I harvested has a candy-like taste and lacks a strong “honey” flavor. I am decidedly less enamored with the taste now. I understand that bees move honey around quite often, something I did not consider at time of harvest. Do you think it is partly made from the sugar water I feed the nuc in the fall? Or maybe I am just not used to the taste of early season honey here in Portland, OR in my 3rd beekeeping season? Thanks in advance!

    • Kevin,

      I do not believe bees uncap honey, move it elsewhere, and then recap it. I hear this all the time, but I’ve asked the experts, and most of them don’t believe it. If bees want to remove honey from an area, they use it. Then they put new honey in the new area. Bees are extremely energy efficient, and they’re not going to spend their time uncapping and recapping. Lots of people have tried marking the honey with food coloring and then tracing it’s movement. For the most part, it just disappears.

  • Do you know what adulterated honey from sugar syrup tastes like? What about honey that is half made of nectar and half made of sugar syrup, can the difference between it and unadulterated honey be detected by taste? Earlier this spring I harvested honey from a second brood box put on top of a colony that had been wintered over in a nuc. It tastes somewhat bland and very sweet. Is it possible that the bees moved some of their adulterated honey, left over from their winter nuc, from the bottom brood box into the second brood box, resulting in this taste? Or, is that unlikely? Thank you.

    • Kevin,

      To me, a syrup/honey mix tastes sweet without much flavor. However, some nectar yields very bland honey, so it’s hard to know for sure without testing. As for moving honey around, different beekeepers have different theories. Personally, I don’t think bees move honey. I think if they want to clear an area, they use that honey first, and store new honey somewhere else. Do I have proof? No. But neither do I have proof that they will uncap honey and move it. That would be very inefficient and bees are never inefficient.

  • Hi Rusty,

    I have two hives very close to each other. One hive was new this spring. I fed it sugar syrup most of the spring and summer as was instructed by the bee and bee equipment supplier in our area. It’s doing very well. It took in the syrup, but not rapidly. I also put syrup on my other hive in the spring. It did survive the previous winter, but wasn’t super strong because we had a very long and cold winter. It did rebound. I stopped feeding it syrup, put on a queen excluder and a super, and by the first or second week of July, it was full of capped honey. I put on another super, but didn’t get much honey in that one. I harvested the full super in the middle of August. The honey is pale, not white, but pale and has a very delicate but definitely a honey taste. It is also thick, but pours and is not crystallized.

    My big question is… would the bees from the hive where I took the honey from have gone over to the hive I was feeding and taken in the sugar syrup? The feeder is a bucket with tiny holes in the lid inverted over the hole in the inner cover. The bees would have had to go into the hive to get it.

    There was a good nectar flow in our area in June and early July, so I assumed it was pure honey that I harvested but because of how light and delicate and how thick it is, I am a little worried about it. Could it be mixed with sugar syrup or am I worrying about nothing. Just need to know. Thank you, Rusty. I love your blog.

    • Kathleen,

      I think you are worrying over nothing. If the bees were stealing from your other hive, you would most likely see fighting at the hive entrance.

      The characteristics of honey vary tremendously, and light-colored, light-flavored honey is very much in demand. Only certain plants make the nectar that yields that kind of honey, so you must have some nearby. Crystallization does not indicate “real honey.” Honey crystallizes or not based on the ratio of fructose to glucose in the nectar. That, too, is determined by the species of plant where it came from. Often, honey from tree flowers can go for years without crystallizing, so that alone doesn’t tell you anything.

      Just relax and enjoy your good fortune.

  • Sorry if it was mentioned in one of the comments, but what if the bees are fed pure maple syrup? It’s from plants. Bees do drink the sap flowing from trees when they’re damaged? And if it’s cooked down maple syrup (not the fake corn syrup stuff) will the honey develop or have that maple flavor.

    • Paul,

      I’m sure the bees would store maple syrup just like any other type of syrup. However, by definition, it wouldn’t be honey because honey is made from the nectar of flowers and contains pollen. Bees do collect sap and resin from plants and mix it with saliva to make propolis. Whether the stored syrup would taste like maple, I do not know.

  • Thanks Rusty,

    I actually just read about that yesterday and saw it on a youtube video. I’m trying to learn as much as I can. I’m 52 and have always been interested in keeping bees but never had the nerve. So, I just received my first hive and bee suit with smoker. Now to try to get a swarm 🙂 Fingers crossed

  • Hello,

    I made the same mistake and gave my bees sugar water and now the honey super is full of very light sugar honey, if you can call it that. Anyway, I definitely don’t want to contaminate legit honey. If I put in a fresh super between the brood box and the sugar water super that they filled with “honey,” will they be able to create real honey in the middle super without contamination? Or does the fact that the super on top with the “sugar water honey” allow them to source that as well as nectar and further contaminating the real honey they will begin producing in the fresh middle super? I hope this makes sense!

    • Kevin,

      The presence of lots of bees will keep the hummingbirds away. You can buy bee-proof feeders, but I don’t know how well they work.

  • So here I am in spring and there are a lot of frames filled with (?) I have taken out about 1/2 of it because obviously, the bees don’t need it. But I still have about 8 frames most of which are 1/3 to 1/2 filled with (?). I have marked them and expect I will take out more as the nectar flow starts. I really expected the bees to use a lot of the honey and saved sugar water but to my surprise, they needed hardly any of it. Or I could wait till these frames are filled and then add another super. Can I expect that the added super will be pure honey? Or should I really just get rid of all the frames as the nectar flow starts? I see you have tried to answer similar questions in previous posts. Thanks and what would you do?

    • Michael,

      For the benefit of new beekeepers not yet proficient in apiary hieroglyphics, I assume (?) is a mixture of nectar and sugar syrup.

      If so, what I would do is remove it from the hive, wrap it in plastic, freeze it, and store the frames somewhere dry and away from predators such as mice and wax moths. Then you can return it to your bees after you remove the honey supers for the year. On the other hand, since they are marked, you could just leave them where they are and add a super when the time is right. Contrary to lots of talk, I don’t believe honey bees “move” honey to any great extent. Instead, they use it up from one place and then store new honey somewhere else.

      Anyway, you should be fine just adding a super, but if you prefer, removing the (?) is okay, too.

  • Hi Rusty,

    Thank you for all your shared knowledge here on your site.

    So, this year a question came to me about sugar syrup and honey/syrup being moved around within the hive.

    In early spring I was feeding 1:1 syrup, and stopped when the bees slowed their consumption of the syrup. Then I put the honey super on. Fast forward to the first week of May and the colony swarmed. Due to my frantic and ill-advised manipulations, this colony was without a queen for approximately 5 weeks. About 14 days after the swarm occurred, I inspected the colony and discovered the colony was pretty much honey bound. At this time, the super was full and I harvested and put the wet frames right back on the hive.

    Fast forward again 2 weeks and the super is now completely full again. But upon inspection I discovered the new queen (and eggs) and the brood chamber frames (which were once honey bound) are cleared out seemingly in preparation for brood rearing.

    So the question and concern that enters my mind is this:

    Is it possible that some of the syrup from early spring was stored in the brood chamber and then when the bees prepared for the new queen’s egg laying, they moved some of that syrup into the honey super?

    If you have time, I would love to hear/read your thoughts on this situation.

    Thank you!


    • Kevin,

      This question comes up all the time. Personally, I do not think honey bees move honey. I have asked many, many researchers this question and most agree with me. In nature, the conservation of energy is exceedingly important. Unlike humans, most creatures from large mammals down to microscopic single-celled swimmers do not waste a single molecule of food, nor do they waste movements. Moving honey, especially capped honey, around the inside of a hive would be extremely wasteful of both time and energy.

      I think what people think they see (honey being moved) is a misinterpretation of what’s really going on. In practice, if honey bees want to clear a place, they will use up the honey in that area first, and store incoming honey elsewhere. Hence, it appears to be moved.

      Some of the confusion comes because people think honey bees don’t use their honey stores in summer, but they do. They use it all the time, but in summer they store more than they use and in winter they do the opposite. So, during brood rearing, the bees use the honey in proximity to the nest to nourish the nurse bees and the young larvae. This uses it up, causing the nearby cells to go empty and become available for even more brood rearing. New nectar coming in is stored in the supers.

      As far as moving honey goes, here’s an experiment I’ve tried many times, and you can try it too: Feed syrup that is deeply colored with food coloring. You can easily see where it is stored in the hive. Put the frames of it down in the brood nest and then, in the following months, look for it in the honey supers. I have never seen even a hint of color in the supers. The colored “honey” will eventually disappear as the bees use it, but they won’t move it to a new location.

  • Many thanks for having this website. I just discovered. I also discovered (or finally paid attention to the subject) some months go, 2023, that the honey I have been purchasing is mixed with sugar. I saw the crystals of sugar sticked to the bottom of the plastic jars which I turn when I do not have much left inside the jar! Now I pay attention to the labels when I go to Walmart and although I pay more, at least it reads less than 16 gms of sugar and not 34 grs or % of it. No wonder I was finding myself adding and adding more and more HONEY (sugar!) to my cup of tea!! It was not sweetening my tea but the real honey it does and I have to add much less! I wonder what else they are doing behind our backs to kill us!

    • kil,

      So how did you determine your honey is mixed with sugar? It takes some tricky laboratory analysis to tell for sure because natural raw honey is about 80-85% sugar, mostly fructose, glucose, and maltose. The glucose part of honey routinely granulates, causing the entire thing to crystallize. I’m not saying grocery store honey is not mixed with sugar syrup because it’s possible. But crystallization is not a sign of contamination.

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