Feeding bees can quickly become confusing, especially for the new beekeeper. This guide will help you choose the correct syrup, how to mix it and how to feed it to your colonies!
Table of Contents
When should I feed?
In most cases, thriving colonies are able to support themselves by foraging and collecting nectar from natural resources. However, they do occasionally benefit from the addition of sugar syrup. Bees should be fed in the following situations:
- New swarm
- New package or nuc
- Recently moved hive
- Low honey stores approaching winter
- Low bee population
- Drought (resulting in few flowers)
Bees always prefer nectar over syrup. Therefore, if bees are successfully foraging and bringing in enough nectar for the colony, they won’t take the syrup. In that case, remove the feeder before the syrup spoils and add later if needed.
WHEN NOT TO FEED
Colonies should never be fed when honey supers are on. You’ll end up with syrup in the honey super frames instead of honey.
Which ratio should I use?
RATIOS BY WEIGHT
Common bee sugar syrup ratios are 2:1, 5:3, 3:2, and 1:1.
What does this mean? Ratios are properly measured by weight, not volume. So 2:1, for example, is 2 parts sugar and 1 part water, by weight. To measure 2:1 correctly would use 2 pounds sugar with 1 pound of water.
Measuring ratios by volume, for example, 2 cups sugar with 1 cup water, is incorrect and will not yield the desired ratio. In this example, 2 cups of sugar weigh 400 grams and 1 cup of water weighs 227 grams, so the final ratio, when measured by volume, would be 1.76: 1, not 2:1.
THICK OR THIN
“Thinner” syrups like 1:1 (with less sugar) are similar to flower nectar and should be fed in the spring and summer.
Heavier syrup like 2:1 has more sugar with less water which is best for fall feeding. Fall days are often shorter and cooler than summer days. With more sugar than water, it is easier for the bees to evaporate off the water quickly for storage in preparation for winter.
Choosing the right feeder
I prefer internal feeders like frame feeders and top feeders, and highly recommend avoiding Boardman/entrance feeders which invite robbing.
I have two methods for syrup storage, depending on how much I make and how soon I am going to use it.
When feeding all the bee yards, I make 5-10 gallons the night before (so it can cool before use). I found the easiest way to transport syrup is in a water cube like this one.
For smaller batches that I don’t use as often like when I am feeding a new swarm, I store the syrup in the fridge between use. These heavy duty gallon jugs are the most economical and easiest to store in the fridge.
How to make syrup
To make syrup, heat the desired amount of water until almost boiling. Do not boil water as boiling water will result in a crystallized solution. Remove water from heat and stir in sugar. Allow to cool and feed to bees. Add Healthy Honey Bee if desired.
Regular granulated white sugar is the best sugar to make syrup.
Healthy Honey Bee
I always add homemade Healthy Honey Bee in our syrup. It has many added benefits, most notably it keeps the syrup from spoiling quickly.
Syrup Mixing Chart
The chart below will create slightly larger volumes. For example, the recipe for 2:1 that uses 1 gallon of water will make about 1 1/2 gallon of syrup.
Depending on the ratio chosen and accuracy of measurement…
- 1 gallon water makes about 1 ¼ to 1 ½+ gallon syrup
- ½ gallon water makes about ⅔ to ¾+ gallon syrup
- 1 quart water makes about 1 ¼ to 1 ½+ quart syrup
- 1 pint water makes about 1 ¼ to 1 ½+ pint syrup
Download The Free Syrup Chart Printable
Download the printable syrup chart to keep in your kitchen for quick & easy reference!
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Syrup Mixing Chart
|Desired Ratio of|
Sugar : Water
(Feed in Fall)
|16 ¾ pounds|
(16 ¼ cups)
|6 ½ pounds|
|3 ⅓ pounds|
(6 ⅔ cups)
|1 ½ pound|
Feed year round
|12 ½ pounds|
|1 ½ pound|
Feed in Spring
|8 ¼ pounds|
(16 ½ cups)
Sunday 26th of March 2023
Our nights were still hovering around freezing so I mixed the 5:3 ratio. I placed my feeders about 75 yds away and 2 weeks later the bees hadn't touched it. Has anyone ever seen this? This time of year in Kansas there's no nectar sources that I've found and this is the time of year that many of us lose hives. Thoughts? I've never had the bees fail to find or drink syrup in the past.
Wednesday 6th of April 2022
You say that the ratios are by weight not volume so 2 cups of sugar and 1 cup of water would result in 1.76:1 and not 2:1. Then the chart states to mix 4 cups of sugar to 1 pint of water. 1 pint is 2 cups. This is 4 cups of water to 2 cups of sugar which is 2 cups of water to 1 cup of sugar. The information is conflicting.
Friday 20th of May 2022
@Casey Leonard, I think you were a little tired when you sent this. In the 2:1 ratio chart, the only one I question is the second one in which more than a full cup of sugar is added to a full cup of water. If you look at what you wrote, you switched the water and sugar designation but kept the measurements the same. If you take 4 cups of sugar and one pint of water, ie 2 cups of water, it works. So does 6 cups of sugar to 3 cups of water, or a pint and a half. Then, the second part of your message, you write "4 cups of water to 2 cups of sugar, which is 2 cups of water and 1 cup of sugar". That is correct, based on the math, but not on any recipe listed on the chart. It would give a 1:2 ratio. You must have looked at two different charts thinking they were the same one.
I'm not sure why one would continue feeding bees year round. I would think they would prefer to gather pollen from plants to make honey and not drink sugar water all the time, which will only put syrup where honey should be. Perhaps there is an area that is void of flowering plants and one may put a hive in. Therefore would have to feed bees year round. I don't see any point in it but I suppose it could happen if bees were raised inside a structure with no means of interacting with live plants. Maybe that's what encourages them to create drones? Still, at some point in the queen's life, she has to go on her mating flight so she can lay eggs. Have they studied that in outer space and determined it's a viable option to produce more bees? I don't know. I'd think that would be one of the only reasons to beekeep in an enclosed building. The other might be in the antarctic and areas of similar temperature on Earth. I could be wrong.