To make sugar syrup for honey bees, it's important to use standard white processed table sugar, as organic sugar or brown sugar can contain molasses which is not good for the bees' gut. Two common formulas of sugar water used by beekeepers are 1:1 and 2:1.
For 1-2 hives, a standard quart jar can work well. If you want to extend the time between feedings, using a bucket or an internal feeder may be a better option, as they can hold a larger amount of syrup.
It's important to keep in mind that 1:1 sugar syrup can ferment quickly in the Florida heat, so it's best to portion the amount of syrup you provide to only what the bees can consume within 3-5 days. Overfeeding can lead to spoilage and may harm the colony.
Mixing larger batches in a 5-gallon bucket and storing the mixed syrup in a refrigerator is another efficient method for feeding the bees, especially if you have multiple hives. This method can provide a supply of syrup for up to a week. Mixing a 25-pound bag of sugar in a 5-gallon bucket, filling it with water an inch or so from the top, and using a drill to mix until fully dissolved can save time and effort in the long run.
Bees seem to prefer their syrup at ambient temperature, so removing the syrup from the refrigerator a few hours prior to feeding can be beneficial. This can help ensure that the syrup is not too cold, which the bees may not prefer, and can encourage them to take the syrup more readily.
1:1 sugar water is made by mixing equal parts of sugar and water by weight, and is used mostly year-round, unless you live in a very cold climate. This formula is a little cheaper for the beekeeper as it contains less sugar.
2:1 sugar water is made by mixing two parts sugar to one part water by weight, and is used mostly when the bees are low on stores within the hive, particularly when going into the winter months, to help the bees put on weight.
- Fill a standard quart jar 2/3 full of sugar.
- Fill the jar with hot tap water, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is completely dissolved.
- Secure the lid and shake the jar until the mixture is thoroughly mixed. Let it sit for a few minutes to dissolve any remaining sugar and shake again if needed.
- Replace the lid with a feeder lid or make your own by drilling or punching 8-12 small holes (approximately 1/16" diameter) around the middle of the lid.
Early spring is a crucial time for brood rearing, and supplementary syrup can help boost a nuc or a weaker overwintering hive during this time. However, it's important to also monitor the colony's pollen stores, as without a protein source, the syrup alone may not benefit the colony. Bees need both a protein source (pollen) and a carbohydrate source (sugar syrup) to make "bee bread" or food for the developing larvae.
During a nectar flow, the bees will stop taking syrup as they prefer pure nectar over sugar water. Feeding during a nectar flow can contaminate the honey crop, so it's important to avoid feeding syrup during these times. It's best to consult with local beekeepers to determine the timing of these events.
In summary, understanding when to provide supplemental food and monitoring the colony's weight and food stores is important in ensuring the health and survival of the colony. Regular inspections can help you make informed decisions about when and how to provide supplementary food, such as syrup, to the bees.