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​The Art and Science of Feeding Bees Sugar Syrup

​The Art and Science of Feeding Bees Sugar Syrup

Posted by Josie Sage on 1st May 2024

Bees rely on a delicate balance of resources to thrive. While they primarily collect nectar and pollen from flowers to sustain themselves and their colonies, there are times when supplementary feeding becomes necessary. Enter sugar syrup—a vital resource in the arsenal of beekeepers worldwide, offering sustenance during lean periods and supporting hive health in various situations. Let's delve into the art and science of feeding bees sugar syrup.

Understanding the Need

Supplemental feeding of sugar syrup becomes necessary for several reasons:

1. Winter Preparation: As colder months approach, natural forage becomes scarce, and bees may require additional food stores to survive the winter.

2. Spring Stimulus: Early spring can present a scarcity of nectar-producing flowers, making supplemental feeding essential to stimulate brood rearing and colony expansion.

3. Colony Growth: During periods of rapid colony growth, such as when a new queen is established or after a split, providing sugar syrup ensures that bees have access to immediate energy to fuel wax production, comb building, and brood rearing.

Types of Sugar Syrup

There are various types of sugar syrup mixtures, each serving a specific purpose:

1. 1:1 Syrup (Thin Syrup): Made by mixing equal parts of granulated sugar and water, this syrup closely mimics the sugar concentration found in flower nectar. It is often used during spring and summer to stimulate brood rearing and provide a readily available energy source.

2. 2:1 Syrup (Heavy Syrup): This mixture, containing two parts sugar to one part water, is thicker and more calorie-dense. It is commonly used in Autumn as bees prepare for winter, providing ample energy stores to sustain the colony during the colder months.

Feeding Methods

Beekeepers employ various methods to feed sugar syrup to their colonies:

Top Feeders: Placed above the top most super/box of the hive, top feeders contain a reservoir of sugar syrup accessible to bees through small feeding ports. They are ideal for providing large quantities of syrup quickly and are commonly used during times of intense feeding, such as winter preparation.

Frame Feeders: Installed within the hive, frame feeders occupy space between frames and can hold a reasonable volume of sugar syrup. 

Best Practices and Considerations

When feeding bees sugar syrup, it's crucial to follow these best practices:

Use Clean Equipment: Ensure all feeding equipment is clean and free from contaminants to prevent the spread of disease within the hive.

Monitor Consumption: Regularly check syrup levels to gauge colony consumption and adjust feeding accordingly.

Timing is Key: Provide sugar syrup early enough to allow bees to store it for winter but avoid late-season feeding, which may result in excess moisture in the hive.

Consider Bee Health: While sugar syrup provides essential energy, it lacks the nutritional complexity of natural nectar. Whenever possible, prioritise natural forage to support overall bee health and vitality.

In conclusion, feeding bees sugar syrup is a valuable tool in the beekeeper's kit, providing essential nourishment during times of scarcity and supporting colony health throughout the seasons. By understanding the need for supplemental feeding, choosing the appropriate syrup mixture, and employing effective feeding methods, beekeepers can ensure the well-being and resilience of their buzzing charges, safeguarding these vital pollinators for generations to come.