Why do bees need syrup?
Bees need food, just like all living creatures. Their main food source is nectar from flowers. However, when nectar is scarce, such as during winter or drought conditions, beekeepers need to supplement the bees’ diet with an artificial nectar substitute. This is where syrup comes in. Feeding bees syrup provides them with the sugars they need to survive when natural nectar is limited. The syrup basically mimics the composition of floral nectar, giving the bees the nutrition they require.
What are the ingredients needed to make bee syrup?
The main ingredients needed to make bee syrup are:
– Sugar – Usually cane or beet sugar. This provides the carbohydrates.
– Water – Used to dissolve the sugar.
– Optional: Essential oils – Small amounts of essential oils from plants like peppermint or lemongrass can make the syrup more attractive to bees.
So it’s a very simple recipe with just sugar and water as the key components. The type of sugar can vary. White granulated sugar is commonly used, but beekeepers may also utilize organic sugar, raw sugar, agave syrup or honey. The sweetener needs to be something with a high sucrose content.
What are the steps to make basic 1:1 sugar syrup?
Here is a step-by-step overview of how to make a basic 1:1 sugar syrup for bees:
1. Bring water to a boil. The amount of water will depend on how much syrup you want to make. A good rule of thumb is to use equal parts sugar and water. So for 1 quart of syrup, use 1 quart of water.
2. Add the sugar once the water is boiling. The amount of sugar should equal the amount of water. For example, 1 quart of water gets 1 quart of sugar added.
3. Stir continuously to dissolve the sugar. Allow it to boil for 1-2 minutes while stirring to ensure the sugar fully dissolves.
4. Remove from heat and allow to cool. The syrup needs to be at room temperature before feeding to bees.
5. Optional: Add a few drops of essential oil once cooled, such as peppermint or lemongrass oil.
6. Transfer the cooled syrup to a clean container. Mason jars work well.
7. Store any unused syrup in the refrigerator.
8. Feed the room temperature syrup to bees using a feeder.
And that’s it! Just water, sugar and a short boiling time is all you need for a basic bee syrup. Adjust the sugar to water ratio depending on your goals. A 2:1 ratio has more carbohydrates, while a 1:2 ratio is more diluted.
What equipment is needed?
The equipment needed is very minimal:
– A large pot to boil the sugar water. A 2-4 quart pot is a good size. Use a pot you don’t plan to use for cooking food again.
– A long handled spoon or paddle for stirring. A hard plastic or stainless steel spoon works best.
– Measuring cups or scale to measure out the sugar and water.
– A food thermometer. This allows you to monitor the temperature and know when the syrup is cooled enough for the bees.
– Mason jars or food safe buckets with lids for storing the syrup.
– A bee feeder. This can be as simple as an entrance feeder or jar lids with small holes poked in them. The feeder allows the bees to access the syrup.
So you don’t need any specialized beekeeping equipment. Standard kitchen tools like pots, measuring cups and mason jars are perfectly suitable for making bee syrup on a small homesteading scale.
How do you feed the homemade syrup to the bees?
There are a few methods beekeepers use to feed syrup to their bees:
– Entrance feeders – These are trays or boxes with slots that allow bees access to the syrup. They attach to the entrance of the hive.
– Hive top feeders – These sit directly on top of the hive like a hat and bees access the syrup from below.
– Boardman feeders – A mason jar is placed upside down over a hole in the hive. The bees reach the syrup through the hole.
– Frame feeders – These are designed to fit directly into hive frames like a standard honey frame. Bees access the syrup through slots.
– Division board feeders – A special feeding divider is placed inside the hive like a partial wall. Syrup reservoirs in the divider allow bee access.
The key point is that the bees need a way to get to the syrup you’ve made. Providing it in a feeder prevents it from spilling out and being wasted. Follow your feeder directions for filling and placing it correctly on the hive.
What ratio of sugar to water is best?
Beekeepers often recommend a 1:1 sugar to water ratio as a good starting point. This 1:1 syrup ratio provides a balance of sugar and water content.
However, the optimal ratio can vary:
– 1:1 ratio – Equal parts sugar and water. Provides moderate energy content.
– 2:1 ratio – 2 parts sugar to 1 part water. Higher in carbohydrates for cold weather feeding.
– 1:2 ratio – 1 part sugar to 2 parts water. More dilute and easier for bees to ingest.
Too heavy or diluted of a syrup can cause issues:
– Heavy syrups (2:1 and higher) may crystallize and make the bees sick. Only feed these in cooler weather.
– Diluted syrups (1:2 and lower) take more energy to process and evaporate excess moisture from.
Experiment to see which ratio your bees respond to best. Start with 1:1, then adjust from there as needed. The 1:1 ratio is a good compromise between sugar content and moisture level.
When should you feed bees syrup?
It’s best to feed bees syrup under the following circumstances:
– Spring – To help establish new hives, stimulate brood rearing and build up food reserves.
– Drought or Dearth – When a nectar shortage occurs midseason due to low rain or flowers going dormant. Feeding syrup helps maintain the hive.
– Winter – Provides an energy boost and sustenance when bees are clustered and can’t forage.
– Swarm Prevention – Feeding can delay swarming by keeping nurse bees busy tending to brood.
– New Bee Packages – Syrup gives newly installed package bees much needed food as they establish in the hive.
Avoid feeding syrup during main nectar flows or when sufficient food stores are already present in the hive. This can encourage robbing by other insects. Only feed if existing floral sources cannot support the colony’s food needs.
What temperature should the syrup be when feeding bees?
The ideal syrup temperature for feeding is room temperature, between about 60-75°F (15-24°C). This allows the bees to take down and process the syrup efficiently.
Points on temperature:
– Hot syrup can kill bees or make them sick if eaten. Always let syrup cool completely first.
– Chilled syrup won’t harm bees, but they won’t take it down as readily. Warm to room temp before feeding.
– Nighttime feeding is okay as long as syrup temperature is right. The bees fan warm air through the hive to regulate temperature.
– Don’t leave syrup sitting out hot or chilled for prolonged periods. Feed promptly at room temp for best results.
Use a food thermometer to monitor temperature. Quickly reheating or chilling small batches can help get syrup to the optimal room temperature feeding range. Just never give bees boiling hot or frozen syrup.
What are some variations on basic bee syrup?
While plain sugar syrup is perfectly nutritious for bees, some beekeepers like to add supplements or vary the recipe:
– Essential oils – Small amounts of oils like peppermint, spearmint or lemongrass make the syrup more enticing to bees. Just a few drops per quart is sufficient.
– Honey – Some beekeepers substitute in honey for up to half the sugar content. This adds trace nutrients, enzymes and flavonoids. But it also increases cost.
– Protein – Pollen substitute can be added to provide supplemental protein. This aids brood rearing in early spring.
– Probiotics – Commercial bee probiotics can introduce beneficial gut microbes. Their use is still being studied.
– Electrolytes – These replenish minerals lost during winter cluster time when bees don’t eat as much.
– Vitamins – B complex vitamins and vitamin C are sometimes included but may degrade over time. Their benefits are still debated.
The key is not going overboard with additives. A basic syrup with just sugar and water is sufficient in most cases. But the above additions can provide benefits in certain situations.
How much syrup should you feed bees at a time?
When feeding syrup, avoid drowning the bees with too much at once. Here are some feeding quantity guidelines:
– New hives – Feed 1 quart of syrup initially, then 1 pint daily as needed.
– Established hives – Feed no more than 2 quarts at a time, replenishing as it is consumed.
– Large hives – May be able to handle up to 1 gallon at a time. Check that it is being taken down.
– Drought conditions – Up to 2 gallons can be fed if natural forage is scarce.
– Overwintering – Feed 2-5 gallons in fall depending on hive size and existing honey stores.
The goal is giving the bees enough syrup to sustain energy and stimulate activity, but not so much that it overwhelms them or ferments inside the hive. Monitor syrup levels and refill feeders as needed based on consumption rate. Reduce quantity if syrup sits unconsumed.
What are some safety tips for feeding bees syrup?
When working with syrup around bees, follow these safety guidelines:
– Use beekeeping gloves and protective clothing, especially if opening hives to fill feeders.
– Work gently and deliberately so as not to crush or agitate bees. Avoid spilling syrup.
– Monitor for robbing behavior and halt feeding if other insects try to steal syrup.
– Sterilize any syrup containers or tools before use to prevent microbial contamination.
– Ensure bees have proper ventilation so they can evaporate excess moisture from the syrup.
– Mix fresh batches and don’t store syrup long term, as fermentation can occur over time.
– Discard any syrup that smells spoiled or moldy.
– Clean up any spilled syrup to avoid sticky hive entrances that can attract pests.
– Keep an eye out for diseases like nosema that thrive on excess moisture. Reduce feeding if issues arise.
Following good syrup hygiene practices reduces potential health issues in the hive and makes supplementation easier on the bees.
Can you use molasses, corn syrup or other substitutes?
Here are guidelines on various sugar substitutes for bee syrup:
– Molasses – Not recommended. Too difficult for bees to evaporate excess water from. Can promote dysentery.
– Corn syrup – Discouraged. Bees have trouble digesting straight corn syrup. Can be added sparingly to white sugar syrups.
– Brown sugar – Fine to use. Offers trace vitamins and minerals compared to white sugar. Counts as sugar portion.
– Honey – Up to 50% of sugar can be replaced with honey. Provides beneficial nutrition.
– Maple syrup – Avoid using alone due to moisture level. A small amount paired with white sugar is okay.
– Fructose – Ill-advised as bees seem to have trouble processing it.
– Agave nectar – Can replace up to half the sugar portion. Contains useful prebiotic fructans.
– Artificial sweeteners – Never use these. Bees cannot metabolize them and they may prove toxic.
Stick with plain white granulated sugar as the primary carbohydrate source when making syrup. Substituting moderate amounts of honey, brown sugar or agave nectar can provide added health benefits. Avoid other replacements like corn syrup or molasses that bees don’t handle as well.
What are some signs your bees need fed syrup?
Watch for these indicators that your bees may need supplementary feeding:
– Lack of food stores – Empty or mostly empty honey frames in the hive.
– Increased robbing – Bees trying to steal from weaker hives.
– Listless bee behavior – Bees not flying or sluggish. Lack of foraging activity.
– Little brood – Minimal eggs and larva present in the frames.
– Queen cells – Swarm behavior; bees try to raise new queens.
– Small hive population – notably low numbers of bees.
– Weight feels light – Hive boxes feel lighter when hefted, signaling low food reserves.
– Spring dwindle – Loss of overwintered bee populations right at start of spring.
– Drought or flower dearth – No nectar flowing into hive under dry conditions.
Syrup feeding is indicated if you observe one or more of these signs that the colony’s nutrition status is low. Offer supplemental feeding as soon as possible.
Syrup made from white granulated sugar and water is an economical way for beekeepers to provide nutrition in times of dearth. Mix heated sugar water at a 1:1 ratio, add optional supplements, cool to room temperature and fill bee feeders to provide sustenance. Monitor consumption and adjust feeding amounts accordingly. When done properly, syrup can help honey bee colonies survive periods when floral nectar is scarce. Feeding syrup stimulates brood rearing, prevents starvation and sets hives up for success long-term.