Bee feeder recipe

Bee feeder recipe DEFAULT

Sugar Syrup Recipe For Beekeepers

We’re often asked why beekeepers need to supplement feed their bees with sugar syrup. They eat honey, right? Feeding your bees helps nourish a newly established colony or lets an existing colony make it through a tough winter when honey stores are running low.

When to feed throughout the year

This completely depends on where you are located but in general liquid feed supplementation is necessary during periods when honey is running low in the hive such as in late winter or early spring.

Newly Packaged Bees: It is always necessary to start newly installed packages of bees on liquid feed. Sugar water stimulates wax production necessary for comb building, which is especially important for a new beehive. In addition, the bees need the sugar water to fuel their other activity both inside and outside the hive. Continue to feed newly installed packaged bees until they quit taking it up which should be about the same time the first major nectar flow of the season starts.

Extraction season: If harvesting honey during the fall season, supplemental feeding may be necessary when there is a dearth of nectar. After extracting, we highly recommend leaving enough honey on your hive from the spring and summer flow to get your bees at least through late winter.  This equates to approximately 2 honey-filled deep supers (9 5/8”) but can vary depending on how large your colony is.

How to make Sugar Syrup

For late winter or early spring feeding, make a 1:1 syrup using 1 pound of water (2 cups) to 1 pound of sugar. If feeding in the fall (if not enough honey was left on the hive after the honey flow), make a 2:1 syrup using 2 pounds of sugar per pound of water.

Completely dissolve the sugar in the water by heating the water on a stove top (the water doesn’t need to boil, it just needs to get warm), add the sugar and stir until the liquid becomes clear.

Temperature matters

Bees prefer liquid sugar water to sugar granules for feed because it is easier for them to process. With that being said, it all depends on the temperature. If it is consistently above 50 degrees the bees will take the sugar water. If it is below 50 degrees they will take the solid sugar (in the form of solid cane sugar, fondant, and even candy.


Once you’ve caught the beekeeping fever, the questions rush at you at once.

I don’t have a garden. What will my bees eat? What is sugar water? How much do they need? How do I make sugar water? What happens when I put too much sugar or too little? What if I poison them?

Unfortunately, we get so caught up with the ‘what’ we forget the more important question, why.

Since bees existed before beekeeping did, it does seem puzzling that these creatures suddenly need us to feed them sugar syrup.

So before we tackle how to make sugar water for honey bees, let’s understand why we feed bees sugar water in the first place.

Do You Really Need to Feed Bees Sugar Water? Well…

Beekeeper Feeding Bees Sugar Water

Should you feed bees sugar water? In truth, feeding bees is a topic that is hotly debated.

The short answer is bees don’t really need sugar water, also known as syrup. They need food.

Sugar syrup is only a substitute when the real thing is unavailable. I like to think of it as an IV fluid. It only comes into play when you are unable, for whatever reason, to ingest your regular type of food.

Once your body is able to accept food, even in a pureed form, that’s what you switch to. The same can be said of sugar syrup for bees.

When honey and nectar are available, the bees may turn their noses up at your sweet sugar water. They don’t need it. It’s like trading in a home-cooked meal for something store-bought.

What if you didn’t have a home-cooked meal? You didn’t even have the individual ingredients. In fact, there’s nothing in the pantry, and even the ketchup in the fridge is gone. Store-bought food sounds like a dream then, or in this case, sugar water from a beekeeper.

Sugar Syrup is Man’s Way of Attempting to Clone Nature

Spoon Feeding a Bee Sugar Water

You may be wondering what sugar water does to bees. Well, depending on the time of year, your sugar syrup ratio is intended to mimic the quality of food available for bees.

Springtime is a period of nectar, which allows the bees the freedom to be as prolific as possible. If there’s plenty of food, then we can feed plenty of bees.

With spring comes the building of comb, which encourages the queen to lay thousands of eggs a day to make the most of the bloom season.

Unfortunately, nature can play tricks on these creatures by creating the illusion of spring with warmer temperatures early and then unleash a cold snap for weeks. This can spell disaster for a colony.

When the temperatures start to warm up, the queen starts to populate the hive, and they eat through the honey they stored at an enthusiastic rate.

When the cold suddenly returns, they are stuck indoors with no food and easily starve to death.

Sometimes, the weather warms before the blooms appear, and again, you have many mouths to feed but simply no food.

That’s when they need a little help, and you may need to start feeding bees sugar water.

Why Bees Didn’t Always Rely on a Nectar Substitute (AKA Sugar Water) for Feedings and What Has Changed

Bees Drinking Sugar Water from Feeder

Well, thousands of years ago, the world was their oyster, as they say. The hills were adorned with a tapestry of wild bushes and flowers that took turns displaying their beauty in the form of flowers.

Blooms of a wide variety were whispering ‘come-hither’ calls to the bees by their scents.

Then we came along, yanked the entire wild flora, and replaced it with food crops and buildings that we needed.

Since the honey bee was introduced to the Americans pretty recently (considering the age of the world), they missed out on the good ol’ days and made do with what they found.

Add to that, the population density of colonies is much higher in the apiary than in the wild.

They share a food source that is fine in a season of plenty but dangerous when nature takes a turn.

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to provide a nectar substitute.

The seasons would come like clockwork, the bees would always have enough to forage on, and we could both thrive.

Sadly, we have drought, cold snaps, diseases, and pests like varroa that wipe out crops and overeager beekeepers who take more honey from the hive than the bees can afford to lose.

In order to ensure the survival of your bees, one of the many tasks you have to undertake is to make sure bees remain fed using a sugary syrup.

What is Sugar Water, and How do You Make it?

Making Sugar Water for Honey Bees

Sugar water for bees is man’s version of nectar and is made from, yup, you guessed it, sugar. Many medium and large-scale beekeepers use lots and lots of sugar.

After we decided to make them our handy little subjects, it became our responsibility to keep bees healthy, especially when mother nature is having a fit and the natural food source was insufficient.

Bees need nectar, not just for sustenance, but as an energy source for the difficult job of building comb.

Wax secretion doesn’t come easy, and the bees need a lot of energy to get it done.

That’s why swarming, which is how new colonies are formed, happens in spring when nectar is in plenty. There’s enough food for a new family of bees to build their home.

When a new beekeeper receives a new package of bees, there is a chance that the bees can go out and collect enough nectar and pollen to get the energy to build a honeycomb.

But getting a new package of bees is very different from the natural swarming of bees. For one, when bees swarm, they know exactly where they are.

They have a map of their surroundings and already have an idea of where they can source nectar.

When you get a package of bees, they have to begin their expedition with no map and no information. So they need help, which comes in the form of sugar syrup.

Now let’s take a closer look at how to make and mix sugar water (hint: know your ratios!) for bees depending on the time of year.

Seasonal Sugar Water Recipes for Honey Bees

Seasonal Sugar Water Recipes for Bees

How you make sugar water for your bees will depend on the season, as the necessary ratio needed to mimic the nectar substitute varies depending on the season. Below we discuss important bee sugar water ratios for the spring and fall in addition to the method you use to make it.

Feeding Bees Sugar Water in Spring



Mix the water and the sugar in a ratio of 1:1.

Mixing by volume (pint, ounce, etc.) is the same as mixing by weight (pound), so no need to fret about equivalents. It’s better to use heated water because it helps to dissolve all the sugar crystals.

Then let the syrup cool, put it in a feeder, and present it to your six-legged companions.

You could add a drop or two of essential oils, such as lemongrass (see details) or spearmint which helps prevent mold growth and acts as a dietary supplement to the bees.

It has been said to help the bees fight both varroa and tracheal mites. It also helps the bees locate the syrup because of its strong scent.

One very important point to note is that this sugar ratio is an approximation.

Therefore, if you have a little more water or sugar than the exact 1:1 ratio, there’s no need to throw it out.

The bees don’t have laboratories where they ban your product because it’s a tablespoon or two above the recommended ratio.

Bees like nectar and anything like it. That includes plain dry sugar, candy cane, and I’ve seen them go after a slice of watermelon.

You will agree, none of these tastes quite like the other, so the sugar to water ratios, though different, are still considered palatable. Mixing syrup for honey bees should be the least of your beekeeping worries.

Feeding Bees Sugar Water in Autumn/Fall


  • Water
  • Sugar (cane sugar or bakers sugar. The finer, the better)
  • Container


Mix the sugar and water in a ratio of 2:1. Once again by weight or volume doesn’t matter.

It’s two parts sugar, one part water. It’s thicker than the spring syrup.

That’s because the fall syrup mimics the consistency of honey, while the spring syrup is more like nectar. You feed in the fall to help your bees store up food for the winter.

You make it thicker so that dehydrating it to the right moisture content is easier for the bees.

Since you’ll be adding twice as much sugar in a single unit of water, it helps if you could heat the water first to help dissolve all the crystals.

There are those that boil the water to kill any microbes in it to ensure it’s safe for the bees.

Feeding bees sugar water in winter is usually done when the bees are low on honey.

If you approach a local beekeeper, they will tell you how much honey their bees require to make it through the winter.

Many will use the weight of the hive as an indicator to determine if the pantry is full.

Sometimes mother nature just didn’t provide enough food for the bees.

Sometimes, the beekeeper may harvest honey without realizing that the bees don’t have enough for themselves.

In both cases, timing this feed is vital because bees won’t touch syrup that is below 50° F, which is 10°C.

Therefore, the feed either needs to be insulated, which is tricky without the right apparatus, or you would have to find an alternative feed option.

Additional Feeding Tip (Regardless of the Time of Year or Season)

Additional Feeding Tips

In both cases of feeding sugar water, you must remove any supers, that is, the section where the bees store surplus honey before you commence feeding.

The bees don’t differentiate between food sources. Nectar is dehydrated and capped as honey.

Sugar syrup is dehydrated and capped as well.

There are those that believe that sugar syrup can be turned into honey, but honey, by definition, is from a plant. Sugar cane is a plant. Sugar isn’t.

So, if you’re wondering if bees can make honey from sugar water, then the short answer is no.

Therefore, if you harvest capped syrup, the quality of your harvest will not be pure honey.

If you don’t believe me, ask some beekeepers who wound up with red ‘honey.’ One beekeeper fed used crushed candy cane as a feed substitute for his bees.

The problem was that he used an open feeder instead of putting the feed in the hives.

Neighboring colonies found this a prize and proceeded to cap it. Unfortunately, because candy cane is not floral, their product could not be sold as honey, even though it was safe for human consumption.

When to Stop and Not Feed Your Bees Sugar Water

When to Stop and Not Feed Bees Sugar Water

Should you always offer your bees sugar water? Well, not exactly. You will want to stop feeding bees sugar syrup in specific instances.

In the springtime, you may stop feeding bees sugar water once the flowers are in bloom.

When the colony appears to be strong, and the landscape is starting to resemble a scene from ‘The sound of music,’ you can stop feeding.

However, if it’s a new package of bees, you may need to keep going for a while. You don’t expect to harvest honey in your first year, so the risk of harvesting capped syrup is eliminated.

Allow the colony to get established. The first year is usually the hardest.

Thereafter, you’ll only need to ensure they have stored enough supply to get them through the winter.

Sometimes that may require you to sacrifice a harvest, but don’t put the colony at risk to satisfy your sweet tooth or deepen your pockets.

It’s also good to remember that sugar only offers half the dietary requirements for a bee. They also need pollen.

When blossoms are in plenty, bees will go about collecting pollen to make bee bread, which they mix with some nectar and their enzymes that help to preserve the pollen.

Bee bread is consumed by nurse bees in order to feed larvae. Fresh pollen doesn’t keep very long. Our substitute for pollen comes in the form of patties.

Pollen patties like thesearen’t made from pollen but are a high protein substitute that is similar.

Pollen tends to instigate the production of brood. Why is this important?

You should only provide these patties in the spring because you don’t want to wind up with a large population before nature is ready to provide for it.

Adult bees eat honey which is why pollen isn’t a great concern during the winter.

That said, you may have a weak hive that needs a little boost coming out of the winter, and pollen patties would be quite handy at that time.

Now that we’ve made the syrup for feeding and we know why the bees need this sugar water let’s discuss feeders.

4 Common Honey Bee Feeders That Beekeepers Use to Offer Sugar Water to Bees

Bee feeders come in various shapes and sizes. You’ll find that some colonies may respond better to one type of feeder and ignore another.

They can be like toddlers. In that case, it may be handy to have more than one type of feeder just to be safe.

1. Baggie Feeders

Baggie Feeder for Sugar Water

These are cheap and pretty easy to use. All you need is a zip-top bag and something sharp like a knife.

Once your sugar syrup has cooled, you will put it in a zip-top bag. Don’t fill it up because you have to cut a slit in the bag once you place it in the hive. If you do that with a full bag, the contents will spill out and mess up the hive.

So make sure the bag is only half full, two-thirds at most.

When you place the feeder in the hive, you need to ensure that the surface it’s on, the tops of the frames are smooth.

Anything poking upward should be smoothened before you place your baggie on it.

Of course, you can’t smooth down anything with the bees in the hive, so you can place a paper the size of the baggie on the frames first as a protective layer and then place the syrup-filled bag on that.

Next, you cut thin slits in the bag. You must be careful to limit the length of the slit to the ‘flat’ part of the bag.

Any longer, and the bag will leak. Make about three slits and press VERY LIGHTLY to ensure that the syrup is accessible.

Once you’re sure that your bees can get to the sugar water, place a shallow super on the hive to protect the syrup from robbers and cover the hive. That’s it. You can refill the bag once it’s empty, but it may be easier to get another bag instead.


  • Sugar water for bees without the risk of drowning.
  • No Robbing.


  • Re-usability is limited.
  • Changing feeders can’t be done without disrupting the bees.

2. Open Feeder

YouTube video

The name says it all. You simply place the sugar syrup in an open container and leave it about 100 yards away from the hive.

Beekeepers have noticed that bees have trouble finding the syrup if it’s too close to the hive.

The reason is still unknown, but there is speculation that since this source isn’t a flower and has no distinguishing features or smells, a worker bee doesn’t have the adequate moves to tell her sisters where to go in her waggle dance.

Perhaps one day, we’ll crack their communication code and know for sure.


  • Quick and easy to install. Just place a bucket on the ground and walk away
  • Refilling doesn’t affect the bees


  • Drowning – despite adding ‘rafts’ to keep them afloat, there are always a few who fall in the bee syrup and drown.
  • Impossible to limit feeding to just your bees and may attract other pesky insects

3. Frame Feeders

YouTube video

Frame feeders like this oneare feeding containers built in the shape and size of frame that would hold the honeycomb and fits snuggly in a brooder box.

The top part is open, and the feeder is filled to the top with sugar water. Since it is designed to sit like a frame, all you need to do is remove some of the empty frames from the hive to make some room for the feeder.

It works best if you can place something that floats to reduce the drowning bee fatalities.

The new types of frame feeders have a bumpy inner surface to make it easier for bees to climb out.


  • It fits like a frame, so there’s limited spillage as long the hive doesn’t topple over.


  • Refilling the frame with sugar water requires disruption to the hive.
  • You will lose some bees to drowning.

4. Inverted Container (Boardman Entrance Feeder)

Boardman Entrance Feeder

I’m sure you’ve come across that water trick where you put an index card on a glass filled with water, and when it’s turned upside down, and you release your hold on the index card, the water stays put.

The principle is the same for these types of bee feeders. One example is the Boardman feeder, which is placed at the entrance of the hive.

You will probably find one when you receive your package bees. There’s a glass jar that is filled with syrup and then placed upside down on a perforated lid, like you would on a water dispenser.

The bees access the syrup through the holes in the lid, and because of physics, the sugar water doesn’t gush out.

Most beekeepers are happy to use the inverted container but opt to place it in the hive above the frames with a super to keep out the robbers.


  • No drowning
  • The feed is controlled and only accessed by the colony.


  • Refills can disrupt the hive, depending on the setup.
  • If left unattended for too long, the sugar water can get moldy. This can be prevented by adding a little Honey B Healthy to the mix. Even a drop or two of essential oils do the trick.

How to Stop Robbing Behavior When Feeding Bees Sugar Water

Robbing Bees During Feeding

When the going gets tough, the tough get robbing. Robbing is set off by the absence of sufficient nectar. This usually happens during warm weather.

The bees are actively searching for food and will resort to stealing from a neighbor if they can’t find what they need.

The victims are usually weaker colonies. Italian bees are notorious for this behavior and will target your timid Carniolans any chance they get.

The first thing you need to do to help your colony is to reduce the size of the entryway. If the situation is dire, you may need to close it off altogether, at least until nightfall.

Reducing the size of the entrance makes it harder for robbers to overpower the guard bees, and they are able to inspect the bees before they are granted entry.

If robbing has begun, you can wrap a wet cloth around the hive. That tends to calm things down, but you’ll still need to use a good entrance reducer.

If you have two weak colonies, combine them. This has to be done in advance once you suspect there will be a nectar dearth. There’s safety in numbers.

Final Word About Feeding Bees Sugar Water

The best bee food is honey. Since that isn’t always available, feeding bees sugar syrup keeps them going until nature provides the key ingredients to get them processing honey again.

Even though we want to keep things as natural as possible, watching your colony starve for ‘authenticity’ would be wrong and irresponsible.

Get your colony through the tough times. Everyone needs a hand every now and again.

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Boardman bee feeders for feeding sugar water image.

How to Feed Honey Bees Sugar Water

When honey bees are not able to collect enough food through natural sources, beekeepers need to help. The most common way to help a hungry colony is by feeding bees sugar water. While sugar water or sugar syrup is not exactly the same as plant nectar, it will keep a colony alive. However, supplemental feedingis not without its challenges. Failure to do it right may create more problems for your hives.

Honey bees drinking sugar water from a bee feeder image.

If you see someone pushing a cart full of sugar through the market, that person might be a beekeeper. We beekeepers do get some funny looks when shopping for so much cane sugar.

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Yet, each year thousands of beekeepers invest the and money making supplement food for their colonies. 

So why do we beekeepers go to all this effort? There must be a good reason, right?  Are beekeepers nuts? Well, yea – sometimes, but not in this case. For the colony low on food stores, feeding by the beekeeper can be the difference between life and death.

Sugar water bee feeders image.

Should You Feed Your Bees Sugar Water?

In the beekeeping industry, opinions vary a bit on whether or not feeding bees sugar water is wise. The topic is debatable and depends on the location and condition of each colony.

The absolute best food our colonies is plant nectar and pollen. Natural nectar has an abundance of nutrients that can not be replaced with plain sugar and water.

But, sometimes a colony is low on food stores through no fault of the bees. This could be due to a new colony just building their home, swarms starting from scratch or even weather conditions.

Faced with the fact of letting a colony starve or feeding them, most beekeeper choose to feed the hives.

However, the concept of feeding honey bees often creates a division among beekeepers. Some beekeepers feel that you should never feed your hives, period.  Other beekeepers accept the need to feed their hives when conditions warrant.

What is Sugar Water & How You Make It?

What exactly is sugar water and why should we use that for bee food? This recipe for bee feeding is made by mixing white granulated cane sugar and water.

Granulated sugar dissolved into water, mimics natural plant nectar. While it is not exactly the same nutritionally, it is very similar in sweetness. And, honey bees are accustom to collecting liquid food.

When making sugar water for your bees, it is important to only use white sugar. Never use molasses or brown sugar as this will make your colonies sick – or dead.

Many beekeepers use a feeding supplement added to the bee food. This is usually in liquid form and encourages good feeding. It also prevents your syrup from becoming moldy.

Other than the products available commercially, there are homemade recipes for using essential oils to feed bees. This is thought to promote better bee health. These products are concentrated- add only a small amount.

Bee Food Recipes

There are 2 basic recipes for bee sugar water commonly used by beekeepers . The ingredients in bee food recipes varies only in sweetness.

We are mixing a percentage of water to a percentage of dry granulated sugar. You can measure by weight or volume it does not matter.

How to Make 1 Gallon of Sugar Water for Bees

Mix equal amounts of granulated sugar and water to create 1:1 sugar water. You can measure with cups or use weight as the unit of measure. It does not matter because either method of measuring will result in a 1:1 sugar : water syrup.

1 Gallon of 1:1 Sugar Water

  • 10 2/3 cups of granulated sugar
  • 10 2/3 cups of warm water

Do not stress over exact measurements. Even in the field, nectar sources vary a bit in sweetness.

2:1 Sugar Water Recipe

A 2:1 ratio contains twice as much sugar as water. For example, 8 cups of sugar to 4 cups of water.

When using this mixture, use very warm water to dissolve the sugar easier. However, do not boil your bee syrup, this is not good and it is not necessary.

Bee food recipe chart with ratios for feeding honey bees sugar water image.

Feeding Bees By the Season

Why are these 2 different ratios used in feeding bees? I’m glad you asked. While both bee syrup recipes provide carbohydrates, feeding them has different results on the colony.

Feeding Bees in Spring or for Colony Buildup

Spring is a time of growth as over-wintered colonies are busy raising bee brood. New hives that are started from buying packages are struggling to get their colony established.

Feeding honey bees a 1:1 ratio, promotes brood rearing. This thin mixture is closest to the sweetness of natural nectar.

With “new nectar” being placed in the comb, the bees are not afraid of starvation and are more likely to ramp up brood rearing.

This same method of feeding 1:1 applies to any time throughout the season when you have a colony in need of food. Perhaps a new split hive could benefit from some supplemental feeding.

Feeding Bees in the Fall

It is not uncommon to find colonies that are not quite ready for Winter. These colonies run the risk of starvation without supplemental feeding.

The ratio of 2:1 is fed to honey bees to promote food storage. This mix is not as likely to encourage brood rearing and more likely to end up stored in comb for Winter.

Of course, this will not be really honey but the colony will store it as such. It is much better to feed your colony rather than have them starve in the middle of Winter. Fall feeding should be complete before cold weather arrives.

When Should I Start Feeding Bees Sugar Water?

There are two situations where a beekeeper must consider providing supplemental food for colonies. The new colony started from scratch and established hives that are unable to harvest enough nectar are both in need.

If you purchase bees in a package, they arrive on the scene with no resources. They have  no drawn beeswax comb, food stores, or brood. Begin feeding a new colony 1:1 immediately and continue until all of their comb is drawn out.

Because they begin with nothing, understanding how to feed a new package is critical to their growth. This can not wait several days.

Problems with your queen honey bee, a late freeze that causes a nectar dearthand other issues can make hive buildup very difficult for new colonies.

Even established colonies may benefit from supplemental feeding at times. Weeks without rain that create a nectar dearth or other weather conditions may cause a deficit of incoming nectar.

Offering these colonies a helping hand can be the difference between a strong colony going into Winter or a weak one that is dead before Christmas.

Free secrets of beekeeping link image.

Best Bee Feeders for Sugar Water

There are many different types of honey bee feeders available. Each type of feeding method has advantages and disadvantages. These are the most common feeders.

  • boardman feeders
  • mason jar feeders
  • hive top feeders
  • frame feeders
  • pail feeders
  • open feeding

Boardman Feeder (Entrance Feeder)

The boardman feeder is the most popular type that appears in most beekeeping kits. It is used with a regular glass jar and fits into the front hive entrance. A beekeeper can easily see when to refill.  The jars are easy to replace and clean.

But, this type of feeder does have its problems. A hungry colony can drain this in a couple of hours -are you available to refill it several times a day?

An even bigger issue, food hanging on the front of the hive can encourage robbing behavior. If you want to use a boardman feeder,  it is best to place it inside the hive – with an extra box to enclose the feeder.

Boardman bee feeder for sugar water inside beehive image.


  • easy to refill
  • inexpensive
  • clear container shows when its empty


  • smell will attract wasps and other insects
  • may increase chances or robbing
  • does not hold much syrup

How to Make a Mason Jar Bee Feeder

It is really easy to make a mason jar bee feeder, because almost everyone has an extra glass jar around. This is basically the same as the mason jar feeder without the fancy wooden holder.

Some beekeepers use a temporary hive top with a 1″ – 2″ hole in the top. The upside-down jar is placed over the hole. Weigh down the jar with a brick or strap.

We do not want the wind or a raccoon to push the jar over.  Of course, you can also use an empty deep box (with a top) to enclose jars inside the hive.

You can even order special plastic tops that don’t rust and are dishwasher safe!

Mason jar used as sugar water jar feeder for bees with holes in lid image.

One easy way to use jar feeders is to purchase or make 4 jars feeders. Place all 4 inside the hive – sitting on the inner cover.

Use an extra deep hive box to enclose the jars and then put the top back on the hive. This allows the bees to have access to a gallon of food inside the hive.

Hive Top Feeders

Hive top feeders sit on top of the hive under the telescoping top. They may be made of wood or plastic. This feeder will hold around 1-2 gallons of bee syrup and will feed the colony for several days.


  • easy to fill without disturbing colony
  • holds a lot of food


  • they have a tendency to leak over time
  • they are heavy when filled
  • care must be taken to avoid spilling syrup around the hive
  • if the lid does not fit tight – a robbing frenzy may result

Frame Feeders

A frame feeder takes the place of one frame in the hive body. If the hive normally holds 10 regular frames, you will use 9 regular frames and 1 feeder frame.

Having the same dimensions as a frame of honey comb, this frame has 2 solid walls with an open cavity to hold sugar water.


  • holds up to 1 gallon of syrup (or more)
  • located inside the hive close to the cluster
  • good option in cool weather because bees can access the food easily


  • beekeeper has to open the hive to refill
  • some bees will drown in the feeders
  • they may leak over time

If you choose to use frame feeders, put some type of floating material inside the compartment to reduce drowning. I have used small sticks or wooden Popsicle sticks.

Pail Feeders

The pail feeder is one of the most popular ways to feed colonies. A small plastic pail with a mesh feeder hole holds 1 gallon of sugar syrup.

To use, fill the bucket with your sugar water and close the lid tightly. When you turn the bucket upside down, some syrup will escape until a vacuum forms. (It’s a good idea to have a bowl or something handy to catch this extra syrup).

Place the upside down bucket directly on top of the frames or over the hold in the inner cover. Bees will feed from the mesh feeder hole in the bucket ( or small holes drilled by the manufacturer).

Like the boardman feeders, pail feeders require extra equipment. An empty hive body around the pail allows the hive to be closed.

If you choose, you can use a temporary hive top with a small hole drilled in the center. Place your upturned pail over the hole. A brick or rock on top of the bucket will prevent wind damage.


  • lightweight and easy to handle
  • holds at least 1 gallon of food
  • can be inside the hive – accessible to bees in all weather
  • easy to refill without disturbing colony very much


  • requires extra equipment
  • mesh hole may be filled with propolis if you let it become empty
  • a small amount of liquid is wasted when first inverted

Open Feeding in the Bee Yard

Some beekeepers enjoy providing food in an open container. Commercial beekeepers often use this method because is it easy to feed a lot of colonies at once.

This method for feeding bees has some merits but it is also risky. It is not economical because you end up feeding every bee, wasp and yellow jacket in the area. Some bee death also results from fighting at the feeder or drowning.

If you do plan to try open feeding, ensure that the feeders are well away from your hives. A distance of at least 60-100 feet is best.

Honey bee feeding in an open tub filled with straw and sugar water image.


  • easy to do – not filling individual feeders
  • no feeders to clean
  • no special equipment needed
  • provides a lot of bee syrup


  • not an economical way to feed
  • bees will drown in the container
  • bees can’t access food in bad weather
  • can cause robbing if used near the hives

Open feeding can be worthwhile in certain situations. I use it as an indicator of natural forage. If the bees are getting a lot of natural nectar, they will ignore the open feeder.

If they attack the feeder in mass, they are not finding a lot of food in the field. Then I know it may be time to consider feeding internally.

One easy method to practice open feeding is to make a bucket feeder. At least in this case, there is no drowning to worry about.

Does Feeding Bees Make Them Lazy?

Feeding bees does not make them lazy. In fact, honey bees prefer natural nectar when good sources are available.  Some bee hives will need to be fed and some may never need it – depending on local conditions.

When to Stop Feeding Bees Sugar Water

Feed new colonies, or captured swarms, until they are established and have some food stores. Check your hives in mid to late Summer, are the bees filling the box with brood and food?

The biggest mistake made by new beekeepers is failing to feed a new colony long enough.  This is why I devote so much energy in my Online Beekeeping Class, outlining the importance of proper feeding of new hives.

Established colonies can usually survive on their own unless you are in a drought.  If you know that your hive has enough food stored for Winter-you don’t need to feed.

One of the best secrets to successful Fall feeding. is to get out there and get it done in late summer before the weather cools.

When You Should Not Feed Bees Sugar Water

Yes, there will be times when you should not be feeding bees syrup . These include times of cold weather, when your honey collection supers are on and a few other situations.

Bees can not make good use of sugar syrup in cold temperatures. It’s important to get those colonies ready before cold weather arrives.

Remember, never feed bees when honey collection supers are on the hive. I am referring to boxes of honey that are intended for human consumption.

The bees will use any nectar (or nectar-like substance) to make honey. Honey produced from sugar water instead of nectar – that’s a no no. And, its not real honey.

Final Tips on Feeding Sugar Water to Honey Bees

Feeding bees is a lot of work and expense. How much you need to feed will depend on your climate and foraging conditions.

Too little food during Spring build up causes the bees to sacrifice brood or developing young bees. Poor foraging conditions in the Fall prevents storage of food for Winter survival.

Especially when keeping many hives in one location, remember that we can not always rely on natural nectar. This is another example of why it is important to connect with local beekeepers – they will know the key times when you may need to consider feeding your bees.


Making Sugar Syrup for Package Bees

Making your own sugar syrup ahead of time is a great way to prepare for the arrival of your package bees!

When your package bees arrive, having enough sugar syrup ready to feed them will help the honeybees adjust to their new home in your hives. For each package, we recommend making one gallon of syrup.

How to Make Sugar Syrup for Package Bees

A one-to-one mixture of sugar and water — measured either by weight or by volume — provides the energy your bees need to stimulate brood rearing and start drawing out foundation. For each gallon of sugar syrup, measure out 10 2/3 cups sugar and 10 2/3 cups of water.

To make the sugar syrup, heat the mixture gently until all of the sugar is dissolved. Remove the syrup from the heat and let it cool to room temperature. Once it has cooled, we suggest adding Nozevit Plus to control Nosema and Honey-B-Healthy to make the sugar syrup more attractive to the bees.

Note on Video:Dadant & Sons no longer recommends the use of Fumagillin B to treat Nosema in honeybees. Instead, we recommend Nozevit Plus from Apivita, available in the Dadant & Sons online store.

Nozevit Plus should be added to the cooled sugar syrup as instructed by the manufacturer for feeding package bees in spring. Honey-B-Healthy may be added to the cooled sugar syrup at a rate of 1–2 teaspoons per quart of sugar syrup.

Recipe for One Gallon of Sugar Syrup

  • 10 2/3 cups of granulated sugar
  • 10 2/3 cups tap water
  • Nozevit as directed by the manufacturer
  • 4–8 teaspoons Honey-B-Healthy

For more information about package bees from the Dadant & Sons Learning Center, check out some of our other articles:

Have questions? Give us a call at 888.922.1293 or contact the closest Dadant branch.

For beekeeping equipment and educational materials, visit our online store.


Recipe bee feeder

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! 

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.


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?


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.


“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. 

Syrup Storage

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. Read more about sugar options.

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. Interested in making your own Healthy Honey Bee concentrate? Click here for the recipe!

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!

Note: If you don’t see the email in your inbox, please check your junk folder or search your mailbox for [email protected]

Syrup Mixing Chart


Desired Ratio

Sugar: Water




Feed in Fall

16 ¾ pounds

(34 cups)

1 gallon

(128 ounces)

8 pounds

(16 ¼ cups)

½ gallon

(64 ounces)

4 pounds

(8 cups)

1 Quart

(32 ounces)

2 pounds

(4 cups)

1 Pint

(16 ounces)


Feed year round

14 pounds

(28 cups)

1 gallon

(128 ounces)

6 ½ pounds

(13 cups)

½ gallon

(64 ounces)

3 ⅓ pounds

(6 ⅔ cups)

1 Quart

(32 ounces)

1 ½ pounds

(3 cups)

1 Pint

(16 ounces)


Feed year round

12 ½ pounds

(25 cups)

1 gallon

(128 ounces)

6 pounds

(12 cups)

½ gallon

(64 ounces)

3 pounds

(6 cups)

1 Quart

(32 ounces)

1 ½ pounds

(3 cups)

1 Pint

(16 ounces)


Feed in Spring

8 ¼ pounds

(16 ½ cups)

1 gallon

(128 ounces)

4 pounds

(8 cups)

½ gallon

(64 ounces)

2 pounds

(4 cups)

1 Quart

(32 ounces)

1 pound

(2 cups)

1 Pint

(16 ounces)


Easy Bee Feed Recipe

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Similar news:

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