Here’s a demonstration of my quick and easy method of mixing sugar syrup for honey bees. I’m posting it because I keep hearing from people who do things like boil up a syrup mixture on their stove tops at home. Heated syrup kills microbes and other baddies, but I don’t think that’s necessary for backyard beekeepers with a small number of hives.
I don’t measure anything. I fill a bucket about half way with white granulated sugar (not raw sugar or anything with a high ash content). I add a drop or two of anise extract to get the bees interested in the syrup. (It’s important to note the difference between anise extract and anise oil.) I add water from a garden house until the bucket is almost full. Then I mix it with a stick for about five minutes until the sugar is dissolved.
The result is a thin syrup that works for spring feedings. I add more sugar if I want to make a thick syrup for fall feedings. How can I tell when it’s a thick syrup? Because it’s thick. Thin syrup (1 part sugar, 1 part water) more or less has the consistency of water. Thick syrup (2 parts sugar, 1 part water) takes on a goopey appearance. It sounds goopey.
I know that doesn’t seem very precise, but I don’t think a precise syrup mixture matters much to the bees.
Sometimes I add about a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to help prevent the syrup from going mouldy, though I can count on one hand how many times I’ve bothered with that. Sometimes I put the syrup aside for a day or two so any left over sugar is more likely to dissolve, but even if some undissolved sugar settles to the bottom of the bucket, is that a problem? I don’t think so. Sometimes the temperature of the water in the hose is warm from being in the sun, though most of the time it’s cold and that works out okay too. While I understand the reason for boiling up sugar syrup and using precise weights and measures in the recipe, and I respect that, I’m just putting it out there that nothing really bad happens when the process is simplified by dumping sugar and water in a bucket and mixing it with a stick.
August 2019 Postscript: Mixing sugar syrup and feeding the bees sugar syrup still seems to be one of the most unnecessarily complicated things in beekeeping. When I made the above video, when I said I’ve used this method of making syrup for five or six years, I was specifically referring to the sugar in a bucket with water from a garden house method. The ratio of sugar to water is a different story.
I didn’t bother mixing thin syrup until the year I made this video (2016). Until then, I usually used thick syrup because I heard from most of my online beekeeping mentors that thick syrup worked for everything, spring feeding, fall feeding, the works, and it didn’t turn mouldy as easily as thin syrup. So I mixed my syrup thick and my bees had no problem building comb and building up brood in the spring. They also had no problem storing the syrup for winter stores in the fall.
Then I joined a provincial beekeeping association where the mantra was always feed thin syrup in the spring and thick syrup in the fall. So I did it and my nucs built up comb and brood beautifully. But I think that had more to do with good weather than anything else. I’ve since used thick syrup for building up nucs, and just like it did during my first five or six years of beekeeping in Newfoundland, it worked out fine.
I’ve since spoken to many commercial beekeepers who’ve told me that they use thick syrup for everything. Again, thick syrup doesn’t go mouldy as quickly as thin syrup and it works. I could be wrong; perhaps there are certain conditions that I haven’t encountered yet where thin syrup works measurably better in the spring than thick syrup. But I have my doubts that it makes a significant difference one way or the other. I’ll change my mind (maybe tomorrow) when I see scientific proof or can see with my own eyes that the bees react differently to thin and thick syrup. For now, though, the lesson is that mixing sugar syrup shouldn’t be complicated.