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“Sugar Syrup – Do You Mix by Weight or Volume?"

Topics Beekeepers Can't Agree On!

By: Lynne Jones

On January 1st, I asked beekeepers in two Facebook groups: “Sugar Syrup – Do you mix by weight or volume? Explain your method of mixing sugar syrup.” Twenty-two commented on how they make sugar syrup. By far, beekeepers measure volume, rather than weigh on a scale. In cooking, especially baking, weighing ingredients is considered far more accurate than measuring. Beekeepers who weigh their sugar and water will have the most accurate sugar to water ratio. Measuring equal parts by volume makes a sugar syrup that is only .85:1 (sugar:water). 

However, Sporkin Theeye (aka Mark Steph) made a very good point commenting, “As to weight vs volume…. They are close to (but not exactly) the same.  

Nectar in nature isn't an exact amount for every flower. Use whichever is easiest for you and you will be fine.” 

Flowers of different species produce nectar that can be low in sugar, high in sugar, or somewhere in the middle.The amount of sugar can also vary for individual flowers due to many factors, such as: time of day; the amount of sun, wind, or rain; and the type of soil (Burlew, 2021). A batch of sugar syrup, no matter how it is made, might inadvertently match the sugar ratio of a type of flower, but it certainly doesn’t exactly match the ratio of all flowers.

Whether you weigh, measure, or guesstimate, it doesn’t matter to the bees, so you should use whichever method works best for you.

I am a long-time fan of guesstimate – it’s easy and doesn’t make any extra dirty dishes. However, Chris Barnes’ comment made me aware of an even easier way to make sugar syrup, “I dump sugar, then add water (not heated, but from the ‘hot side’ of the tap). If it all dissolves, I add more sugar.” Obviously, this method is extra easy, but the sugar-water ratio is going to be much higher than the 1:1 we feed in the Spring to simulate a nectar flow which ramps up brood production and comb building. But it was Chris’s P.S. that really caught my attention:

PS: take a look at the research Randy Oliver did about wax building comparing 2:1 vs 1:1. The results were: it did not matter. Bees built the same amount of comb per pound of sugar made regardless of the concentration of syrup made. His conclusion was "since thick syrup means fewer trips to the yard to fill the feeder, this was slightly more advantageous - only because less gas and time were burned".

Whoa! An easier way to mix sugar syrup and fewer trips to fill feeders? I’m going to give this a try starting immediately. But you don’t have to take Chris’s word for it. I’ve included the link to Randy Oliver’s light vs heavy syrup experiment below. I encourage you to read the methods of all the beekeepers who commented to my Facebook question; they’ve given some practical ways to make sugar syrup and you might want to give one or two of them a try yourself. I also recommend reading Rusty Burlew’s article; I think you will find it both informative and enjoyable.

Burlew, R. (2021, January). The perils of sugar syrup: it’s not that complicated. American Bee Journal, Volume 161 No 1, January 2021, pp. 59-62. Retrieved January 15, 2022 from Honey Bee Suite website - CLICK HERE

Oliver, R. (2016, September).Light Or Heavy Syrup For Drawing Foundation? American Bee Journal, Volume 156 No 9, September 2016, pp 993-995. Retrieved January 15, 2022 from Scientific Beekeeping website - CLICK HERE

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