You have decided you need to feed your bees. Maybe you just installed a package in a new hive, and they have to build out all of the frames. Maybe you just moved a hive to a new location and you want to give them a boost. Maybe you caught a late season swarm and they need help to be ready for winter.
Whether you are feeding dry sugar, candyboards, or syrup (with or without DIY Healthy Honeybee), it is important to choose the correct sugar. Choosing the wrong sugar can make your bees very sick and result in poisoning or nosema. So, which one should you use?
Reminder: Don’t feed with honey supers on. Instead of honey, you’ll end up with sugar water!
Types of Sugar
Granulated sugar or white sugar
White sugar is, chemically speaking, pure sucrose. Why is this significant? Because nectar is predominantly sucrose (with some fructose, glucose and trace minerals). White sugar, also called granulated sugar or table sugar, is the most similar to nectar that we have available. Therefore, white sugar should be your choice in feeding bees.
Cane or beet sugar
Both cane and beet sugars are pure sucrose, so both are appropriate for bees. Yes, sugar beets are a GMO product, however, GMO affects a plants protein, which sucrose is not. Therefore, cane and beet sugar are both chemically identical.
Although organic sugar can be fed, a 2009 study showed that organic sugar has a higher ash content than cane sugar (0.03% ash in cane sugar vs 0.20% ash in organic). Although these numbers seem insignificant, bees are able to digest the lower ash sugar more easily. Therefore, organic sugar should not be a first choice.
Sugar cubes are pure granulated sugar, with no caking agents. Therefore, they can be fed to bees.
Confectioners sugar, or powdered sugar, cannot be fed to bees. Though it is safe to use as a mite dusting powder, it contains 3% cornstarch which is why it should not be fed.
Drivert sugar is a dry fondant sugar that has been agglomerated with 8% invert sugar. Invert sugar is a mix of glucose and fructose created by heating pure sugar (sucrose) with water. In simple terms, it is 92% pure sugar (sucrose) with 8% glucose/fructose in powder form.
Evaporated cane juice
Evaporated cane juice results in a product with more nutrients than white sugar. Although this sounds like a good thing, the remaining nutrients can result in dysentery.
Brown sugar is white sugar with up to 10% molasses added. The high percentage of molasses in brown sugar, both light, and dark varieties, means it should not be fed to bees.
Turbinado sugar is a large grain, brown colored sugar. As with many other sugars, the brown color is from molasses, and should not be fed to bees.
Demerara sugar is another large grain brown sugar. Again, it should not be fed to bees because of the molasses.
Raw sugar is minimally or unrefined white sugar, which has a small amount of molasses to give it the golden color. Raw sugar is unlikely to have enough molasses to negatively impact bees and is safe to feed. Due to the higher cost than white sugar, without any particular benefit, white sugar should still be the first choice.
Coconut and Palm sugar
Coconut and palm sugars are sap sugars high in mineral content and only 70-80% sucrose, and for these reasons should not be fed to bees.
Although stevia tastes sweet, it is a glycoside byproduct of pressing the leaves. Since it contains no sucrose, it is not appropriate for bees.
Xylitol, sorbitol, and Mannitol are sugar alcohols, and which are poisonous and not to be fed to bees.
Sucralose, such as Splenda ® , is a chlorinated from of sucrose, where the chemical structure is changed. It is very different than sucrose, and should never be fed to bees.
Saccharin, commonly known as Sweet ‘N Low ® is a synthetic derivative of coal tar. It should go without saying, it should not be fed to bees.
Aspartame, sold as Equal ® or Nutrasweet ®, are synthetic sweeteners that are not suitable for bees.
What about high fructose corn syrup, agave nectar, or maple syrup?
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is often fed to bees in the commercial application. HFCS is made by processing corn which results in a product that is predominantly fructose and dextrose. HFCS is often considered equal to cane sugar (sucrose) as bee feed. Be mindful, however, that the corn used to create HFCS could contain neonicotinoids, and that HFCS contains no sucrose.
Agave nectar and maple syrup, being derivatives of the plants sap, should not be fed to bees.
Nicole is a beekeeper in southern Colorado and owner of HeritageAcresMarket.com, a resource for beekeeping, raising chickens, and sustainable living. Learn more about Nicole.
Curious that there is no mention of drivert sugar on the list.
Can be feed directly to the bees by sprinkling it around on the top of the inner cover and helps control moisture in the hive.
Our club, Douglas County Bees(Roseburg, Oregon)buys 50lb bags, usually 8 to 10 at a time and makes them available for purchase to members.
Hello Jack, thank you for your comment!
Drivert sugar was one I had not heard of before. In looking more into it, it is an option for honey bee feed. It is difficult to find locally, but is available from some large warehouse stores and bee supply stores. I will update the post to include it. Thank you!
Sugar in the Raw was originally only made on Maui. It was a waste product that was disposed of as it had no value. A marketing company was brought in to rebrand it. Sugar in the Raw – was the dirty (literally) sugar left over after all the processing. Sugar is first boiled. Maui was partially powered by those steam turbines (18% of the electricity grid). First take away – raw sugar is not raw. Second take away – it is the lowest grade of sugar you can possibly find. It was previously discarded as too foul to have a market value.
This information is direct from the Chief Agronimist and Chief Operations Officer at HC&S on Maui. That plant was the last remaining sugar plant in the Hawaiian Islands and has since been closed due to public outcry at the amount of pollution it produced and the health and safety hazards to residents and visitors.
Hello Lynn! Thank you for your comment! We sourced our information regarding Sugar in the Raw here- http://bee-quick.com/reprints/sugar.pdf and here- https://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0018/532260/Feeding-sugar-to-honey-bees.pdf
You are correct that true raw sugar is of the lowest grade and inedible. Today, Sugar in the Raw is a brand name, which is turbinado sugar (unbleached and minimally processed) according to the product label.
Thank-you, this is goof information. Question – can you feed bees sugar cubes in the winter?
Hello Jeri! Thank you for your comment. Yes, you could feed sugar cubes are they do not contain any binding agents to hold the cubes together. Best of luck to you and your bees!
I have dealt with Sam’s Club for several years. They are super pro-honeybees and support their local hobbyist/backyard beekeepers. They will donate sugar to your beekeeping association. Some will do bulk, and some will collect broken bags and give them to you at scheduled times. Like one Sam’s Club set up 3 month intervals while another donated 500 lbs. God bless Sam’s Club and all of the support and heart they give to their local and international communities
Thank you so much for your comment, Ricky! I was unaware of this. How kind of them to donate!
I think the only sugar you should feed your bees is honey, unless you have an emergency and without this, they would die.
[…] Regular granulated white sugar is the best sugar to make syrup. Read more about sugar options. […]
Thank you, so bees pollinating Coconut blossoms have extra because?
You will probably be shocked to find out that
honey also is successful as sunblock rolling around
in its natural state. Keep in mind, honey won’t expire since it won’t harbor
bacteria, so that you can keep it on your own shelf as long as necessary.
In fact, they could contain ingredients that are just not good for your skin layer at all.
Of all the types of syrup to feed my bees nobody ever mentions making light syrup with all the left over honey I have from frames that the bees never got to over the winter and stuff I collected from messy twisted comb, etc. What mix? 60-40? 50-50 sounds like it would be too dilute.
How about coconut water/juice? I know it’s not sugar but I think has high sugar content.
It is sad and disappointing to see you promoting the feeding of sugar to bees when the only thing they should be consuming is the honey they naturally make.
First and foremost, the pH of sugar is completely different to that of honey and sugar lacks the enzymes that honey naturally has.
ALSO, when you feed sugar or whatever artificial syrups you’re using to the bees, the bees stash it into the same cells that the nectar for honey gets placed into, so you’re actually getting a blend of sugar with honey in the spring. Honey is naturally anti-bacterial; sugar, on the other hand, especially white granulated sugar, carries no such benefits.
You are essentially depriving the bees of the food that they have made for themselves and instead, feeding them something that can harm them. In doing so, you are also indirectly going to be feeding yourself this sugar. Another demonstration of human hubris and egocentrism.
But of course, if you care more about making money and business, then by all means, feed your bees sugar. But at what cost?
I have been researching bee keeping with my son for quite a few months now and we live in Greenville SC where we have carpenter ants and red ants and our question is has a suspended hive a good idea for the protection from ants and has it ever been used.
Hi. I was told sisal plants known as agave plants can replace sugar and they are plenty in Brazil and African countries. My question is would it be suitable to feed honey than sugar syrup ?