How do Bees Store Sugar Syrup?

by mcgarity

When bees store sugar syrup in the Fall for winter is that capped or does it just appear as white in the cells?


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Good question.

When you feed bees sugar syrup, from the perspective of the bees it's just like a nectar flow coming in. If more is coming in than they require for current needs, they treat it just as they would an abundance of nectar.

That means that the bees will store the syrup in the cells and ripen it (reduce the moisture content to thicken it). Then when a cell is full of ripened sugar syrup, they'll cap the cell, just as they would for honey.

When we feed sugar syrup to the bees in the fall, we are generally feeding them more than they currently need, since we're trying to give them enough to last the winter. So in that situation, you can expect to see combs of capped sugar syrup.

When we feed sugar syrup in the spring, as for a newly established colony, the goal is to simply provide enough to meet the bees' current needs until they are able to forage enough nectar from springtime blossoms. So for springtime feeding, we are less likely to see combs of capped sugar syrup.

For those that may be wondering -- yes, you could feed lots of sugar syrup to the bees and harvest the capped syrup just like honey.

And unfortunately, with the cost of sugar generally being less than the cost of honey, here have been occurrences of honey producers feeding sugar to their bees to produce a 'fake' honey crop which they sell to unsuspecting buyers.

A rare occurrence, but it does happen.

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May 21, 2011
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first hive visit question
by: mary a new bee keeper

Hi,

Boy I could use some advise....my first visit was to see if the queen was released and she was. my second visit was today (later than it should have been probably) to check the frames and see if the queen is laying.

So here is the question - i chickened out and could not make myself take out a frame - I will do it tomorrow - but the hive looked packed with bees and it looked like every frame was full of comb with white cappings....could they have filled the hive with just the sugar water? I had also given them a pollen patty which is completely consumed.

They have been really going through the sugar water and the folks I got the bees from said they only provide one container in spring then let the bees fend for themselves...it is May 21 in Missouri - if that helps.

Much thanks!
Mary

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Hi Mary,

Sounds like you're off to a great start with your bees.

Bees will indeed fill cells with sugar syrup and cap them. They treat the sugar syrup just like nectar, reducing the moisture content until it is thick enough to cap.

My guess is that when you pull some frames out to take a look, what you'll find is some capped cells with sugar syrup / honey on the upper portion, with the brood (hopefully) down below.

Just looking down into the frames from above, the capped cells on top would make it appear as if the frames were full of capped sugar syrup / honey. But again, if your queen is laying (I'll keep my fingers crossed for you!), you'll probably find brood underneath many of the capped areas when you pull out a frame and get a good look at it.

My experience with feeding a new hive is that once they are bringing in lots of nectar they tend to lose interest in the sugar syrup, and draw it down much more slowly than they had been. So I normally just feed until they are no longer taking much.

But I would imagine that at this date in your area, there's plenty of forage for the bees. So they'd probably do fine without continued feeding. Can't say, though, that I can think of any harm it would do to feed just a while longer until you're sure they no longer need it.

Good luck!

Mar 12, 2015
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Will the bees use capped sugar syrup?
by: Island Little NAive

So I probably overfed my bees last fall with sugar syrup. Now I have many frames of capped sugar- useless to me. How about my fresh nucs? Will they uncap the sugar cells, reform it into honey and recap it as honey? Or is it trash?

I have 3 nucs coming April 11 so appreciate any advice here.

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I would expect that sugar syrup that was capped will likely still be good. It's not honey, of course; sugar fed to bees CAN NOT be converted into honey.

But it should still be perfectly fine for the bees to consume. You will probably need to feed your nucs for a time anyway, and your frames of capped sugar syrup should be fine for that purpose.

Mar 17, 2015
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sugar cells capped
by: Island Little Naive

Thanks for your fast response. Now to the future: if I offer the 2015 nucs some 2014 frames of capped sugar in the brood box frames, will they 'uncap' the sugar and consume it, or just treat it as stored food like any capped honey?

I'm thinking that I need to strip the wax completely from the frames and melt the capped sugar, melt off the wax, reduce the sugar caps to a liquid and re-offer the sugar water to the new nucs as 'fresh' sugar water as needed in April/May. We have some blossom and nectar then but probably not enough so the nucs will need some supplemental resource.

Thanks for any comments or ideas.

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No, there's no need to go to all that trouble! The bees will almost certainly clean out those combs of capped sugar syrup, even if the sugar has solidified.


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