When it comes to natural beekeeping – for the most part – you only want to feed as the last resort. Honey bees are not pets that we need to feed constantly – if we stopped feeding them – a large portion of them would still survive.
But, there is a time where sugar feeding is appropriate. Like perhaps when you first install your bees, in times of dearth (but this is not a rule – again if they have plenty of food – even in dearth you do not need to feed them – the amount of honey you take may need to change during harvest time. ), in the winter(emergency feed of pure sugar), and some instances of breeding.
I think an essential point to consider is that you will see a lot of numbers like sugar/water ratios of 1:1 or 2:1. You do not have to be this exact – if you understand the reason behind the ratios, you can create a good mixture for your honey bees. Just remember, someone arbitrarily made up those numbers to give a guide as to a type of sugar/water ratio you can use.
According to a study published in 2006 (see article here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2803417/) – natural sugar ratios in nectar (of 47 taxonomically related species) ranges from 2.5% to 59% – with the average being at around the 35% range. And the type of sugar varies depending on the flower. No ‘natural’ nectar varies widely by the sugar content and the sugar type.
Other sources conclude that sugar ratios in some nectar can be as high as 85%!
So, what’s up with the 1:1 ratios? – it is relatively simple – in the summer or spring – honey bees need more water – so a 1:1 ratio has equal parts sugar to equal parts water. Later in the season, less water is needed; some beekeepers in the fall go to a 2:1 (2 part sugar by weight to 1 part water by weight). In the winter…honey bees need very little water to no water (since honey bees will use condensation within the hive) – so using pure sugar may be appropriate – as an emergency feed.
The point? Don’t be too concerned with getting your sugar syrup ‘just right.’ Use the popular ratios as a guide (1:1, 2:1, and 100% sugar, respectively). Only feed if needed – honey bees know how to gather food – and the food they collect is much better than whatever processes sugar we can buy.
- Honey Bee Biology & Beekeeping Page 139