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How to Attract Bees with Sugar Water

If you have a bee colony, you are naturally invested in those bees’ health and vigor — I can tell you from experience that it’s very disheartening to go out to your bee hive for an inspection only to find they are in poor health, dying, or have outright absconded. So, one might think, “It’s a good thing to give my bees sugar water — my hummingbirds love it!” And one would sort of be correct.

But here’s the thing — bees are different, and so their care must reflect that. There are a few reasons why you’d want to supplement their food source with sugar water, but it’s important to know what those are, when it’s a good time to feed them, and how you should feed them.

When Sugar Water is Good for Bees

Hint: The answer is not, “whenever you feel like it” or “because it seems like a good idea.” You know how, when you’re pruning a tree, you always prune with a purpose and a goal in mind? The same is true for feeding your bees. And above all, do not believe posts on social media urging you to put out bowls of sugar water or syrup on your patio or in your garden (we’ll get to that in a minute, but trust me, it’s a bad idea).

So under what conditions is it recommended to feed your bees?

  1. When you get a new colony of bees and they need a little help to get going — there’s no stored food in their hive yet, so giving them some sugar syrup can be a good thing.
  2. When it’s the middle of the winter and the bees don’t have enough stored food in their hive — and there are no flowers around to feed them.

Bees that run out of food can die within a few days, and it’s up to you to monitor the situation to avoid this happening.

bee pollinating flower

How You Should Feed Them

Back to the social media posts about putting out bowls of sugar water or spoon feeding syrup to exhausted bees — don’t believe everything you read online, because in this case, it can do much more harm than good. Why?

  • Bees that have access to sugar syrup won’t forage for nectar in flowers — they’ll take the path of least resistance.
  • It’s almost never necessary (apart from the reasons above) to feed them. If a bee looks exhausted, there’s a high likelihood it’s simply at the end of its lifecycle. Feeding it sugar syrup on a spoon won’t change that outcome.
  • Putting sugar syrup out in the open doesn’t only feed your bees, it feeds bees from other hives. Then they all go back home and bring their friends back for the free meal, and now you’ve got lots of bees on your back patio. No, thank you!
  • Bees take the sugar syrup back to the hive and store it with their honey, effectively watering down the honey. Nobody wants watered down honey, neither the bees or you.

So, how should you feed them (if you determined that it’s necessary, of course)? Place it in the hive, and do it in the evening when the bees are calm. If you’re not a beekeeper, then your takeaway here is, “Don’t feed the bees sugar syrup.” Back away from the sugar syrup, friends — it’s not necessary!

…But I’m Worried About Declining Bee Populations!

I know you are, but here’s the thing — the honeybee population is actually not declining, it’s slightly rising. While it’s a bit of a complicated issue, the phrase “colony collapse disorder” or CCD has been used incorrectly to describe the death of some bee populations by, say, infestations of mites or other health challenges. CCD has not been a huge issue in the bee world since 2011.

So, right now the bees are just fine. But if you’d like to do your part to keep them healthy and make sure they have plenty to eat, first — thank you!


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Bee Sugar water feature
Bee landing on a white flower with text, "Feeding bees with sugar water, 6 tips"

4 Comments

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    • You don’t want to feed bees on just sugar water or give them too much sugar water. Colony Collapse Disorder is something they are still trying to figure out, though there are reports that say it may be getting better. Bees that abandon the hive could do it for a number of reasons, lack of food or water, noise, pests, a weak queen, humidity, or sickness. It is really important to inspect hives, plant and keep water sources for bees, keep chemicals out of our outdoor spaces, and be thoughtful of the needs of our important pollinators.

  1. Sugar water can harm bees not help them, they like plain water! The David Attenborough blog was a fake and take down! So please delete this too! 😳🥺

    • Hi Sue, you’re absolutely correct! Putting out sugar water for bees can be very dangerous for them. We want people who are searching for how to give bees sugar water to find this article so we can tell them why that is not a good idea. As mentioned in the article, it’s only safe for beekeepers to give their bees a little bit of sugar water when they’re starting a new hive and it needs some help getting going, or perhaps during the winter if your bees do not have enough food stored in their hive. Thank you for advocating for the bees, they need it. 😊

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