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As many gardeners already know, bees of varying species and types love to hunt down lots of sweet things to eat – it’s part of their daily routine. While you can rely on a varied selection of flowers and blooms for bees to claim pollen from, there may be an occasion or two where you want to treat your local insects to a sweet treat or two. With that in mind, what is the best sugar for bees?
Generally, you should make sure to feed your bees on granulated or organic sugar. The best sugar for attracting bees is free from artificial flavors and additives – the type that they can normally enjoy from the flowers and plants they will find in your garden, and in the wild.
If you’re thinking about giving your local bees sugar occasionally, here’s a complete guide to the best types to serve – and a few that you should always avoid.
Why should I feed bees sugar?
As you may expect, some sugar can actually attract bees to your garden or yard – but the kindest and most natural way to bring bees to your backyard is to plant flowers they are known to enjoy visiting. This should also give you a little bit of a boost – you’ll be helping them to make honey and will make their daily work that little bit more interesting.
However, there are a few instances where feeding bees sugar may actually be necessary. According to Agriculture Victoria, sugar (or sugar water) should only really be offered to bees when they are starving, or if you find a grounded insect and need to revive it.
Feeding bees on a 50/50 mix of a little sugar and a little water is normally a great idea if you find a bee struggling in your garden. Unfortunately, you won’t always be able to revive a bee in this way, but it’s worth trying if you can.
Dry sugar is not always recommended, particularly if you are feeding it to bees who are weak or low in number. There is split opinion over whether or not you should give beehives and colonies dry sugar at all – the American Bee Journal, for example, advises against it as the insects simply cannot make use of it.
You may also use sugar as a substitute to raise colonies on, or to help stimulate queens. However, I wouldn’t recommend this unless you are a seasoned beekeeper.
Which types of sugar are best for attracting bees?
As mentioned, I would generally recommend that you try and attract insects to your garden with flowers that bees love. You’re giving them a reason to visit you beyond sights and smells!
However, if you do wish to make sugar water, it is a good idea to know which types are toxic to bees – as unfortunately, their digestive systems are not as complex as ours, and can only process organic sugar.
On the whole, bees love most sugar types – meaning that attraction isn’t really the problem. A bee is unlikely to discern whether or not one type is better for them or not, so you need to be vigilant!
Types of sugar that bees can safely enjoy
Time and time again, granulated, white sugar is the best option for feeding bees. It is largely 100% natural, and it is as close to the natural sucrose as you will find in the wild – it’s effectively pure nectar. As there are no additives or artificial flavorings, you are completely safe to give pure, granulated sugar to your bees. Just in case, however, always be very careful to read the packet before pouring.
Just in case you were wondering, this goes for sugar cubes, too – as these are normally 100% granulated. Therefore, leaving a cube or two out for the insects is perfectly safe (again, providing you read the packet).
Moreover, granulated sugar is sometimes much cheaper than alternatives available – it’s your best choice however you look at the problem.
Yes, bees can enjoy organic sugar, but not always. Organic sugar is a potential alternative to granulated sugar, but you will need to be vigilant. Organic varieties of sugar can result in ash, which – in high enough quantities – can cause serious problems for bees, such as dysentery. Honey produced in the beehive itself can sometimes contain high levels of ash, and the same goes for sugar produced outside.
If it is not granulated or 100% pure, there is always a risk of ash being left behind. If you can – if you are serious about providing organic sugar to your bees – then make a point to carefully research the brand and manufacturing process. If there is too much ash (i.e. above 1%), then you’re going to potentially cause your local insects serious harm.
Types of sugar you should avoid giving to bees
As mentioned, you should only ever give bees sugar that is 100% natural, or 100% sucrose. They simply cannot break down artificial sugars such as xylitol, stevia, or Sucralose. Let’s take a closer look at sugars that you need to avoid feeding bees at all costs.
You may be wondering why bees can’t have brown sugar? To summarise, brown sugar is highly modified. It contains a small amount of molasses that is deadly to bees – and that goes for all different varieties of brown sugar, too (no matter the depth of shade).
You should consider the same rule of thumb for Demerara sugar, as well as Turbinado.
Artificial sugars and substitutes
Feeding bees on sugar substitutes such as stevia is a no-no as there is simply no natural sucrose. This means there’s no nutritional worth. What’s more, common substitutes such as aspartame and saccharin, too, could harm them. If in doubt, go granulated.
Again – anything that’s even slightly mixed or blended, such as Drivert sugar, simply isn’t suitable for bees because it’s impure. Some blended sugars can contain cornstarch and invert sugars, and even fructose.
Can I feed honey to bees?
Great question – as you know, bees are known to eat their own honey if they need to, but when it comes to eating externally-produced honey, you might not have much luck.
Giving honey produced by other beehives to one particular colony may produce adverse reactions – not only from a physical health perspective, but also from one of behavior. There is also some concern that, over time, feeding bees honey could actually increase their chances of dying early.
Therefore, it is likely to be a good idea to simply let bees enjoy their own produce if push comes to shove. Bees will not always eat their own honey, but they have the setup and the reserves there should they need it.
Some beekeepers may suggest enticing bees with honey if there is a need to stimulate a hive or a colony. However, as mentioned above, this is a technique that’s likely best reserved for the professional beekeepers among us.
For the average gardener, stick with sugar!
Do I have to attract bees to my garden with honey?
Regardless of whether or not you stock up on the best sugar for attracting bees, you don’t have to splash your garden in the stuff. In fact, you’ll likely find bees prefer heading to yards that have lots of colorful blooms and a wide variety of pollen sources.
What’s more, bees can even be attracted to vibrations emanating around the local area. Did you know that bees can hear music – meaning the right playlist and collection of flowers could really do enough to encourage visitors?
Of course, as mentioned, there may be occasions where feeding sugar to bees is necessary. Therefore, keep in mind that pure, granulated and additive-free sugar is best – it’s what bees will find in the flowers they frequent.
Do you have any tips of your own regarding bees and sugar feeding? What are some of your favorite bee feeding techniques?