Honeybee sugar syrup: why use only cane sugar?

I’ve heard from more than one person, be them beekeepers or just people who think they know something about honeybees and beekeeping, that you should only use cane sugar to feed your bees sugar syrup in the spring or fall.

sugar and cane sugar

I haven’t read this in any of my beginning beekeeping books, nor was it mentioned in my beekeeping class.

White table sugar, which is what we use to feed our honeybees in the fall and spring, is made primarily from sugarcane or sugar beets

I looked at sugar packages at the grocery stores in my town, I noticed one brand did say cane sugar on the package.

So, why do some say feed your bees only cane sugar?

It may be that sugarcane has not been genetically modified (yet). But there are GMO sugar beets:

“Genetically modified (GMO) sugar beets are already planted on more than one million acres of farmland, spanning 10 different states from Michigan to Oregon. In fact, the Roundup-resistant gene is present in 95-percent of U.S.-grown sugar beet plants.” Treehugger Federal Judge Bans Genetically Modified Sugar Beets

So it seems prudent not to feed your bees GMO sugar if you can. Yet GMO sugarcane is on the horizon:

Commercial utilisation of GM sugar cane is possible in the near future in the USA and Brazil. GMO-Compass

Now my head starts spinning. All we want to do is feed our bees some sugar to get them thru the winter and early spring, and we have to contend with global GMO issues.

What do we do? Let us know your thoughts below:

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  1. says

    Hi Eric,
    I have done heaps of work trying to find an answer on this one, speaking to a lot of people. Apparently its the fact that white sugar is super refefined and has absolutly no solids in it when in liquid form. Therefore my concusion is Powdered sugar, brown sugar, molasses and any other unrefined sugar is not good for bees becasue…wait for it…

    They can’t handle the solids.

    It pretty easy to avoid that problem here through Aussies keep it simple with sweeteners, Sugar white or brown.

    There’s no corn fructose, or beet sugar or any of that other stuff in the regular stores.


  2. BobH says

    If you want to avoid GM for a political, ethical or moral reason then fine, and I agree. However it is the beet or the cane which is being genetically modified, not the sugar. As Scott suggests bees can only take candy, or syrup made from pure white sugar (sucrose), which is a single chemical not modified at all by the GM process.
    Much more important to look for the other chemicals added by the sugar processor, to reduce attack by ants when the sugar’s in store, as anti-caking agents, etc.
    The best solution is to leave your bees with enough honey that you don’t need to feed them.

  3. says

    It’s actually most beneficial to the bees for their humans to reserve excess honey and feed that to them when they need some extra help in the pantry, but we use sugar, too, in a pinch. Check out a great LA blog on beekeeping – organic and as hands off as possible. Love your site, by the way. So glad I stumbled upon it as I green my own life. :) Keep up the great work!

    Backwards Beekeepers Blog

  4. bob says

    People often ask this question when I’m teaching beekeeping courses. The reason to use pure white cane sugar is because of the impurities in other sugars. Remember, that if you’re heating the sugar and water to make a candy make certain not to burn or carmalize the sugars. This is dangerous to the bees also.
    If you take the advice of many beekeepers and use excess honey to feed back to your bees be certain not to use honey from an outside source. These can have AFB (American Foulbrood) spores and your colony can become infected.
    Use your own honey left in frames that you know are clear of AFB. You should be learning to recognize the signs of AFB.
    Lastly, as for High Fructose Corn Syrup is a judgement call. I’ve used it in the past but my supplier retired from keeping bees. I will say it’s easier to deal with than mixing your own. Just remember to get HFC produced for honeybees. Look at the beekeeping supply catalogs.
    Read up and learn. It’s a great hobby.

  5. Aly says

    Bees are meant to eat honey. Not sugar and definitely not high fructose corn syrup. If you feed your bees white sugar you are also feeding Monsanto’s wallet and contaminating your bees and honey. Your honey will not be organic and not free of genetically modified ingredients. Say no to GMO’s!

  6. Paul says

    I fed my bee’s brown sugar before the winter. oops. The sugar contains too much insoluble materials, causing the bee’s to defecate everywhere and in large amounts. amazing really. Yuck. I’m now feeding them white, organic cane sugar (very limited).

  7. Jamie Hume says

    You should make certain that sugar is not from GMO sugar beets. I feel strongly that we should be giving bees more of what ‘they’ need to be healthy and build their immune systems..

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