Can I Use Honey in a Pail Feeder?

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David D from Massachusetts asks:

I have some honey, my own, that I want to feed back to the bees. I would like to use a pail feeder. Does the honey need to be diluted to do this? If so, what would the proportions of water to honey?

Pail Feeder, courtesy of Blue Sky Bee Supply

Rusty Burlew, one of our Backyard Beekeeping experts, replies:

You can try putting honey directly in a pail feeder, but I find it tends to crystallize in the holes after a few days.

If you want to make an equivalent of 1:1 syrup, take the amount of syrup you have and multiply it by 0.6, then add that amount of water to your honey. For example, if you have one quart of honey (32 ounces) multiplying 32 by 0.6 gives you 19.2. Adding 19.2 ounces of water to the quart of honey gives you a solution of 25.6 ounces of water and 25.6 ounces of sugar by volume.

This works because nearly all honey is approximately 20% water and 80% sugar. If you want 20% water and 80% sugar, you need to add 60% more water to the volume of the original solution. The amount of sugar in the honey is 0.8 times 32 ounces or 25.6, and the amount of water is 6.4 ounces plus 19.2 ounces or 25.6 ounces.


If you want to 2:1 syrup, you multiply the total number of ounces by 20% and add that to the original solution. So if you have 32 ounces of honey that is 20% water, you multiply 32 by 0.2 and get 6.4 ounces of water, which you add to your honey. That gives you 25.6 ounces of sugar to 12.8 ounces of water (6.4 + 6.4) which is twice as much sugar as water or 2:1.

The calculations come out slightly different if you use weight measurements instead of volume, but for practical purposes, you can use either weight or volume and get similar results. Remember that bees collect nectar from flowers with sugar content ranging from 4 percent to 70 percent, so variations in the amount of sugar in syrup don’t mean much to bees.

Because the sugar concentrations are not important, I just add enough water until it looks right and pour it in the feeder. This avoids a lot measuring, dirty containers, and math, but either way will work.

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