Nettle Tea, Vitamin C and Sugar Syrup

I liked the idea of making nettle tea/syrup for my bees, after all bee food isn’t just sugar and water, and adding ascorbic acid to regulate the pH, attempt to enhance the food value and to delay the growth of moulds in the solution (I’m using the terms vitamin C and ascorbic acid to mean the same thing, if they are not please let me know).

However, my queries on this practice are:

How much Vitamin C is sufficient for the concentration of sugar solutions used for feeding?

The Ascorbic acid (food grade) powder that I have seems not to want to dissolve easily in the syrup directly and it’s necessary to dissolve it in water prior to adding it to the syrup. Is there a better way as even this involves a lot of shaking to get it to dissolve, would alcohol be better as long as it didn’t get the bees too boisterous or should that be “beesterous” ?

I know that heat and to some extent light cause rapid degradation of Vitamin C but it also seems that Vitamin C degrades by dissolution so the benefit is short lived anyway, so am I wasting my time?

Are there any bee-keeping chemists reading this board who can give an authoritative opinion on this topic?

Or do I just do what I normally do and do what seems to be right?

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14 Responses to Nettle Tea, Vitamin C and Sugar Syrup

  1. simplebees says:

    Vitamin C is ascorbic acid as far as I know and wikipedia seems to agree.

    I too use vitamin C powder and sprinkle it on to the warm (not hot) syrup. It dissolves with a quick stir in my experience, so I can’t help with why yours does not, although I notice it says on mine ‘quick dissolving’.

    I have been making 2:1 syrup with 6 kgs of sugar and 3 litres of water to which I add a heaped teaspoon of vitamin C powder.

    Interestingly, vitamin C is the only vitamin that shows in any quantity in nectar. It is absent from honey, however, probably because, as you say, it breaks down very easily with heat and other things and, so does not survive being processed from nectar to honey. I do not take this as indicating that it is of no benefit, however. It is available for uptake by the bees as they do the processing and, as you mention, makes the syrup a bit more acid, in line with nectar. It also a natural inhibitor of mould growth. Which is why it is sometimes added to processed food.

    Gareth, West Oxfordshire

  2. salp111 says:

    How often do you feed the bees with this, at this time of year & what quantities per comb of bees?

    • simplebees says:

      I am aiming for about 15 – 18kg of stores in my Warrés, although some natural beekeepers seem to get away with somewhat less, depending on your location, the weather we get, type of bee etc. That equates to a full Warré box of 8 combs. In TBH’s I used to aim for 12 combs, pretty full. That probably is rather more than 18kg. Multiply the weight of sugar by 1.25 to get an approximate weight of stores once the bees have taken it down and ripened it. So 1 kg of sugar in a 2:1 mix with water will give 1.25kg of stores.

      Feed in the evening when the bees have stopped flying, as much as can be taken down before morning. A strong colony will take as much as a litre a night, a smaller colony somewhat less.

      Edit: I have just been reminded by a post on David Heaf’s group that Warré himself recommends 12kg of winter stores, although another contributor to that forum who has extensive Warré experience suggests 15 – 20kg.

      Gareth, West Oxfordshire

  3. Paul says:

    1. I suspect that the acidifying effect of adding ascorbic acid (I use lemon juice, i.e. citric acid because we tend to have it around anyhow) will be independent of how much you use – chemically speaking, forming a “buffer solution” where it doesn’t really matter how much acid there is – until you add silly amounts. Think of how one poaches eggs: you lob a little vinegar (acetic acid) in the water so the egg whites don’t go bleurgh and froth and come out like a mess of white-plus-water. On a microscopic level, the acid stops the egg whites’ proteins from unfolding. It doesn’t matter how much vinegar you use to obtain this effect, except that if you add too much the smell is a bit overpowering!

    2. So what is the vitamin C doing? I don’t know if bees use it in their metabolism directly. Probably yes. But definitely, it “inverts” the sucrose, splitting it into frusctose and glucose. These smaller molecules can slot together more easily in solution, making it easier to disolve so much sugar in a small amount of water. Inverted sugar syrup is used by bakers because it tastes sweeter – and, usefully for beekeeping, it is less prone to crystallisation.

  4. salp111 says:

    That sounds very erudite & interesting & I’m sorry to butt in with a much more prosaic question: do you just keep feeding them ad infinitum or is there a limit such as when they have filled their combs with the solution? I would not be doing this if I thought the latest arrivals could survive without but it looks to me as though they are struggling & I had a small colony abscond leaving 5 empty combs & don’t want this to happen to another colony as I guess it means certain death for them ultimately….too late in the year to re-establish anywhere unless they land in candyland!!
    And by the way, why do they uncharacteristically come & hang around me after they have been fed? I know with kids, a sugar solution would send them to the moon & back, so are they just hyper & doing daft things like coming to see if I am edible?! Or what?
    Sorry, Paul for interrupting. I am a bit of a simple bees virgin & have got onto the site via your posting, so my questions aren’t really to do with vit c….just need to know some more basic stuff.

  5. simplebees says:

    The bees will stop taking syrup when they have run out of space and do not wish to make more comb.

    Feeding sugar excites bees just like it does kids. That is why it is best done in the evening, so they go home to bed rather than rush around being a nuisance to all and sundry!

    Gareth, West Oxfordshire

    • salp111 says:

      So to get it straight….Keep feeding them ’til they want no more, want no more…reminds me of a hymn…..which could be a half a pint/pint every other evening or more if they keep taking it. I assume it’s the 2:1 solution & this could, theoretically, go on until the onset of winter? And beyond?

      • andcnov says:

        In my, very limited, experience the bees will take what ever quantity of provided feed that they want. I’ve noticed that they only take syrup when there is nothing else available e.g. when they can’t fly due to weather conditions. “Rightly” or otherwise (and there are many opinions as to what is right) at the moment “my” colonies are not particularly strong and have not got a lot of stores, they’ll take just-short-of a litre of 2:1 per day and presumably will continue to do so until they’ve got what they consider to be sufficient or the weather is too cold to evaporate the water from the syrup?
        I recently looked at a conventional beekeepers hives and a number had no stores whatsoever and at this time of the year they are not, unless they are fed, going to get any.

      • simplebees says:

        Sounds best sung in Welsh!

        Yes, as Andrew says, 2:1 and it will go on until the colony feels it has enough or the weather turns cold. Once the nights get down to around freezing, some time in October, generally bees will not take syrup and, even if they do, they can have difficulty reducing the water content. The result then is that the syrup slowly ferments and the bees get very upset tums. This can lead to colony loss. The exception is when the feed is given in a feeder that is in direct contact with the winter cluster (called, not surprisingly, a ‘contact’ feeder) and is given in small amounts so that there is no excess to store. I have seen weak colonies nursed through the winter like this. It is, however, a labour of love. The message therefore is, if you need to feed, do it now and do it as quickly as the bees will take it. I too have seen colonies in the last few days that have no stores whatever and are close to starving. Even a heavy ivy flow (which is the last nectar flow of the year) would not save them as they are not strong enough to collect sufficient honey. They need serious assistance if they are to make it through the winter. The next decent nectar flow is 6 months away.

        Gareth, West Oxfordshire

  6. salp111 says:

    What about that “heavier” solution? i believe it’s called fondant or similar. After the 2:1 solution time slot is over, is it then fondant time?
    One of the colonies I am hosting seems to be very busy with many many bees bringing back…I assume ivy pollen?…. on their legs & they have always seemed to be a strong colony, going out in all weathers (northern bees, I have been informed by some northern friends!!) but I am not sure whether they have enough stores for the winter either as when I look in the hive through the observation window, it looks to me as though their combs are empty at the top, as they are clustered around the base of the combs. This is at night . I cant heft the hive as it’s a tree trunk, the base of which is concreted into the ground. I’m not entirely sure what I’m looking at though….what colour would honey filled combs be?

    • andcnov says:

      If you hunt around the internet you can find loads of information on fondant feeding, you can buy it from a local (proper) baker or probably direct from Bako, (or make it yourself) it does come in a large box through and can be quite difficult to handle and be very sticky. But, generally you’re correct it’s used after the 2:1 and when the bees are dormant.
      I’ve decanted it into litre sized shallow ice-cream tubs and put it straight into the hive (Kenyan) during the last few weeks as i had no other method of feeding. The bees make quite hard work of taking it though as a tub lasts a long time (maybe this is a good thing). The bees have to use water to dissolve the sugar before they can use it and is therefor more energy consuming for the as they have to get the water from somewhere.
      I think that the reason fondant is used it that it tends not to freeze or go mouldy if left in place for a long time. In conventional bee-keeping the fondant container is inverted over the hole in the crown board and just left in place, It tends to flow very slowly depending on the weather, and would probably seep into the hive over time, but I’ve no
      first hand experience.
      Honey filled combs are a sort of ivory colour.

  7. C-vitamin does not evaporate if you pour boiling water into the solution. If you heat up the water including C-vitamin veggies/fruits/etc it will evaporate. At least thats what I’ve learned on my 8 month long course in Self-sufficient Householding last year.

    Im thinking of mixing Nettle Tea to the water bowl My bees dring water from to boost their immunity. We have a few Canola fields near by and I hope to help them out with an extra boost.

    How much tea can I pour into the water?

  8. simplebees says:


    The nettle tea recipe comes from a research paper entitled The Effect of Plant Supplements on the Development of Artificially Weaken Bee Families by Marghitas L. A. et. al., Animal Science and Biotechnologies, 2010, 43 (1). They describe describe the concentration as follows:

    Nettle infusion: prepared from fresh nettle plant (100 g fresh nettle in 1000 ml hot water).


    I believe the paper is freely available on the internet, but if you can’t get hold of a copy, contact me.

    Gareth, Cotswolds

  9. andcnov says:

    I know this post is a bit old now, but I’m still searching for the answer to “life the universe and everything” and how much ascorbic acid to add to nettle tea for bees. I came across a post on another beekeeping site and thought I’d post a link for anyone else and for a bit of finality. The chap seems to know what he’s talking about, well I was convinced anyway. It seems, if I’ve understood the explanation, that the acid acts as a sort of catalyst which precipitates a beneficial reaction within the sugar and consequently… you don’t need much, well I think that’s what’s being said!
    This is the link:
    If any one else has a different interpretation…?

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