Composting sugar

josko021September 1, 2011

I just came into possession of a palletload (~500lbs) of 'spoiled', i.e. slightly wet sugar. Would sugar be a beneficial addition to a compost pile, and if so, is it a brown or green? My compost bins are 4'x4' pallet bins, and I'd like to add somewhere between 5 and 50 lbs per week to each bin. My bins are mostly household scraps with shredded paper providing browns.

What would sugar do to a compost pile?

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beeman_gardener(5)

Oh boy! That amount of sugar will do a number on the bacteria in the compost. They do add raw sugar, mainly molasses to garden surfaces and compost as a bacterial feed. But that amount I would suggest would smother any bacterial action.
Why not dry it? Then you could use it instead!

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 3:42PM
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bluegoat_gw(Zone 3b)

Sugar is a brown. Its C:N ration is greater than 30:1.

Browns or carbon or more correctly carbohydrates are converted to sugar before consumed by the composting micro organisms. Providing sugar directly saves them all that work.

Before adding sugar, do some calculations so you know how much to add. Even so, too much brown material will only slow thigs down. It won't cause any smells or explosions.

Bee keepers might be interested in your "spoiled" sugar if there's too much to compost.

Here is a link that might be useful: How do I know the difference between GREENS and BROWNS?

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 11:51PM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

Too much sugar in your compost pile will do to the bacteria the same thing too much sugar does to you. In small amounts sugar can enhance flavors while in just a bit larger amounts sugar will cause health problems.
Feeding sugar water to bees is part of the reason for Sudden Colony Collapse, according to some researchers.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 6:43AM
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david52 Zone 6

I'd do what you're suggesting, add a bit every week and see what happens. If it were me, I'd pick up a 50 lb sack of urea fertilizer for the nitrogen and throw a few handfuls of that in with the sugar, and stand back........

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 9:44AM
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toffee-el(Z8b Sunset Z13 Elev 4650ft)

wouldn't sweet loving ants have a field day?

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 4:48PM
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bpgreen(5UT)

"Feeding sugar water to bees is part of the reason for Sudden Colony Collapse, according to some researchers."

I assume you mean Colony Collapse Disorder. I did some searching for Colony Collapse Disorder (also Sudden Colony Collapse) and sugar water and the references I found seemed to indicate that sugar water was a treatment to counter/cure CCD, not a contributing factor.

Can you provide some links?

    Bookmark   September 3, 2011 at 12:25AM
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annpat(5-Maine)

I'm impressed that a lay person knows the answer to Colony Collapse Disorder, since not an apiarist that I've ever heard of has any explanation for it.

I'm a new beekeeper who had done a lot of reading and has never---not once---ever heard of this theory on colony collapse.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2011 at 3:02AM
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alphonse(6)

"...since not an apiarist that I've ever heard of has any explanation for it."

Add another to the list.

CCD is a relatively recent phenom in the world of beekeeping whereas spring feeding sugar has been a method used for eighty years (to my personal knowledge).

I'd be interested in reading correlating research thereof, can you provide citation?

To the OP, Bluegoat nailed it.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2011 at 5:42AM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

I have seen, in casual reading over the last several years, references to sugar water maybe being part of the Colony Collapse problem, as I noted, according to some researchers.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2011 at 7:19AM
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bpgreen(5UT)

Sounds suspiciously like REO Speedwagon's "Take it on the Run" to me.

I hear it from a friend who
heard it from a friend who
heard it from another

. . .

Links or it didn't happen.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2011 at 12:54AM
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Belgianpup(Wa/Zone 7b)

What kind of sugar is it? Is it raw sugar, or cane sugar, or cheap sugar from genetically-modified sugar beets?

Too much of anything in particular isn't good for a compost pile.

Wait until the ants find it! WHOO-HOOOO!

Sue

    Bookmark   September 4, 2011 at 1:39AM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

What nutritional value does sugar have that would make sugar water a substitute for honey in a bees diet?

    Bookmark   September 4, 2011 at 7:11AM
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Belgianpup(Wa/Zone 7b)

Not much, I would say.

It would be poor enough if it's cane sugar, but what is sugar and even pollen from GM crops doing to the bees? CCD seems to have shown up after GM crops started proliferating across America.

Sue

    Bookmark   September 4, 2011 at 12:49PM
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claireplymouth z6b coastal MA

I've seen discussion recently that feeding bees high fructose corn syrup rather than honey is problematic. I just searched and found a few references, there are many more::

Heat Forms Potentially Harmful Substance In High-Fructose Corn Syrup, Bee Study Finds

High Fructose Corn Syrup is Bad for Bees

If an organism evolved to thrive on honey, feeding it the bee equivalent of sugary soft drinks could be detrimental.

Claire

    Bookmark   September 4, 2011 at 5:01PM
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bpgreen(5UT)

"What nutritional value does sugar have that would make sugar water a substitute for honey in a bees diet?"

What does that question have to do with your unsubstantiated claim that sugar water contributed to CCD?

When I search these terms, I find suggestions to use sugar water to combat CCD. I don't find anything that suggests that it contributes to it.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2011 at 2:12AM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

bpgreen, you seem to fail to understand that it is not I that has made the claim but that has been made by some researchers. I am not an Apiarist but simply in my other reading I have seen several articles that allude to the sugar water problem and I would suspect a true Apiarist, interested in why his colonies were dieing off, would be looking at everything and not dismissing anything.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2011 at 6:23AM
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bpgreen(5UT)

Kimmsr, I'm not going to bother responding to your non-response and obfuscation.

We've threadjacked this long enough.

The original question had nothing to do with bees.

You can compost sugar, just keep the amount fairly low in relation to the other ingredients.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2011 at 3:06PM
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Lloyd

Some days this forum is downright entertaining. :-)

I don't think adding a few pounds of sugar to a 4 X 4 pile will do anything detrimental. I'd try it and see.

Let us know how it works if you do try it.

Lloyd

    Bookmark   September 5, 2011 at 4:53PM
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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

BTW, sugar - whether it's sucrose, fructose, whatever - has NO nitrogen whatsoever, so its CN ratio is, uh, infinite?

That and its very high water solubility would make it a challenge to compost. Not that you shouldn't try, but it's not something that's done every day, and no amount of advice from us is going to tell you exactly what will happen. I recommend a lot of observe-and-adjust here.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2011 at 11:09AM
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josko021

Well, I dumped ~20 lbs on top of a 4'x4'x3' bin. It all melted in the rain and I can observe no change in the pile whatsoever.

Now, somebody did mention that applying molasses to a lawn is beneficial. What might happen if I used my spreader to spread all this sugar out on the lawn?

FWIW, it's 'regular' cane sugar that's been soaked by Irene's rains and is 'no longer sellable'.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2011 at 1:12PM
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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

I would think you could do that, and the thought crossed my mind. A couple of things to think about:

Application rate: 500 lb might be a lot for the average suburban lawn in one application. Or not. You might post your approx. square footage and we can think about the lb per sq ft.

Runoff: If it rained right after application and conditions were right for runoff rather than soaking in, this would (could) be a severe slug of dissolved organic matter for the nearest stream, similar to a sewage spill. Whereas if your soil was dry and lightly rained on or watered in after application, whole different scenario.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2011 at 4:15PM
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alphonse(6)

"What nutritional value does sugar have that would make sugar water a substitute for honey in a bees diet?"

To my knowledge, both honey and "table" sugar contain glucose & fructose.
Tupelo honey contains levulose and is amenable to diabetics.

Northern beekeepers feed sugar syrup in the spring to stimulate the queen into greater egg production in the interest of building population for the coming honey flow. Honey stores (in the hive) are typically depleted by then; wintering bee clusters "burn" (caloric conversion) the honey to stay warm.

Some beekeepers feed syrup made from honey. Other sugars are used since they're cheaper and consumption is immediate, i.e., not stored in comb, though the syrup can go into the production of wax.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2011 at 7:55AM
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david52 Zone 6

Also, if you have hummingbirds around, you might save some of the sugar for feeders. I have a neighbor who had a similar stash of 'spoiled' sugar, and used it for this.

Here, we get plenty of them, and they'll go through 50 lbs of sugar in a summer, with only 2 feeders.

Wasps go for the sugar water in the feeders. Not bees. And they're out of the reach of the dreaded planaria.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2011 at 10:10AM
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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

I can see the possible 'junk food' angle with feeding sugar to bees instead of real nectar, if in fact they're different. If they are, I would think the beekeeping industry would come up with a nutritional supplement with all the vitamins and minerals that bees need, that could be sprinkled into sugar water. That is, if this was really needed.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2011 at 10:25AM
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claireplymouth z6b coastal MA

There are trace minerals and vitamins in honey, but most of the sites that come up on a casual search talk about the possible value for humans, not bees.

Since hummingbirds have been introduced to this discussion, I do know that that there is a product called NEKTAR PLUS which is used as a substitute for sugar solution when a complete diet is required for maintaining hummingbirds. A caveat is that hummers also eat insects as well as nectar so a comparison to a bee's diet may not be valid, since the protein source (insects for hummers and pollen for bees) is different. It's an interesting topic and I hope there's some research out there.

Anyway, bees in my yard go for sugar water in hummingbird feeders, not just wasps. A few days ago I was watching a hummer at one feeder

and as soon as the bird left a bee flew up and tried to feed.

The bees much prefer the jam feeder though, when the orioles and catbirds aren't around.

My apologies to the OP, but this is an interesting discussion. I learned about the NEKTAR PLUS when I was trying to understand how people could keep a lost hummingbird alive over the winter on sugar water alone.

Claire

    Bookmark   September 7, 2011 at 5:06PM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

Sugar is a strong carbon and simply that. Carbon is a main ingredient in compost. So when adding the sugar, I would look to add some greens with it. I probably would just add it a little at a time. All things in moderation, eh.

Sugar isn't bad for bees, hummingbirds or people. Excess Sugar is bad for everyone. Moderation is the key.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2011 at 5:14PM
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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

Good summary of the thread there, joepyeweed. :-]

    Bookmark   September 7, 2011 at 5:56PM
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david52 Zone 6

That moderation thing is why you never see hummingbirds, bees, or wasps, trim and fit as they are, ordering up a 120 oz 'big gulp' Mountain Dew at the drive in.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2011 at 10:18AM
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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

Around here the Sonic drive-in has half price drinks from 2-4 on Tuesdays. Certain members of the staff waddle across the street and bring back those giant drinks. I call it Bladder-Buster Tuesday.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2011 at 10:38AM
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josko021

FWIW, I ended up with hordes of maggot-like creatures in the 'sweetened' compost bin. Clearly, some insect decided to lay eggs in the sweetened bin. I'll chalk this one up as an experience and just hope the health department doesn't show up.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2011 at 4:51PM
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