Monday, January 21, 2013

Feedin' Time!

In an ideal world,the bees collect enough nectar to store honey in the hive to keep them alive through the winter. But that's not always the case (especially when those nasty beekeepers steal the fruits of their labor [honey] for their own use!). So you generally have to supplement the feeding.

During the fall you can feed sugar syrup that the bees will store. But if they run out of that, you need to feed "bee candy." When the weather is cold, bees can't take the liquid. But they can consume solid sugar. It's not ideal, but if it's a matter of life vs. death, you do it.

There are a number of ways to feed solid feed to bees. The "easiest" is called the Mountain Camp method. It's basically where you put down some paper towels on the top of the bars, and simply sprinkle a couple of pounds of sugar,. The bees eat through the paper towel and consume the sugar.

I did that one year, but it turned out to be a disaster. Sure, the bees survived the winter, but in the spring I had a mess to clean up with all the sugar which fell down through the frames (and sometimes into the frames) cluttering up the bottom.

Another way is to make "candy boards." A candy board is basically a hard inner cover (or a frame with a wire mesh) with sugar candy molded into it. You put the board on the hive (upside down with the sugar pointing down) and the bees when they get to the top they can eat the sugar. These are somewhat involved to make since you need special equipment (the cover) and then you have to pour the sugar candy into it to harden. You can buy them, but it takes forethought and preparation to do this. I didn't, because I'm cheap.

The third way is to make bee candy and pour it into paper plates, then you have candy discs you can put on the hives. This is what I did.

There are a variety of bee candy recipes, but our bee club published one in the newsletter which I used. Basically you boil the sugar syrup to "soft ball" stage, and then pour it into the paper plates. Here I am boiling the sugar:

I did this last year as well, but I had a problem: the candy stuck to the paper plate surface, so a lot of the paper ended up stuck to the candy. To prevent this from happening this year, I coated each plate with a piece of aluminum foil.

Here are the paper plates after the candy has cooled. Exciting!!!

I had the same problem I had last year - I don't think I cooked the sugar hot enough. I was a little scared to overcook it, so I ended up under cooking it. The sugar solidified, but when I removed some of the discs, they broke apart and crumbled a little. I should have cooked it a little more. But the bees won't mind.

Since it was in the 40's and almost 50's last weekend, I decided to check out each hive and see how it was doing, and add the sugar candy. This would be the first time I've checked things since about October, so I was a little aprehensive to what I would find.

Blue Nuc

I didn't have too much hope for the Nucs surviving. I've never tried overwintering a nuc, and I probably didn't do all I could do. I fed the blue nuc in the fall, but when I found it, it was cold dead:

I don't know if it died of starvation or of the cold - I suspect the cold, since the bees were all in the lower part. They didn't move up and run out of food.

Brown Nuc

Same story for the Brown Nuc - dead.

I really didn't have any other choice but try to overwinter the nucs. These were "extra" hives, a little insurance in case I needed a queen. I couldn't combine them to make a new hive, as I didn't have any extra equipment. I suppose I could have insulated them better or fed them bee candy earlier. May next year I'll make a shim for them and feed them better. There are people who successfully overwinter nucs, but they tend to wrap them and stack them with full hives so they can share the heat. Live and learn.

Green Hive

Popping the cover, I saw a cluster at the top of the bars. It didn't look too bad:

I gave them some sugar candy.

Pink Hive

This one had an even smaller cluster:

This may be too small a cluster to survive, but I gave them some bee candy as well.

Brown Hive

When I prepared the Brown Hive for winter, there were a few frames in the honey super that they hadn't completed. So I just left that super on the hive, and fed sugar syrup on top of that. I suppose they added sugar syrup to the honey super (I won't be able to use the contents next year for honey extracting since it has sugar syrup in it). When I lifted up the outer cover, this is what I found:

The bees were filling up the 2" space between the inner cover and the top of the frames. This is a lot of bees! I didn't lift up the inner cover fully, as it would have separated the cluster of bees and exposed them to the cold. So I just lifted it up slightly and slid in a couple of discs of bee candy. They were buzzing away! I have the most hope for this hive.

Sutton Hive #1

I hadn't done my usual winter prep on this hive (lazy). It still had 3 (empty) jars on it, and I didn't put insulation on it yet. I found a lot of dead bees on top of the inner cover (where the jars are), but that's probably because of the cold.

This hive also had a partial honey super on it, which I left when I fed the syrup.

When I lifted up the inner cover, I saw just a couple of bees on the top bars. I thought, uh oh! But as I watched, a lot of bees started coming up to the top bars:

I suspect the bees were down in the hive, which is a good sign, as that means they didn't run out of food! I left them with a couple of discs of sugar, and added my usual insulation over the inner cover:

(this was the only hive I took a picture of the discs, but they all pretty much looked like this).

Sutton Hive #2

There is no hive #2 - it succumbed to the wax moths. I order a new hive for the owner, and it arrived last week.

So at this time, all of the hives are alive. I'll check them again in a month and see if they need more sugar (I made extra discs).

When springtime comes, I have some work ahead of me to make a new hive stand for my backyard hives. When the weather warms up, I plan on moving the hives out into the yard a few feet, and then making a new stand for the hives. I won't reuse the stand I had been using, as I need something a little wider, and that stand was a little tall (with a couple of honey supers on I can't reach the top). So I plan on using some landscape timbers (4x4's) with cinder blocks, and set the hives on there.

Here's for a hopeful winter!


  1. Fingers crossed for you! I've lost one of my hives already. I've fed and hope that the other one will make it through.

  2. Hi there
    I heard about you from Rob White and thought I'd look you up. I am over in Northfield,MA (Greenfield Branch of the stake.). How do you think the bees are in this bitter cold this week? Mine have food and honey, but I can't imagine how they can survive negative temps when the Atlanta beekeepers are fearing their 30 degree days?

  3. I've never made bee candy, but I've made enough sticky messes in the kitchen. Next time, considee lining your plates with parchment paper -- I find that most things slide right off of it. You can get it in the same part of the store where they keep wax paper, foil, and plastic wrap. Good luck!


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