What Should I Do?

dps

Honey Bee Candy: Winter Feeding

"Food Insurance" for your hive during the cold winter months
Saturday, January 14, 2012, 12:55 PM

Some CM.com members may have become interested in beekeeping as one possible means of increasing resilience in their lives. In this What Should I Do (WSID) article, Small-Scale Beekeeping, user apismellifera gives a great introduction to the topic (the pictures are of Langstroth equipment; you may want to remember this for later in this article). In this article, we'll be getting a lot more specific about a particular task unique to winter beekeeping.

Beekeepers would, ideally, like to be able to winter our bees without supplemental feeding. Bees, after all, have been getting through winter far longer than humans have been managing bees. Bees, planning ahead, store honey and pollen specifically for this purpose. These days, with winter losses frequently hitting 30-40% of colonies dying each year, many of us are turning to feeding as a way of increasing our chances of getting to spring with live bees. Where Old Man Winter can keep temperatures down in the 20s (F) or below for extended periods of time, it's nice to have a way to get supplemental feeding to your bees without dealing with liquid syrup feeders. Liquid feeders, especially in cold temperatures, can potentially do harm by chilling your bees, which is clearly not what you set out to do when you decided to feed them.

Keeping bees in the Denver metropolitan area calls for 70 to 90 pounds of honey and pollen per colony to get through winter. In this case, we are defining winter as the time from the beginning of October to the beginning of April. I make sure that my harvest, if any, leaves adequate stores of natural food for my girls. However, I have had the unfortunate experience of opening a colony in spring to find all the girls head down, butts in the air, dead. This was despite the fact that there were adequate stores of honey in the next frame over. This experience has sensitized me to want an insurance policy. I call this insurance “bee candy.”

I've tried syrup feeding in the fall, but found that to be too labor intensive, standing by the stove nearly every night to ensure all the feeder jars are topped off early the next day. I found that this ritual had to be repeated for several weeks to get adequate stores prepared. I also didn't like this solution because I was always vulnerable to a mason jar full of syrup freezing and breaking, giving me a mess and leaving the bees high and dry.

“Bee candy” is a nice dry solution that I can use in the coldest part of winter.  I hope the bees won't need it, but it feels good introducing that bit of insurance that helps me sleep better. I originally got the idea of hard candy for bees from Mel Disselkoen's website www.mdasplitter.com. Then, not knowing what I was doing, I got my first candy cooking lesson from my friend and local beekeeper, Denise O'Connor. Since that time, I've become bold and modified the recipe to the point that I'm very pleased with it. I'm hoping you will find it beneficial too.

Note: One pound of sugar is about equal to 2 cups of sugar. So, for this recipe, I found it convenient to use a 4 pound bag of sugar. First batch you must scoop out the 4 cups (2 pounds); next batch you can just dump in the remainder of the bag.


Recipe and Advice:
  • 4 cups pure cane sugar (don't use GMO from beets and such)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon vinegar
  • 1/4 cup glucose (this keeps the candy a little soft). I find my glucose at Hobby Lobby in the cake decoration section; a one-cup container (look for purple label) makes four batches.

    Note: Do not use high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as a glucose substitute. When heated, HFCS creates the compound hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF). HMF is toxic to bees. It does not take much heat, as a dramatic increase in HMF occurs at 120°F.

  • 1/2 cup MegaBee for protein

Options:  As a water substitute, you can make chamomile tea (two tea bags) with 1 teaspoon "Honey B Healthy" and 1/2 teaspoon of natural sea salt with minerals (typically not pure white in color) per quart. Using this water substitute will cause the candy to bubble up a bit more than it otherwise would. Just turn the heat down a bit until the bubble-up stops (this happens as the liquid starts to look clear) and then turn the heat back up.

Tools you need:

  • 4-quart pan
  • Whisk

  • Butter knife

  • Spoon

  • Spatula

  • Measuring spoons
  • 
Measuring cups

  • Hot pads

  • Wax paper

  • Candy thermometer

Steps:
  • Boil sugar, water, vinegar, and glucose to 234°F (soft ball), stirring with a whisk.
  • Remove from heat and QUICKLY whisk in 1/2 cup MegaBee (powder), which turns the candy brown. At this point, your candy is starting to harden, and if you dilly dally, it will be too hard to spread before you know it. You have less than one minute. Try to get the MegaBee mixed in 15 seconds if you can.
  • Spread on wax paper using a form if you wish. See the pictures.

Warning: The following 2 paragraphs contain a lot of vocabulary that may be unfamiliar to folks not keeping bees. I have chosen not to define all these terms in this article. Still, I think you will get the idea if you spend some time looking at the pictures.

In the case of a Langstroth hive, I put the candy brick directly onto the queen excluder, which is directly above the brood area. I have a special little “super” that will essentially fit the candy brick with some bee space around the candy. The inner cover goes directly on top of this little super, and the telescoping cover goes over that as usual. (See picture.) This works out really nice because the heat and moisture from the cluster rises and hits the hard candy, making it just a little bit softer and just right for a bee to take a bite.

In the case of a top-bar hive (TBH), I put the candy brick in the hive opposite the brood nest end. I have to break the candy brick in half to get it to fit. In my TBH, the brood nest is at one end, near the front door. Then there's all the honey expanding toward the other end. I've saved some room at the far other end using a divider board in the TBH. When winter candy time comes around, I move the divider board closer to the opposite end, giving me some space for the candy brick. Break it in half and put it in there. They will find it if they need it. Special thanks to Marci Heiser for providing the photo of the top-bar hive. 


This first picture shows me watching the candy thermometer. I noticed that it rises, then pauses, then rises rapidly to the desired temperature. Don't let that pause fake you into looking away. You have to hit 234°F exactly.


Here's what the candy looks like boiling. Notice the bee tea on the back burner.


Here's my form with wax paper ready to receive the hot candy. It forms a brick about 10.5” x 7” x 1”. Heads up: If you let it get too hard in the form, then it can be quite difficult to get out. If you pull it out while it is still a little warm and soft, then it comes out very easily. Special thanks to David Braden for designing and making these forms for me.


Here's my “little super” sitting on a queen excluder as an illustration of how to load the candy for my fellow beekeepers. Special thanks to David Braden for designing and making these supers for me.


Here's a shot of loading the form with candy. Notice the candy is brown from the MegaBee. Also notice that the form doesn't quite fill up. I usually make 2 bricks for a Langstroth hive and one brick for a top-bar hive.


In this shot you can see a brick cooling in the foreground. It gives you a sense of the dimensions of a completed brick.


Here's a picture of a top-bar with space saved to the left for candy when the time comes for Winter feeding. The brood nest is to the far right.


This is a picture of Mel opening up a hive in spring that has been fed bee candy. Mel's candy doesn't look exactly like mine (it's white), however, this gives you a good idea of what you want to see after the girls have been feeding on the candy.

Thanks to Eileen Callaway for providing the pictures of the bee-candy-making event, and thanks to Mel Disselkoen for providing the picture of the bee-candy residue left in spring after the girls have been enjoying it.


Don Studinski is a long time PeakProsperity.com member and supporter of the Martenson Brigade.  He is keeping bees in the Denver Metropolitan area, currently in Broomfield and Golden, but expanding all the time. His focus is on expanding the bee population; more so than producing honey.
 


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21 Comments

Tycer's picture
Tycer
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Posts: 556
 Excellent. I'll give it a

Excellent. I'll give it a try. My girls got robbed this fall.

Damnthematrix's picture
Damnthematrix
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Posts: 3998
meanwhile, downunder.....

Wow......  beekeeping in Australia is sooo different.  We never feed our bees, and frankly, if I had to go through all that rigmeroll every winter, I think I'd give it away.

Having said that, we have lost two hives to Small Hive Beetle this past month, total slimeouts, and we nearly lost another which we thankfully saved just in time and is now doing well again.

Keeping bees is more work than I expected, but I draw the line at slavery!

Mike

robie robinson's picture
robie robinson
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any idea on

whether the russians are as succeptible to CCD as the italians? robie

dps's picture
dps
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Posts: 442
any idea on

Robie,

I don't have any knowledge about CCD affecting different types of bees differently.  I've spent most of today reading about CCD because I'm working on an article about that topic.  Nothing I saw makes any distinction about bee breed.  Based on that, I would expect Russians to experience the same 30% to 40% losses each winter as all bees.

Best wishes ... dons

robie robinson's picture
robie robinson
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Posts: 623
spring requeening

is not too far off. queens are to be chosen, might requeen two hives with russians,certainly a less commercial breed and therefore not reported on CCD results, the otheerr two stick with italians, in so much debt i'm sure they'll cost more.  robie

aufrance's picture
aufrance
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Posts: 26
Delightful

Thanks for your delightful and detailed post!

We have a neighbor who puts a brick of bee candy in her traditional hives. My husband has been feeding using an inverted Mason jar with water/sugar.

This year we also covered our bee box wtih 1" foam insulation and astro foil bubble wrap on top of that, to help those little guys keep warm. There are some professional beekeepers who live down the street & said they have their hives out in Dayton, Nevada but move all of thm to warmer climes in California during the winter, but ours are hanging in there in the back acre this year.

And, we DID get honey this year, yippee. It made nice Christmas gifts - cut up the comb with honey on it into 6" x 3" sort of bars, and put it in tall skinny glass jars, with a ribbon on top.

For anybody pondering beekeeping, I recommend it! We now have 3 households in our edge-of-town urban neighborhood who are into it.

And, the security camera and light are still out there doing surveillance on ours, in case the bear comes back. I've posted this video link before but just in case you haven't seen (it's cute) <A href="http://youtu.be/PQO8n7C-8-I">BEAR VS ELECTRIC FENCE SECURITY SYSTEM AND PERSONALSECURITYZONE</A> 

<A href="http://personalsecurityzone.com/how-to-buy-security-camera.htm">More About Tom The Beekeeper and Security Cameras</A>

Enjoy!

Mary Kay at Personalsecurityzone.com

yoshhash's picture
yoshhash
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Posts: 271
great stuff Dons!  I'm

great stuff Dons!  I'm going to try it this summer!

Ruhh's picture
Ruhh
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Posts: 259
Top Feeders

My bees are north of Ottawa and the past few days have been between -20 C and today is -24 C. This comes timely as I worry about my girls. I know one of my hives are weak and don't really know if there is much I can do about it at this point.  Is there any reason to also give them candy if I'm pretty sure they have enough feed already?

Regarding Feeders: Up here, using mason jar boardman feeders is way too much work for fall feeding. I used top feeders (like this) for mine this year and only had to fill it once a week three times until they stopped taking it.

There is debate that fall honey from goldenrod crystalizes at low temperatures and that the bees have to spend too much energy to convert it back. One of my mentors takes out as much honey as he can and feeds them 2-1 syrop. Another said they just make sure they leave enough honey for them to keep it natural. I decided to go about half way. I also gave them a bit of protein patties since this is our first year.

aufrance's picture
aufrance
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To Top Feeders

It sounds good that you left enough honey in there so they can eat their own honey that they saved up. We left in over half but half should do it.

(Then they won't get too bummed out either, like I was when a ton of our savings got taken by the financial predators in the crash! Ha! Anyway, I do think about how saving money is like the bees saving up their honey, so we left them most of their own honey to eat over the winter, in addition to feeding them with the sugar water to help them. That's the meaning of "husband" and mine is a good one to me and his bees.)

:-)

You can lose them late in the winter, due to cold, which is what happened to ours. Last winter, the bear attack really made them weak with a lot less bees in the colony, and then we had a cold snap in the spring that did them in. It is extremely sad to look into your hive and see them all dead, so that is why we put the insulation around their boxes this year.

So, when spring arrives, you will feel as if you did the most you could, if you try the insulation on your boxes up there in Canada. Just go to the builder's store to get it. You can lookup astro foil to learn the physics of why it works.

Lots of folks at the beekeepers club here in the mountains near Lake Tahoe say the insulation is the only way to save your bees from the cold.

Best wishes!!!

Mary Kay at PersonalSecurityZone.com

Ruhh's picture
Ruhh
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Posts: 259
We definitely have to

We definitely have to insulate up here. I don't think they would stand a chance without it.

dps's picture
dps
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Posts: 442
Top Feeders

Ruhh wrote:

My bees are north of Ottawa and the past few days have been between -20 C and today is -24 C. This comes timely as I worry about my girls. I know one of my hives are weak and don't really know if there is much I can do about it at this point.  Is there any reason to also give them candy if I'm pretty sure they have enough feed already?

Only from the perspective of "insurance" ... honey and pollen is better for them than candy.  I like the candy also because I can put it directly above the brood / cluster.  If the girls can't make it "around a corner" to the next frame of honey, they maybe be able to make it "up" to the candy and back.  This is theory not fact.  It's not like I can be in there watching what they do.

Ruhh wrote:

Regarding Feeders: Up here, using mason jar boardman feeders is way too much work for fall feeding. I used top feeders (like this) for mine this year and only had to fill it once a week three times until they stopped taking it.

There is debate that fall honey from goldenrod crystalizes at low temperatures and that the bees have to spend too much energy to convert it back. One of my mentors takes out as much honey as he can and feeds them 2-1 syrop. Another said they just make sure they leave enough honey for them to keep it natural. I decided to go about half way. I also gave them a bit of protein patties since this is our first year.

Taking out the honey and feeding them syrup is removing "food" and giving them "carbs" which provide energy, but no nutrition.  I generally prefer to trust nature to "know better" than me.  The system is way more complex than I will ever understand.  The bees store honey and pollen to get themselves through winter ... I would trust that these are the foods they need. 

With your temperatures, a little "insurance" above might be nice, but you would have to wait for a warm day to open them up.  Further, if you are sure they already have enough honey and pollen, then keep in mind that opening them up breaks the propolis seal which they may not have time to reseal before the weather turns cold again.  This can leave them drafty which you would prefer not to do.  In the end, you have to use your best judgement and hope for the best.

good luck!   ... dons

dps's picture
dps
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yoshhash wrote: great stuff

yoshhash wrote:

great stuff Dons!  I'm going to try it this summer!

Awesome.  I hope you enjoy it.  ... dons

FickleCat's picture
FickleCat
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Posts: 6
Great article!

Hi don,
Congrats on the sweeeet (no pun intended) placement of your very informative article. We enjoy your honey and hope to buy more soon!

Your friends,
Margaret and Dave

M.E.'s picture
M.E.
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Posts: 81
 I feed the bees their own

I feed the bees their own honey in the winter.  Take the outer and inner covers off and add an empty medium super.  Fill a pint sized, glass canning jar with honey.  Get a white plastic cover for the jar (boxes of 10 are sold right next to the canning equipment in most stores) and drill 2 tiny holes in it.  Put the upside down jar directly onto the frames where the bees are.  Line up the holes so that they are between 2 frames and right above the bees.  

The holes should be small enough so that the honey doesn't drip out on its own.  I wasted a couple covers getting the correct hole size but now they are part of my bee equipment and I use them every year.

I put this jar of honey in their hive regardless of how much honey is in the hive.  If the bees need it, they eat it.  If not, they fill the holes with propolis  and I put the jar back in my cupboard in April.

Full Moon's picture
Full Moon
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Posts: 1258
bee looser

Thank you so much for this article .    So far I find myself as a bee looser instead of a bee keeper  .      They up and run away from home every couple of years .    They are close around and come back to polinate the trees/garden  but I miss the honey .    

I intend to try one more time because I have the equipment .  Otherwise giving up and selling the stuff and buying from the neighbor .

FM

dps's picture
dps
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Posts: 442
I feed the bees their own

M.E. wrote:

I feed the bees their own honey in the winter.  Take the outer and inner covers off and add an empty medium super.  Fill a pint sized, glass canning jar with honey.  Get a white plastic cover for the jar (boxes of 10 are sold right next to the canning equipment in most stores) and drill 2 tiny holes in it.  Put the upside down jar directly onto the frames where the bees are.  Line up the holes so that they are between 2 frames and right above the bees.  

Feeding bees their own honey is a great idea.  It avoids a host of problems that can be introduced otherwise.  Keep in mind, honey covers the need for carbohydrates, but the bees also need protein.

Best wishes ... dons

dps's picture
dps
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Posts: 442
bee looser

Full Moon wrote:

Thank you so much for this article .    So far I find myself as a bee looser instead of a bee keeper  .      They up and run away from home every couple of years .    They are close around and come back to polinate the trees/garden  but I miss the honey .    

I intend to try one more time because I have the equipment .  Otherwise giving up and selling the stuff and buying from the neighbor .

FM

Hi FM,

I wonder if you are seeing colony collapse disorder.  Leaving you every couple of years might be CCD or it might be normal.  Is it a Spring thing where they are swarming and not leaving enough bees behind to continue the colony?  I will gladly try and help you figure out what's up.  Write me a personal message on the site if you want to connect. 

Good luck ... dons

apismellifera's picture
apismellifera
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Posts: 44
First hive check of the winter today

It was in the high forties today. Not quite ideal, but the bulk of my hives are well sheltered and I decided to risk doing my first check of the winter this afternoon.   Because of the hot, dry summer and a crazy wet fall, my hives did not go into winter with as much food  as I like-- I removed only a single frame of honey all year, leaving the rest for the girls.  (And even that was not for me-- I stuck it into my freezer for later use as emergency food or a spring boost.) I fed quite a bit of syrup in the fall, too. 

I was pleasantly surprised-- all hives still alive, and even got a few stings, which helps my arthritic shoulder quite noticeably.  But most were definitely very light on stores.  So I tried a new (for me) feeding method today:

1) Place a single sheet of newspaper directly over the frames, on top of the cluster. 

2) Pour cane sugar all over the top of the paper, and then lightly mist the sugar just enough to let the bees recognize it as food.  Punch a few slashes into the paper to allow easier access.

3) Replace inner and outer covers.  Done. (Took maybe two minutes per hive, if that).

I would have tried your recipe, dons, but had a devil of a time locating glucose locally, and I figured some simple carbohydrates were called for ASAP.  I am cautiously hopeful for decent survival this winter.  Will need to check back on the next warm day to see how they've taken to the sugar, and definitely need to feed again. 

dps's picture
dps
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Posts: 442
apismellifera wrote: It was

apismellifera wrote:

It was in the high forties today. Not quite ideal, but the bulk of my hives are well sheltered and I decided to risk doing my first check of the winter this afternoon.   Because of the hot, dry summer and a crazy wet fall, my hives did not go into winter with as much food  as I like-- I removed only a single frame of honey all year, leaving the rest for the girls.  (And even that was not for me-- I stuck it into my freezer for later use as emergency food or a spring boost.) I fed quite a bit of syrup in the fall, too. 

I was pleasantly surprised-- all hives still alive, and even got a few stings, which helps my arthritic shoulder quite noticeably.  But most were definitely very light on stores.  So I tried a new (for me) feeding method today:

1) Place a single sheet of newspaper directly over the frames, on top of the cluster. 

2) Pour cane sugar all over the top of the paper, and then lightly mist the sugar just enough to let the bees recognize it as food.  Punch a few slashes into the paper to allow easier access.

3) Replace inner and outer covers.  Done. (Took maybe two minutes per hive, if that).

I would have tried your recipe, dons, but had a devil of a time locating glucose locally, and I figured some simple carbohydrates were called for ASAP.  I am cautiously hopeful for decent survival this winter.  Will need to check back on the next warm day to see how they've taken to the sugar, and definitely need to feed again. 

I too have live bees as of last check, 1/30/2012, all 4 colonies.  Didn't look inside, but activity at the front door.

I anticipate first inspection on or about 3/11.  I hope to post pictures after that.

I'll post the statistics about this winter's losses when I see them.

I wrote this article about CCD:

http://www.organiclandscapedesign.org/content/honeybee-colonies-continue...

which is generating some excitement in the beekeeping community.

Pesticide Action Network is having me rewrite it for their site.

University of Puerto Rico is translating it into Spanish for their site.

Organic View radio is having me on to do an interview on 3/13 at 2pm for one hour.

Please let me know if you find the article valuable.  Thanks ... dons

CastIronHoneybees's picture
CastIronHoneybees
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glucose vs corn syrup

I went to my local hobby lobby to purchase the glucose.  I bought it.  Only when I read the ingredients it states that the only ingredient is high fructose corn syrup.  How is purchasing glucose different than purchasing normal corn syrup? 

CastIronHoneybees's picture
CastIronHoneybees
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I am asking my question

I am asking my question seriously, not as a joke.  I love my bees and I want to take care of them properly.  I am concerned that perhaps I have purchased the wrong thing?

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