Placing Candy Cakes in the Hives


Our two Langstroth hives seem heavy with honey, which means the bees should have plenty of food to get them through the winter. But this is our first winter of beekeeping and we’re not sure how heavy “heavy” should be. Furthermore, both of our honey bee colonies are clustering at the top of their hives, which can mean they’re running out of honey. I’m doubtful of that, but I’m also a generally paranoid novice beekeeper. So to play it safe, just to make sure they don’t starve to death before the spring, I decided to put some candy cakes in the hives. Welcome to Part 3 of The Candy Cake Trilogy: Placing Candy Cakes in the Hives. In Part 1 we introduced the recipe for our candy cakes (which also works for candy boards). Part 2 consisted of some photos and a video of us making the candy. And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for…


…and now let me tell you how the whole thing went down.

It was nuts — at least for the first few minutes. I did not see what I expected to see. Looking at the bees through the upper entrances for the past couple weeks (see Video of Winter Cluster), I thought I would see the upper edge of the cluster at the top of the frames, maybe about the size of my fist. Brother was I in for a surprise.


And that’s just Hive #2. The bees in Hive #1 were all over the top frames. They were so thick, they poured out to the edges of the brood box where many got squished when I put the insulated hive cover on over them. About 20 flew into my face and all over me as soon as I lifted up the inner cover (I’m glad I was wearing my veil).

I was planning to place a plastic queen excluder (photo) over the top frames to prevent the candy cakes from eventually falling through the frames. But that was impossible with so many bees on top. As seen from the first photo, I had to slide the candy cakes into the clustering bees from the corners. Laying the cakes flat over the bees would have been a massacre, especially in Hive #1.

The other change of plans, which I’d actually prepared for, was removing the inner cover and insulation and replacing them with of my insulated inner hive covers. Back in October, the insulated covers were a pain in the neck to build because my carpentry skills are sad and pathetic. I chose to use a simple piece of insulation over the inner cover in the winter position instead. (This kind of info might be a little beyond a general reader’s interest. I’ll be done in a second.) That was fine. But there wasn’t enough room underneath the inner cover, even in the winter position, to insert candy cakes. The design of the insulated inner covers, however, provides plenty of room. So I switched them out and I hope it works.

The temperature was 0°C (that’s 32° in Fahrenheit land) with an occasional gust of wind, but mostly still air. The bees in Hive #1 were feisty. They were crawling all over me within seconds. About a hundred seemed to die in less than a minute after leaving the hive, though I saw several flying around the backyard 30 minutes later. I didn’t look closely at the frames to check for honey, because I couldn’t see past the bees. Hive #2 was much better behaved. Only a few bees flew into my face and the rest were calm. Both hives were open for about 3 or 4 minutes. I was by myself and only had time to take two quick snapshots with my low-end camera. Here’s an uneventful but possibly instructive low-rez video of the whole affair:

Discovering so many bees clustering at the top of the frames this early in the winter could indicate the colonies are running out of honey. But who knows, it might be normal behaviour for our bees that have some Russian and Carniolan bred into them. From what reading I’ve done so far (mostly The Biology of the Honey Bee, by Mark L. Winston), my understanding of cold-climate honey bees tells me they behave differently than the common Italian honey bees. They shut down dramatically in the early fall and often survive the winters in small clusters consuming low amounts of honey. Clustering at the top of the hive might be normal January behaviour for cold-climate honey bees in Newfoundland. Who really knows? I’d prefer to leave the bees alone, but I can’t afford to lose a hive this early in the game. The candy cakes are my insurance.

At any rate, can anyone tell me how long those 4 pounds of candy cakes should last? I have no desire or any plans to pull the roof off the hives again until late February at the earliest. Pollen paddies near the end of February on a warm day. Spring feeding through inverted jar feeders or top hive feeders later in March. That’s it. I don’t even want to think about creating splits now.

P.S., I realize that candy cakes are usually called “sugar cakes.” Oh well. Too late to change it now.

DEC. 16/13: I only made candy cakes once because it’s just too messy, too time-consuming and too much work. I use the Mountain Camp Method for winter feeding now because it’s quicker and easier than any other method I’ve tried.

PHOTOS NOTE (OCTOBER 2015): The photos in this post may not display properly because they were uploaded through Google’s Picasa online photo album service, a service I no longer use because certain updates create more work for me instead of streamlining the process. I will eventually replace the photos with ones hosted on the Mud Songs server. This note will disappear when (or if) that happens.

17 thoughts on “Placing Candy Cakes in the Hives

  1. I’ve been checking our bees since I added the sugar cakes. Both hives are clustering much closer to the upper entrance now. I don’t need to shine a flash light in there to see them because they’re always packed right to the edge with one or two bees pretty much outside the hive.

    I’d say I lost at least 100 bees in Hive #1 when I popped the top off and they flew out. And I probably lost more inside the hive from exposing them to cold air for more than a minute. I’m concerned dead bees could be piling up inside the hive. My home made mouse-proof entrance reducers might not provide enough room to drag out the dead bees. I’ve thought about removing the reducers and clearing out the dead bees myself. I’m curious to see how many dead bees are piled up.

    The simple piece of insulation over my inner covers seemed to do the trick. I didn’t see any kind of moisture build up when I opened the hives. The newly-installed insulated inner hive covers will probably work just as well. My only concern now is moisture getting into the hive from outside. My winter wrap was originally wrapped with the inner cover and insulation in place, so it was a snug fit, and then the wrap folded well under the top cover. But now the top of the wrap is crinkled and bent in place where water might be able to drip down the sides of the hive — and hopefully not into the hive. I’ve been checking the hives every day and I guess they’re okay, but it’s hard to tell when I can’t actually see inside the hives. Water damage, such as water dripping down the frames, is apparently easy to spot in the spring. My first spring inspection should be interesting.

  2. I took some duck tape and placed around the top for the felt to reduce water and draft from getting in around the top.

    On the one occasion we had <-12°C temp at night I checked the top entrance to see how the girls were doing and it had frosted over. I just broke it away so there could be some circulation.

    Good the hear the foam is working out for you.

    • The top entrance frosted over? Wow. I’d go with a new set up for next winter.

      I might pull out the entrance reducers and dig out the dead bees if we get a warm day any time soon.

  3. Careful with thati It could cause them to swarm and drive them out of the hive after you. Then again they may all be up high enough that it may not be a problem.

  4. Great video.
    With the cluster being that high up and the end of winter still being so far off feeding was a good decision. It is a tough choice knowing whether to feed or not but in this case I would have done the same thing.
    I try to keep track of where the cluster is with a stethoscope and if I need to add sugar we do it before they get that high, but you never can say for sure until you open them up.
    We just did the same thing, only with dry sugar and before we had a nice enough day to add it the cluster was already on the top edge of the frames.

    • A stethoscope? I can see how that would work.

      I’ll probably try the Mountain Camp method eventually, though this time with our bees clustering so high, I don’t think it would have worked. Both hives were thick with bees, but in Hive #1 it looked like the whole colony was on top of the frames.

      I’m surprised our bees are clustering so high so early in the winter. I’m eager to see how much honey is left when I can do a full inspection in the spring. I’m just not convinced they’ve run out of honey.

  5. I agree with you Phil, but they may be to far up not to get at the honey in the bottom hive body. I’m glad I went with the 15 lb on the candy board.

    I have also noticed the last fews days the number of dead bees outside has jumped dramatically. Could be due to the extra amount of sun and no wind and the false sense of warmth. Or it could be suicidal bees.

    I plan to ahve another candy board feeder ready for March month when I get a chance to check the hive. 15 lb of sugar may not be much but it may be enough to get them to spring.

    • I’ll check mine again as soon as we have a warm day (if we have a warm day) and I’ll have the candy cakes ready if they need them. Might throw in pollen patties at some point if I can manage it.

      My hives are buried in snow now. They’re going to get hit harder tonight.

  6. I just checked the long range weather forecast. We can forget about getting any warm days in February. It might start to rise about freezing near the end of the month. But it’s going to be well below freezing until then.

    I hope those 4 candy cakes do the trick, because it doesn’t look like the bees will be getting anything else until March. At that time, I’ll definitely add a pollen patty to each hive, and more candy if necessary.

    Lots of snow out around my hives these days. I’ve been digging the snow out from around them (the lower entrances have been blocked with ice for a few weeks now), but I may not bother with that anyone unless the upper entrances are in danger of getting buried.

    Does the snow act as an insulator?

  7. Of course it does. But having the bottom entrance open allows for some natural air circulation that helps reduce moisture build up in the hive.

    • When I asked the A-Man about wintering, he said I shouldn’t have to worry so much about the bottom entrances as long as there’s ventilation on the top. I’m not sure I can pick away the ice on the bottom boards without disturbing the bees. I’ll see what I can do on a semi-warm day.

      We’ve had some light fresh snow over the past 24 hours. It’s interesting to see the dead bees scattered as little black dots on the white snow. I can see them from the house.

      I’m not worried, though. (Really.)

  8. It reminds me of someone taking a pepper shaker to an empty plate. Mainly clumpted in front of the hive but some scattered off to the side.

  9. I went out today and cleared the bottom entrances. It was easy to scrap away the ice with the hive tool. A few guard bees flew and died right away. That’s a good sign. You can see how much snow there is in the latest pics from this post:

    I wouldn’t mind getting a warm day so I can check on the candy cakes, but man, it is cold. I’ll try to post a video later today of all the snow.

  10. I just checked on the bees. They’re still alive. Blue sky, bright sun bouncing off the snow, not too cold. I looked inside each top entrance. We’ve had cold blowing wet snow for a while. The bees have been clustered down tighter, but they’re still walking around the top of the frames. This time with my flash light I could see the bees in each hive off to the side eating away at the candy cakes. So that’s good news. They’re not going to starve to death any time soon. I wonder if they somehow managed to eat most of their honey stores already. It’s hard to believe. Either way, it’s good to know they’re eating something.

    I was thinking of adding pollen patties and more candy cakes. But once I got out there I knew there was a bit too much wind. It may be 2°C, but the wind chill would kill too many bees if I pried off the roof to put pollen patties in. So it’ll have to wait for another day. Here’s what it looked like:

    From Hives in Snow

    The snow is about half way up each hive on all sides. I thought I’d clear away the bottom entrances, but the snow is actually frozen solid. Trying to clear it away would probably disturb the bees, so I passed on that.

    I saw a few bees like this in the snow:

    From Miscellaneous Beekeeping Pics

    I also saw a bee fly out of one hive and circle the yard. It probably froze to death before it could get back. That’s called taking one for the team.

  11. Responding to a Facebook comment: “have you ever picked them up out of the snow and watched them come back to life in the palm of your hand? it is magical.”

    The comment refers to my comment: “I also saw a bee fly out of one hive and circle the yard. It probably froze to death before it could get back. That’s called taking one for the team.”

    No, I’ve never done that, though I’ve heard about it. I’ll try it sometime and see if I can capture it on video.

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