THE FOLLOWING WAS UPDATED ON DECEMBER 16, 2013.
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.