It’s December 2018 as I revisit this post from 2011. I’ve deleted the entire post except for the original video and a few photos. Here’s the video and then I’ll tell you what happened.
That is an excellent video, by the way. It’s an accurate record of what a starving colony tends to look like with all the bees clustering over the top bars. Anyhow…
I bought pre-made pollen patties from Beemaid and added them to the hives. (Today I would just get the pollen patties or pollen powder locally from Gerard Smith and I would add a rim, also called a spacer or an eke, to make room for the pollen patties.) Here’s a photo of a pollen patty being added to a very hungry colony. Crazy. Just look at all those bees.
Both of my hives were packed with bees, but the colonies were low on honey. I think they were low on honey because half the frames were foundationless. Foundationless frames require more syrup or honey for the bees to build them out. My foundationless frames also resulted in a large number of drones being produced by the queen, and those drones may have done nothing but eat lots of honey. Maybe that’s happened. Another reason for the bees running low on honey is that I didn’t feed them enough. I used pitiful entrance feeders when I first got the bees, and the bees just can’t take down the syrup quickly through those feeders. I should have been using frame feeders or some kind of hive top feeder from the start. Either way, the bees were starving, so I gave them candy cakes too (they didn’t really need the pollen).
I’ve deleted all the posts about making candy cakes because I don’t like candy cakes. Here’s a photo of what’s involved in making candy cakes — boiling up a thick sugary paste and allowing it to set into hard candy:
Making hard candy for the bees is messy and time-consuming and heating the sugar produces hydroxymethylfurfural, which isn’t good for honey bees. I did it once. I’ll never do it again. That being said, my bees needed sugar a lot more than they needed pollen. So I gave them candy cakes three weeks earlier and I’m pretty sure it saved them. Today I would probably use sugar bricks instead.
This is what happens when you don’t feed your bees enough in the summer and fall. I would lose one of my winter colonies a couple years later (the first time I lost a colony, and it hurt) when I briefly and stupidly embraced an all-natural approach by giving my bees only honey, like sugar syrup was some kind of evil.
In any case, when I look back on my first year of beekeeping, I think I did exceptionally well overall, except for this part. I should have used feeders that allowed my bees to take down more syrup in the summer and the fall and I should have played it safe from the start and dumped in loads of dry sugar or sugar bricks as soon as the weather turned cold in November or December. Better safe than sorry.
It’s much easier to build up nucs into strong colonies when you already have some established colonies that you can steal brood, honey and drawn comb from. But that first year when you’ve got nothing, you have to pound that sugar syrup into the bees as much as possible. It’s crazy when I think about it, how a typical nuc in Newfoundland doesn’t arrive until mid-July and it has only two frames of brood (if you’re lucky), and from that have about two months to build it up into a full 20-frame colony with 10-12 frames of solid honey to get them through the winter? Good luck. There’s not much room for error in that situation.
As always thanks for sharing.
The population count looks good. My partially educated, unexperienced 2cents worth is if they are eating the cakes their honey stores must be low and checking my copy of “The Hive and the Honey Bee” published by Dadant Publication it seems from now until enough forage is available regular feeding may be required. This really is a great book if you can get your hands on a copy…. got ours from the local library surplus book sale!
Having said all that, with them all milling about on top they must be warm enough. As far as I know snow is a good insulator and with a good seal from wind maybe their enjoying a balmy winter!
From what I’ve read, too, when the bees are high up like that, it usually means they’re low on honey. There may be other causes, but being low on honey is usually #1 on the list. Just about every frame was packed with honey the last time I checked in September, so it’s seems odd. But everything is odd to at this point because it’s all new and, even with all my reading, often confusing.
I’ll continue to feed the bees candy cakes while snow is still on the ground. Then I’ll switch to syrup until I see them bringing in pollen, most likely from Dandelions. Then they’re on their own for the rest of the year.
My concern from putting in the pollen patty and the one cake is squishing the bees when I put the inner cover back on. They were holding on thick to the inner cover, so when I put the cover back, I probably flattened a nice clump of bees against the newly placed patty. I was too concerned with getting in and out as quick and I could, and forgot to consider to the potential squishing.
I may have to use smoke if the bees are as thick on top when I add more cakes or patties sometime in March. We prefer to avoid the smoke when we can, but the smoke does drive them down into the hive where they can’t get squished at least.
I just hope I didn’t squish the queen.
I just made some significant updates to this post. I will likely update it over the next while as more info comes in.
I always use a two-inch spacer rim to accommodate sugar cakes, pollen patties, grease patties–whatever you’ve got–otherwise you will definitely squish bees.
Yup. I gotta get myself a spacer. My insulated inner hive covers have quite a bit of space under them, but with what looks like the whole colony hanging around up there, it got a little thicker than I anticipated.
I’ve sent photos of the bees to some cold-climate beekeepers and I’ve been getting some really great feedback. All kinds of good info… which I’ll load up with my next post. In March.
I live in CT and we’re coming out of a cld snap. Very mild up until last 2 weeks. Getting ready to add a pollen patty.