These days I use sugar bricks to feed my bees in the winter and here’s a quick 2-minute video that demonstrates how I do it.
I’ve always added a small drip of anise extract to my sugar syrup.But today I used anise oil instead — an “essential oil,” I assume. I meant to add only a drop or two, but more than a few drops fell from the bottle when I tipped it. I got some of it on my hands, subsequently rubbed it into my shirt, and I eventually put the bottle in my garage — with the garage door open. Holy mackerel, what a difference between anise extract and anise oil.
I’ve never seen the bees go so completely insane over an aroma. Every drop of syrup I spilled on the ground while I was filling the feeders attracted a mini-cluster of bees. I had bees following me around persistently, attracted by the anise. And the tiny bottle of anise oil that I left in my garage attracted about 20 or so bees. I went into the garage to get something about an hour later and the place sounded like the inside of a bee hive with bees bouncing off the windows trying to get out. And they were still coming through the door when I got there. The stick I used to stir the syrup mixture was left in my little outdoor bee shed, and that was full of bees too.
I’ve never had anything like that happen when I used anise extract. The next time I use highly concentrated anise oil, I’ll be careful to use only a single drop of it and then put it away in the house where the bees can’t smell it.
Here’s a demonstration of my quick and easy method of mixing sugar syrup for honey bees. I’m posting it because I keep hearing from people who do things like boil up a syrup mixture on their stove tops at home. Heated syrup kills microbes and other baddies, but I don’t think that’s necessary for backyard beekeepers with a small number of hives.
I don’t measure anything. I fill a bucket about half way with white granulated sugar (not raw sugar or anything with a high ash content). I add a drop or two of anise extract to get the bees interested in the syrup. (It’s important to note the difference between anise extract and anise oil.) I add water from a garden house until the bucket is almost full. Then I mix it with a stick for about five minutes until the sugar is dissolved.
The result is a thin syrup that works for spring feedings. I add more sugar if I want to make a thick syrup for fall feedings. How can I tell when it’s a thick syrup? Because it’s thick. Thin syrup (1 part sugar, 1 part water) more or less has the consistency of water. Thick syrup (2 parts sugar, 1 part water) takes on a goopey appearance. It sounds goopey.
I know that doesn’t seem very precise, but I don’t think a precise syrup mixture matters much to the bees.
Sometimes I add about a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to help prevent the syrup from going mouldy, though I can count on one hand how many times I’ve bothered with that. Sometimes I put the syrup aside for a day or two so any left over sugar is more likely to dissolve, but even if some undissolved sugar settles to the bottom of the bucket, is that a problem? I don’t think so. Sometimes the temperature of the water in the hose is warm from being in the sun, though most of the time it’s cold and that works out okay too. While I understand the reason for boiling up sugar syrup and using precise weights and measures in the recipe, and I respect that, I’m just putting it out there that nothing really bad happens when the process is simplified by dumping sugar and water in a bucket and mixing it with a stick.
Most new beekeepers on the island of Newfoundland (and many other places on the planet) will start up their first colonies with what is often referred to as a nuc, or a nucleus colony, or a starter hive that contains a laying queen, at least one frame of brood, a frame or two of pollen and honey, and usually a blank or empty frame to give the worker bees something to work on while they’re stuck in a 4-frame nuc box for up to a week. The frames from the nuc are usually placed inside a single hive body (in Newfoundland, it’s usually a deep) with empty frames to fill in the rest of the box. A feeder of some sort is installed. And that’s it. The following 24-minute video demonstrates the entire process.
I’ll post a condensed version of this video at a later date if I can, but for now it’s probably more helpful to show how it plays out in real time (more or less) so that anyone new to all this, or anyone thinking about starting up a few honey bee colonies next year, will have a realistic idea of what to expect when it comes time to install their first nuc. I plan to post follow-up videos to track the progress of this colony right into next spring, again so that anyone hoping to start up their own hives in the future will have a non-idealized take on what to expect.
It was well over 30°C (86°F) by the time I finished installing all of my nucs. The sweat was pouring off my face and stinging my eyes. Expect that too.
SHORT VERSION: Dry sugar feeding may be more likely to work when the sugar is given a little spritz.
LONGER VERSION: I know many beekeepers who prefer feeding their bees in the winter by pouring dry sugar over the top bars because it’s quick and easy and it works. I know other beekeepers who don’t use dry sugar because the bees, instead of eating the sugar, remove it from the hive like they would with any kind of debris.
But here’s the key to the dry sugar method: THE SUGAR NEEDS TO HARDEN. It probably doesn’t absolutely need to harden. I’ve seen starving bees consume every granule of sugar within a day. Beggars can’t be choosers. But when the bees aren’t starving and the sugar is loose and crumbly, they sometimes remove it from the hive like tossing out the garbage. Anyway…
July 2019 Introduction: I use these sugar bricks to feed my bees in the winter now. The dry sugar (or Mountain Camp) method is too messy for me. Slipping a brick in under the top cover is much quicker and easier.
I use dry sugar poured over newspaper and over the top bars in my hives to feed my bees in the winter, not that they always need sugar to stay alive, but as a precaution, the sugar goes in. Sometimes the bees can’t get enough of that delectable white sugar and will eat through it quickly. That’s when I like to add more sugar, again, just as a precaution. Adding newspaper and more sugar on top can get a little tricky, especially if the bees are crowding over the top bars. If I was smart, I would have poured as much sugar as humanly possible into the hive when I first did it so as to avoid opening the hive later in the winter to add more sugar. But I’m not often that smart and so it goes. Pouring more dry sugar in isn’t a gong show, but slipping in hard bricks of sugar has the potential to be much easier. And because I always practice what I preach, here’s a video of my first attempt at making sugar bricks for my honey bees.
I added some frame feeders to two nucs today but couldn’t find my anise extract to add to the syrup as an attractant. So…
…I used absinthe instead. Hopefully there’s nothing harmful it in that might hurt the bees.
My previous video, Refilling a Frame Feeder, shows exactly how I use my frame feeders.
June 2019 Postscript: I got away with it once, but I wouldn’t do this again because I heard from a beekeeper in central Europe that some beekeepers in his area will feed their bees alcohol to encourage the bees to rob from nearby hives. It’s a shady move — a desperation move to save colonies that are low on resources. The bees suck down some alcoholic brew made with hard liquor, they get drunk and go on a robbing rampage. No kidding.