A little backyard beekeeping on the island of Newfoundland
Category Archives: Sugar Cakes & Bricks
Mix 12 parts granulated sugar with 1 part water until the mixture is like wet sand. Add to paper plates or desired containers and let harden in oven overnight (or longer) with just the light on. Place over top bars for emergency winter feeding. A rim to make room for the sugar bricks or sugar cakes doesn’t hurt.
I’ve got another shot of archived cell phone footage, this time from January 2018, most of it showing how I feed sugar bricks and crystallised honey to my bees in the winter. It’s only 3 minutes long.
What else can I say about this video? It was recorded at a time when I only had one hive because I was still recovering from a concussion injury and one hive was better than ten. The hive isn’t wrapped. The bottom entrance has 6mm / quarter-inch mesh on the bottom to keep shrews out. There’s a 2 or 3 inch rim on top to make room for sugar bricks, and on top of that is a moisture quilt, which is basically a ventilation rim with screen stapled to the bottom and half filled with wood chips.
I’ve written about making and feeding my bees sugar cakes before. I think I stole this idea from Honey Bee Suite, like I do many things, though I don’t do anything exactly the way anyone else does it. The basic recipe is 12 parts sugar mixed with 1 part water.
There’s a formula for mixing it more precisely depending on sea level and atmospheric pressure, but I don’t worry about any of that. If it’s too wet, I add more sugar or just give the cakes (or bricks) more time to dry. The only thing I do that might be considered innovative is add honey to the water to make the sugar more attractive to the bees, the logic being that if the sugar smells like food (honey), the bees will be less likely to toss it out the front door like they often do with dirt and debris. That’s my big secret to making sugar cakes: make it smell like honey. Or drop in a bit of anise or lemon grass oil, something to attract to the bees to the sugar. Mind. Blown. I know.
I usually add just-in-case sugar above the top bars in my hives around early November. By that time — in my local climate — it’s usually so cold that the bees move to the bottom of the hive beneath their honey stores (and then gradually eat their way towards the top of the hive throughout the winter), which makes it easy for me to put the sugar in without bothering them. But that didn’t happen so much this year because November has been unusually warm. Only in the past few days have I noticed the bees, at least in some of the hives, clustering below the top bars. So I decided to add some sugar bricks today…
About 1.3 kg (or 3 pounds) of a sugar cake added to this hive today. (Nov. 30, 2016.) I’ll probably add more later when I find the time. These bees were breaking through the top bars were so cold, it was easy to slide the sugar in without bothering too much.
Despite following the Mountain Camp method of dry sugar feeding in the winter more or less since I started beekeeping, I don’t do it anymore. I’ve switched to easy-to-make and easy-to-add sugar cakes.
Bottom side of a sugar cake eaten away by the bees. (April 17, 2016.)
I don’t use dry sugar anymore because the bees tend to remove it from the hive if they’re not hungry enough to eat it. Spraying the sugar down with water so it hardens helps to prevent this, but if the weather is still warm enough so that the bees are flying around, they’ll do what active bees like to do: clean house. Whatever grains of sugar are not hardened together will often get tossed out of the hive. I used to add dry sugar sometime in November after the temperatures took a serious dip — when the bees were clustered below the top bars, not actively flying around in house-cleaning mode. Overall, the discarded sugar wasn’t a huge problem. If the bees were hungry, they ate the sugar regardless of the weather. But still, sometimes it seemed like a waste of sugar. Continue reading →
I removed all the emergency winter sugar from my hives today. Some of the sugar was in the form of sugar bricks or sugar cakes and I wasn’t sure if the bees were eating it or clearing it out like they sometimes do with dry sugar.
Top of a sugar cake. (April 17, 2016.)
Well, turns out they were eating it.
Bottom side of a sugar cake eaten away by the bees. (April 17, 2016.)
The undersides of all the bricks and cakes were eaten away by the bees, and I didn’t find any sugar on the bottom board of the hives. In other words, the bees ate it; they didn’t discard it.
As much as dry sugar feeding has served me well, I might switch completely to sugar bricks next winter. The bees seem to either leave the sugar bricks alone or eat them, and I find it easier to clean up in the spring than the newspaper left behind with the dry sugar method. Just my thinking at the moment.
SHORT VERSION: Dry sugar feeding may be more likely to work when the sugar is given a little spritz.
Bees chowing down on dry sugar. (Jan. 08, 2012.)
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… Continue reading →
To finalize The Sugar Bricks Quadrilogy, I present Episode IV: A New Hope:
Episode I: I mixed 12 parts sugar with 1 part water and let it harden in a deep dish tin pan.
Episode II: I came back about a day later and dumped out the dried sugar bricks.
Episode III: I slipped the sugar bricks into a few of my hives.
Episode IV: I demonstrate how the same process can be used to make easier-to-slip-in sugar cakes using small paper plates as a mold. Then I add some sugar cakes to a couple of hives. Conclusion: It works.
If I discovered starving bees crowded over the top bars in any of my hives, I would definitely choose this method instead of pouring dry sugar over the top bars. I’ll still dump dry sugar over the top bars in the early winter while the bees are down in the hives and out of my way, but these no-cook sugar bricks and sugar cakes seem ideal for adding sugar once the bees have risen up and are getting in my face.
No-cook sugar cakes drying in the oven (with only the light on). Feb. 27, 2016.
For me, the key to feeding bees emergency sugar in winter is to put the sugar in long before the bees need it (I do it in late November). It can be a gong show once the bees are hungry and clustering above the top bars, in which case these sugar bricks are pretty convenient.
I mixed the sugar bricks in Episode I and popped them out of the pan in Episode II. Now it’s time to slip them into the hives. There’s not much to see, but here it is:
If I do this again, I’ll make the bricks larger. Dry sugar on newspaper over the top bars is still my favourite method of feeding the bees in winter because a large amount of sugar dumped in all at once will keep the bees alive until spring and I won’t have to mess with them again. But I definitely appreciate the convenience of being able to slip the no-cook sugar bricks into the hives as a stopgap measure.
UPDATE (24 hours later): Well, the bees in at least one of the hives are eating the sugar brick.
Honey bees eating a sugar brick. (Feb. 14, 2016.)
March 2nd, 2016: I use this same method to make sugar cakes in the Episode IV.
July 2019 Postscript: I said, “Dry sugar on newspaper over the top bars is still my favourite method of feeding the bees in winter,” but it’s not. I use sugar bricks exclusively these days because, for me, it’s much easier to slip in a brick than it is to open the hive and pour sugar in.
It looks like I’ve got a trilogy in the making because it’s too cold to slip these sugar bricks in my beehives today. In Episode I, 12 cups of refined granulated sugar were mixed with 1 cup of water and trowelled into a tin pan with my bare hands. The last we saw of our big wet bricks of sugar, they were sitting in an oven with only the light on. Ten hours later we return and open the oven to find…