These bees should be stronger by now. I plan to combine this weak colony with a strong colony in the spring as soon as I’m able.
These bees should be stronger by now. I plan to combine this weak colony with a strong colony in the spring as soon as I’m able.
What can I say? It cost about $3.00 to make a brick of sugar that has the potiential to save my bees if they run low on honey when I’m not around to save them. So here we go again.
Two colonies got only sugar bricks. Another one got a protein patty and a sugar brick. I’ll say this, though, these three colonies seem to be in good shape. They’re full of bees and I can still see frames of capped honey up top.
Last year some of my colonies didn’t break above the top bars until April. This year, all of them except one (out of 10) have broken above the top bars. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re running low on honey, but, like I said, a few dollars worth of sugar ain’t no thing to make sure they’re okay.
A beeyard update I recorded on my cell phone on the way home from work.
It includes what I’ve been told is public domain music by Duke Ellington. In the past two years, I’ve become more of an aficionado of his 1950s and ’60s records, but only in the E.U. are those recordings in the public domain. I’d fill all my videos with that music if I could. I love it. But for now, I’ll test the copyright waters with these early recordings from the 1920s. Oh yeah, and I also check on how well the bees are consuming some sugar bricks I added a few weeks ago and a few other things.
A 7-minute video of me dumping a 2.3kg (5 lbs) sugar brick into a hive where the colony of honey bees trying to stay alive is running low on honey. (Plus 15 minutes of bonus material for the truly dedicated.)
A short video demonstrating how a rim is added to the top of a hive to make room for sugar bricks, fondant or any other kind of winter feed.
Now I just need to make some sugar bricks.
One of my beehives, back in January 2019, had its top blown off in a windstorm. The top cover — along with the inner cover and hard insulation — might have been removed in other ways, but the point is, the colony of honey bees trying to stay alive inside the hive were completely exposed to the elements for about a week. The elements included high winds, rain, freezing rain, hail and snow. Hence, the title of this post: These Bees Should Be Dead.
When I approached the hive, I didn’t expect the bees to be alive. I found dark soggy clumps of dead bees on the back edges of the top bars. Some burr comb over the top bars had lost its colour from being exposed to the elements. The frames were soaking wet with a sheen of mould growing on the surface. Ice clogged up the bottom entrance. So yeah, I expected to find nothing but dead bees inside that hive.
But I didn’t.
Checking on my two farm hives. 17 minutes long.
Here are the highlights:
The pandemic has knocked my sleeping patterns out of whack. I’ve had to rely on coffee to keep me going at times, and every time I do it I seem to make one of these rambling beekeeping videos — or several of them. But I’m getting tired of listening to my caffeinated voice. I’m not sure how much longer I’ll keep it up. At any rate, here’s a hodgepodge of little bits that I deleted from other videos because the videos were already long enough, or I just forgot about them. Either way, this is the last video I post until my next blast of caffeine.
It can be a little unnerving opening a beehive in the middle of the winter. But I suppose it depends on what you mean by winter. I was able to open my hives today — the first time I’ve opened them this winter — because there wasn’t a breath of wind and it was cold but not freezing. A common cold damp day in Newfoundland that makes your bones ache in a bad way. And when I say opened, I mean I hadn’t removed the inner cover from a hive and exposed the bees to the cold winter air yet.
These thermal images show the difference between a hive with the bees clustering low (with plenty of honey above them) and bees clustering high (possibly running low on honey).
I can’t imagine the bees in any of my tall hives are running low on honey. Most of my hives were packed with honey going into the winter. But you never know. The first time I lost a colony to starvation was around this of the year. So…
I got a question yesterday from someone who entered an invalid email address into my Contact form. I responded but the message bounced back to me. So in case you’re reading this, Bob, this one’s for you.
I added sugar syrup feeders to my hives today. Have I waited too long? Would it be better to put sugar over the top bars instead? I plan to start winterizing my hives this week. Thank you. Your site has been a great help to me as new beekeeper.
It could be interesting to come back to the video in this post in about two weeks, or more precisely to come back after checking on the hives in this video to see if they’ve more or less doubled in size, which is what I want to see.
Specifically, the weak colony in the video was given two frames of capped brood from the strong colony. Most of that brood will have emerged by the time I check on them again in two weeks. Two frames of brood should at least double the number of bees in the weak colony. Supposedly, one frame of brood equals three frames of bees, but the two frames weren’t jammed packed with capped brood, so I’m thinking five or six frames of new bees in total, maybe. Add it all up and what it means is that I want the weak colony that looks this…
…to have as many bees on the frames as the strong colony that looks like this:
Someday I’ll start posting instructional beekeeping videos again, but these days I enjoy down and dirty beekeeping work more, just hanging out with the bees and talking out loud, saying whatever comes to mind. I did this a couple days ago while inspecting all seven hives in my little shaded beeyard. Most of it was junk, what I said and what I got on video, but I still think there’s something to be had from watching these kinds of videos where not much happens, because real life, real beekeeping, is exactly that 95% of the time. It’s grimy tedious work. Let’s see what happens…
I’ve probably never been more pleased with an over-wintered colony than I am with the one in this video. I’m not entirely sure what I did, but these bees have been clustering way down in the bottom of their hive under an insulating and tasty block of honey all winter long and are only now beginning to show up above the top bars. And they’re not even close to starving. I love it. I’ll drop my theory on how that happened after the video.
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.
Check out my Month of January category for a sense of things that might happen for backyard beekeepers on the east coast of the island of Newfoundland in the month of January.
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.
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.
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.Well, turns out they were eating it. 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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
April 2019 Introduction: I’m revisiting this post now and will chime in here and there with some updates and profound insights.
I borrowed of a copy of Hive Management by Richard E. Bonney recently, and I like it. It’s a practical instruction book that seems geared towards second year beekeepers, but it should give beginners something to think about too. If it had the kind of detailed photos like those in The Backyard Beekeeper or The Buzz About Bees, I might consider it essential. Either way, I just ordered a copy for myself. (I also ordered Honeybee Democracy and The Queen Must Die.) I think it’s worth the $15 I paid for it because it’s full of sensible tips that got me thinking more about the nature of honey bee behaviour in relation to how I manage the hives, and it covers the basics of beekeeping but doesn’t overwhelm.
Bonney is wise to mention that he lives the USA, in New England, and that much of the advice he gives should be adjusted to one’s local climate. New England is not the same as Newfoundland, but it’s not too far off, and at least he’s not writing from the perspective of a beekeeper in Arizona or California. Most of what he talks about — beekeeping with double deep Langstroth hives in a climate where it snows — is applicable to beekeeping in Newfoundland.