The first and only beekeeping blog from the Isle 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.
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…
A weak colony of maybe three frames of bees and hardly any brood (May 10th, 2020.)
…to have as many bees on the frames as the strong colony that looks like this:
As a strong colony with ten frames of bees (May 10th, 2020.)
So come back in two weeks and we’ll see. I also plan to check on the strong colony to see if the empty medium super I gave it is full of brood. That would also be great. Am I setting myself up for disappointment? Maybe. It depends on the rain.
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.
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 →