No-Cook Sugar Cakes For Honey Bees

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 candy cakes drying in the oven (with only the light on). Feb. 27, 2016.

No-cook sugar cakes drying in the oven (with only the light on). Feb. 27, 2016.

Some after thoughts…

I use the terms sugar cakes and sugar bricks, not candy cakes or candy anything (though I do inadvertently say candy in the video a few times). Candy is made by heating sugar syrup to a high temperature and allowing it to harden. I know many beekeepers who boil up syrup and make candy boards for their bees every winter. I will never make candy for my bees. I did it once and once was enough. I imagine it’s more convenient for large scale beekeeping operations, but as a hobbyist beekeeper making a mess in my kitchen — forget about it. Heated syrup also creates hydroxymethylfurfural, which isn’t really that good for honey bees. That’s two good-enough reasons to take candy off the menu for my bees.

The above video at the 3:21 mark shows a broken sugar brick in one of my hives. I incorrectly describe it as the old brick I put in during a previous video, but it’s not. It’s a new sugar brick I put in the day before. The previous sugar brick put in the hive about two weeks ago was eaten by the bees after about ten days.

I’ve heard from a few beekeepers who say their bees won’t eat dry sugar. Their bees discard the sugar but don’t eat it. And I can’t argue with that because there’s some truth to it. I was cleaning out dead bees from one of my hives today and half of the debris I scraped off the bottom board was sugar, which is something I’ve seen many times:

Discarded dead bees and dry sugar. (February 28, 2016.)

Discarded dead bees and dry sugar. (February 28, 2016.)

For all I know, the sugar brick I put inside the hive was chewed to pieces and dropped down to the bottom of the hive. It’s possible. It’s also possible if I’d used candy or fondant, the bees would either eat it or ignore it, but they wouldn’t be able to physically remove it like they can with dry sugar. I don’t have enough experience with fondant or candy to know one way or another. But I do know from experience that dry sugar has saved more than a few of my colonies that would have otherwise starved. It seems to me that if the bees need it, they eat it. If they don’t, they toss it. I’m not saying dry sugar, whether loose or formed into a brick or cake, is the best method of winter feeding. But it’s the cheapest, easiest, most convenient and effective method for my particular needs.

Finally, it’s possible to use this method to create something similar to candy boards, more like sugar boards, I suppose. A recipe can be found at Honey Bee Suite.

UPDATE: I’ve since switched completely to sugar cakes. No more pouring in dry sugar.

4 thoughts on “No-Cook Sugar Cakes For Honey Bees

  1. Hello,I am trying your sugar cake’s this year 2018. It is late Novemder so I will give it two days to dry then feed my bees. What do you recommend straight over the frames or over the crown board?

  2. As far as I know, the sugar bricks go over the frames, resting on the top bars, beneath the crown board / inner cover. That’s how I do it and it’s the only way I’ve seen it done.

    I know some beekeepers who feed dry sugar over the crown board / inner cover, though I’ve never tried that.

  3. In the winter time, the bees usually get enough moisture from their own respiration. Their breath condenses on cold surface and they’ll drink that water.

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