A long spell of cold weather in winter is a reminder to check our honeybee colonies for food stores. Even if bees aren’t raising brood in January, it’s been a long time since they’ve had access to nectar. Looking at the top of the colony on a cold day when the bees are compacted into a cluster is an easy way to check food stores. You can look at the top of a colony any time. Just lift off the lid. You can also crack the propolis and slide the inner cover off gently.
I keep an empty hive body on top of the colony (with the inner cover on top) so I can look down in without showing them as much motion close to the cluster as they might see without the empty hive body there. If the bees are clustered on honey down inside the colony, you may not see any bees. On a cold day, if the cluster is at the tops of the frames, they are running out of food.
Sugar syrup contains too much water for bees to be able to use it for food in wintertime. In winter, we can feed our bees solid white table sugar. The sugar must be placed on top of the frames where the cluster will contact it if the cluster is running out of stored food. Bees do not leave the cluster to get food in cold weather.
Easy Winter Feeding (cheap insurance):
White table sugar poured onto a single thickness of newspaper on top of the frames. Moisture from metabolism in the cluster will solidify the sugar and the bees will chew through the damp paper and feed on it if they need food. Loose sugar that drops onto the cluster will be carried out of the hive as trash.
Bee Candy (Stove Top)
Boil 1 ½ cups of water on the stove. Add 8 cups of sugar. Reduce to a slow boil/simmer for 10 minutes,
stirring intermittently so as to keep sugar from burning onto the bottom of the pan. Pour this mixture into four disposable aluminum pie pans, making four cakes ½ inch thick. Once cooled and hardened, slide the cakes onto the top bars from the rear of the hive. A ½ inch shim between the top bars and the inner cover is needed to make room for the cake.
“No Cook” Bee Candy
Stand a five pound bag of sugar on end and open it. Pour in ½ cup of water so that the water makes a
crater but then also covers the entire top. Wait for a month for the sugar to solidify. Cut the block of sugar out of the bag and set it on top of the frames at the top of the colony.
Thanks to Tim Sterrett and the Chester County Beekeepers Association, Pennsylvania for this information.
Submitted by Tracy Malterer