- A warm winter and the bees eat through their honey too fast. This happens because when the weather is warm, the bees ‘break cluster’ (clustering is when they conserve energy and radiate heat as a community, not unlike penguins). Breaking cluster means the bees use more energy and need more food to refuel. They will also use energy by cleaning the hive out, flying to poo, as well as gather water or fan out excess moisture from the hive.
- Your bees had a poor summer or fall. Did your bee season not pop the way you had hoped because the weather wouldn’t cooperate? Welcome to farming!
- Did you over harvest? It is important that you leave enough honey for your bees to survive through the winter. CAPA recommends that you have 65-85lbs of honey per beehive in an Alberta winter. That is a full standard Langstroth box plus some or 12 combs in a Golden Mean Top bar hive. Did you leave or have that much?
- Can the bees access the honey stores? You can have hives die of starvation and find that there is honey in the hive. Is the honey in the top of the Langstroth hive? Remember that heat rises, and with the heat, the bee cluster will move up by mid-December. Is there honey up there, or did you leave brood frames up there from the summer and have the bottom box stuffed? With a top bar hive (TBH), is your honey stored toward the entrance of your hive, or did you leave the brood there from the summer? Bees like to cluster closer to the entrance of a TBH to regulate temperature and to access the entrance.
If you don’t have honey to feed your bees from your own beehives, DO NOT FEED THE BEES SOMEONE ELSE'S HONEY. This is because the diseases that spread amongst bees do not spread amongst people; therefore the honey you buy could have diseases like American Foul Brood and could infect your hives. So, if you are worried about your hives food stores over the winter months, ‘bee candy’ or fondant is the next best option. What to Feed Bees?
If you look online about feeding your honey bees, you are going to find many choices. The challenge of keeping bees in the winter-long prairies is that liquid feed is NOT an option. Feeding your honey bees syrup in weeks too close to the shoulder weather months or in the winter can cause a few issues. I use dandelions as an environmental indicator that liquid feed can start to be used, as it is the first time in which nature starts providing nectar (and indicates the end of the cold nights/hard frost season).
- The feed doesn’t ripen in the cells and excess moisture becomes a problem for your bees in the cold winter months. The cluster warms the cells; the water evaporates, and forms a cloud over your cluster. This can cause ice to form and drip on your bees. And as I always say, wet bees are dead bees.
- The feed can freeze in the feeder, absorbing heat from the cluster in cold days. Energy always moves from hot to cold. Your bees will spend more energy trying to keep their hive warm with a block of ice in their hive.
Bee Candy Recipes If you have some honey remaining from your bees, you can make it stretch by making a simple candy as follows.
Honey Based Bee Candy
This recipe will take some time, so make sure you have an hour to make it. What you will need is:
- A double boiler
- 1/2c honey from your own beehives
- 6-8c powdered sugar.
Recipe makes a 1/2lb of candy. Directions: Place the 1/2c honey in to the double boiler on the stove. Add sugar 1/2c at a time until the sugar dissolves. *Use a sturdy spatula to stir the mixture. As time passes, you will find it will take longer and longer for the sugar to dissolve. Press the sugar in to the mixture until allowing the heat from the double boiler does not dissolve the sugar. Take the ball of candy from the double boiler and roll out between wax paper sheets. For Langstroth hives you can cut candy in to pucks or 2”x6” sheets to place between the inner cover and the top bars closest to the cluster. For a TBH, I recommend forming the candy in to a sheet. When in your hive, peel back the one side of the candy and stick the sheet on to the inner wall closest to the entrance. You can choose to keep the wax paper on, score it for easier bee access, or remove it. The bees can chew through the paper if they want it. The following recipe I took from Brookfield Farm Honey blog. I like this recipe because it doesn’t have corn syrup or gelatine like others do. As for the essential oil mix, I have never used teas or essential oils with my bees but understand that it is popular amongst organic beekeepers.
Bing-a-Ling Bee Candy
I had a recipe, but mine always comes out a bit gooey. During a recent meeting at the Skagit Valley Beekeepers Association one of the beekeepers, Brad Raspet from Bingaling Bees, passed around the most beautiful disks of bee candy (aka fondant) that I’d ever seen. Then he gave us the recipe. 10 lb sugar 5 cups water 1 teaspoon ProHealth or Honey Be Healthy or your own essential oil mix 1 teaspoon Vinegar Bring Water to boil on medium high heat. Add sugar & stir, add more sugar & stir (don’t cover) Continue stirring, and bring to softball stage 242 degrees Remove from heat, cool to about 190 degrees Add ProHealth & Vinegar… Stir vigorously and quickly pour into paper plate molds should be fudge hard at room temperature when cooled Place on top bars, (add empty honey super if required) Brad explained what the vinegar is all about: it makes the sucrose in sugar take on a more glucose-like structure, making it easier for the bees to digest.” Considerations If you are worried about your bees, you should be adding the candy only under the following circumstances:
- In the heat of mid-day in a many-day stretch of warm weather. Opening your beehive on a cold day will do more damage than you think. Moisture, humidity, and ventilation are in a fine balance in your hive, to disturb that is to chill and potentially kill your bees.
- Do it in the fall, before you warp your hives.
- Do it in the spring when your hives start to prepare for brood. This can ensure that when the hive increases in consumption for activity or brood feedings that they don’t die. March and April can be the toughest times on bees as they begin to build their populations up and the nature is yet to provide them with nectar and pollen.
How you can learn more? Apiaries and Bees for Communities offers outstanding educational experiences to inform and inspire acts of pollinator stewardship. We are dedicated to the resilient management of honey bees and pollinator guardianship. We offer exceptional programming to rekindle your childlike wonder with the natural world. Our programming, key note speaking and beehive partnerships endeavour to Build the Hive Mentality within communities across Canada.