Winter Bee Sugar Cakes
It's December 2016 and temperatures continue setting record highs. It means I have had more time to work in the garden but so have my bees. As long as temperatures invite my honeybees out of their hives, at a time of year when there is not much in nature to eat, they are consuming the honey they originally stored to eat through cold weather.
I peeked under two hive lids a couple of days ago and two colony clusters had moved into the second box from the bottom. That's not good news, it means the bees have been eating the honey in the second box already and may not have enough to get through winter.
Several years ago I lost a colony to winter starvation and I vowed then I would not let that happen again.
I was thinking about making sugar candy boards this year, heated sugar that fills the top of the hive once made.. I even bought a candy thermometer, thinking I would try something new but no time for that, winter is moving in and I don't want to risk not having something to feed my bees before weather turns cold.
No problem, making my winter bee sugar cakes is easy. Here is my basic recipe:
Winter Bee Sugar Cakes
11 1/4 cups of sugar
7.5 ounces of water
1 tsp vinegar
Add vinegar to water, then add water to sugar. Mix. I used an old garden bucket and the largest wooden spoon I could find. The mixture should be moist but not wet.
I like to use bread pans because two sugar cakes span the length of my hives. Pre-used suet containers also work because they are square and make it easy to join them in the feeding shims I already have installed on top of my hives.
You can also use cake pans, pie tins, even the bottom of plastic storage containers. Once dry, they should pop out by turning them over.
I considered making sugar cakes in the feeding shims but bees don't go to the sides, they work their way up the center of the hive. Sugar cakes do help with hive moisture so it's helpful to have sugar boards and sugar cakes in a hive, if for no other reason.
For me, the smaller sugar cakes are easier because I can place the sugar cakes immediately over the cluster. The cluster is easy to find by placing one's hand over the feeding shim and feeling the heat the cluster generates.
With smaller sugar cakes, I can also more easily store any extras I have for later use.
If the mixture doesn't dry, remix adding a very little sugar at a time. Before you decide it's not working, wait, these can take 2-4 days to dry to a hard consistency depending on the humidity in your house.
Once dry, remove from container, turn the sugar cakes over and let the bottom side dry out. I leave them top side down for at least a couple of days.
Save any sugar chunks that fall off. You can re-use the sugar in spring sugar water. The lighter spring sugar syrup is a favorite of other pollinators including butterflies.
Store in an airtight container and replace as needed.