Sugar Patties Ready!

They're in a cold oven drying, homemade sugar patties to feed my baby bee nurseries when warm weather allows.

This is my first winter to try to pull starting bee nucleus colonies, or "nucs," through. So far, so good, although when temperatures dip in the single digits I tend to want to move the little colonies into my basement to keep them warm.

Don't laugh, I know people who have done it. Not the basement exactly but an enclosed porch, which is close enough. Starter colonies have less bees than full colonies. They lack protection in numbers as they rotate in the cluster and try to eat so I try to give them food as close to the cluster as I can.

Last year, when winter lingered into a short spring, i made these sugar patties to pull my full size honeybee colonies through the wetter than normal season. In addition to food, dry sugar patties whick moisture, helping to keep hives dry. Here's the very simple, but tricky recipe:

Bee Winter Sugar Patties

5 lbs granulated sugar

7.5 ounces of water (make sure this is exact)

2 drops food grade essential oils - spearmint and lemongrass.


Mix well. Spread in pans. Leave overnight in cold stove to dry out. If you end up with still moist patties, re-mix and add a little more sugar, then dry again.

I use bread pans for the larger sugar patty blocks and cupcake pans to make smaller round patties for the nucs.

If I don't need to feed, I store extras in a sealed plastic container.


Sugar Water Fly Through

There are a number of ways beekeepers "feed" their honeybees. Although its best honeybees find their own pollen, there are times when pollen is not available. For example, during extended rainy seasons, when honeybees are not able to fly because their wings don't work when they are wet. Another challenging time is when temperatures stay above 90˚F for any extended period of time; plants go into survival mode and stop producing flowers, and therefore pollen.
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To Brush or Not to Brush

It's easy to spot the new beekeepers at a meeting because within minutes they have that "lost" look on their faces. Beekeepers, like any other specialty, have their own language and shorthand when discussing issues.

To better familiarize myself with the "beekeepers'" language, I read as many books as I could, focusing on the terms. I will go over some of the more common terms and tools here because they are as much a reflection of the profession as - well, reading a book!

Bee Brushes

One of the beekeeper's more controversial tools is the "bee brush." Looking like a giant yellow toothbrush, the bee brush has very soft bristles and a long handle for easy gripping. Bee brushes are handy to have if you don't want to hurt or kill bees as you move hive pieces around. Honeybees in a garden are so intent on their work, they often will continue working without realizing their hive frame has been moved, or the top is on the side of the hive. Bees will follow the queen so even though you may be moving bees around, they will all try to climb back into the hive after the queen.

How to Use Bee Brush

To make sure you don't kill or harm bees, slowly move the bee brush across the area where you want bees to leave. And I mean S-L-O-W-L-Y, you are using the bee brush bristles to nudge the bees along, not sweep them off their feet. I like having my bee brush with me when I open hives, even just to inspect. I can more easily guide bees away from areas that may otherwise hurt them as I move frames around or put the top back on.

Don't want to use a bee brush? It also makes a nice tool to brush furniture treated with beeswax!


How to Pack Hershey Hug Honeybees

By using broken toothpicks for antenna, you can easily serve Hershey Hug Honeybees as finger food. After taking these to several events, however, I would recommend, in addition to toothpicks, pack them in mini cupcake papers. Some people don't know to pick them up by toothpicks so mini-cupcake papers make it easier to move them to a serving plate.

If you are using Hershey Hug Honeybees as cupcake, cake and pie embellishments, break a toothpick in half and insert in the bottom of the chocolate-covered cherry. Leave half the toothpick exposed. Then you can easily add the Hershey Hug Honeybees by inserting bees on left-over toothpick pieces and they won't fly off!

Nice little bee gift for any occasion.


How to Make Hershey Hug Honeybees

I developed these for a garden club meeting. I was teaching basic beekeeping classes for them and thought a bee theme gift would be very appropriate.

To make: Remove papers from Hershey Hugs. Drain maraschino cherries on paper towels. Heat white chocolate in microwave covered dish in microwave until melted; 1.5-2 minutes on high. Every microwave heats differently so try it first in 30 second increments until you know how long it takes for your microwave.

Spread melted white chocolate on Hershey Hug bottom; add two almond slivers for wings. Allow to dry.

Stick maraschino cherry with a toothpick; dip in melted chocolate and place on wax paper. Place cookie sheet in refrigerator until cherries and chocolate are firm or wait 10-15 minutes for the chocolate to dry.

Spread more melted chocolate on Hershey Hug with almond slivers; attach flat side of chocolate-covered maraschino cherry to the flat end of Hershey Hug. Allow to dry.

Break toothpicks into 3 pieces; stick two through top for antenna. Toothpicks also work well as holders to pick up bees as finger food. Add two dots of black icing for eyes. You can also use melted dark chocolate dots for eyes.  Allow to dry.  Store in sealed container until serving.

People seem to love them, they tell me they are so cute, they don't want to eat them!


The Smoker, Beekeeper's Best Friend

It would have helped if I had been a Girl Scout.

This was the hardest thing I had to learn, how to make a sustainable fire in basically a 16 oz soup can with a lid. The smoker helps a beekeeper distract bees long enough to safely access the hive.

To make a fire, I use dried orange peels as fire starters, then add dried twigs from around the yard. Once coals have developed, I add dried leaves to generate smoke.

Stories vary on what smoke does to bees, from making them panic and horde honey to just distracting them. Smoke is applied around them, not on bees.

I've also been known to apply smoke around my head. I wouldn't recommend it as a substitute for perfume.


Sticky Situation

It takes some finesse to work with honey.  One of it's properties is that it's very sticky!

When cooking with honey, first spray utensils lightly with vegetable spray.

Allow to dry for a couple of minutes, then pour honey into it.

Vegetable spray will help honey slide smoothly from your measuring utensils and make clean-up easier.

Did you know it takes 12 bees their lifetime to make 1 teaspoon of honey?


Looking for Queen Bee

My assignment was to find one of my honeybee queens and (sigh) kill her. One of my two honeybee hives had been struggling. The verdict from more experienced beekeepers was that my queen bee - she's the only one in the hive of 40,000 plus honeybees that lays - is not laying her 1,200 eggs or so a day so she needs to be removed. Normally a queen bee will live 4-5 years, as opposed to a worker bee's 6 weeks of life producing 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey.

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Can You Still Use Chrystallized Honey?

There's nothing wrong with honey that has turned cloudy and become thick.

To return crystallized honey to liquid form, place honey container in hot water for 5-7 minutes. Be careful of how hot you get the water; it can destroy some of honey's natural antioxidants. Do not heat honey in the microwave because it alters the honey taste.

It only takes a few minutes for honey to turn back into its original liquid form so every couple of minutes pull it out of the water to see if it's liquified.


Welcome to Home Sweet Bees

When I started keeping honeybees in 2010, I had no intention of falling in love. Bees, I thought, would be fun to add to the garden to help plant pollination.

I now teach and lecture on beginning beekkeeping and started a bee club to help beekeepers share and learn from each other.

I’m also developing my own lines of honey and bee-related products, not to mention being hooked on my own homemade whipped honey.

Have you tried it yet?