Archives

Sugar Cakes for Winter Feeding

Saturday, February 7, 2015

I took advantage of a recent snow day to make sugar cakes for the bees.  This is my second winter, so I’ve only made candy, which requires boiling and stirring and timing and thermometers and some messy clean-up.  Sugar cakes, on the other hand, are super simple to make and they provide a nice hefty block of food that will last at least a month or two in the hives.  It’s good insurance during these harsh cold months.

Here’s my recipe…

BooBee Sugar Cakes

Ingredients

  • 1 – 5 lb bag white granulated sugar
  • 7 oz. bottled or distilled water
  • 1 tsp Honey B Healthy or similar natural supplement and other additives as desired (lemon juice, cinnamon, etc.)
  • Two 9×13 baking pans or one double large aluminum baking pan from the store works well too, and reduces clean-up.
  • Parchment paper for lining the pan (optional)

Note:  You can also increase the water slightly and add some pollen to this mixture as well.  I just add pollen patties to the hive. 

Instructions

1.  Measure out your ingredients.

If you use the large bags of sugar like me, then a kitchen scale that weighs up to 10 lbs or more is handy.  Also handy is a kitchen helper who can offer an extra set of eyes to make sure your measurements are extra precise.

IMG_2958

IMG_2959 IMG_2961

2.  Add the water and Honey B Healthy to the sugar.

IMG_2963 IMG_2966

3.  Begin stirring with a spatula or spoon, then just use your hands to work it into an even dough.

IMG_2967 IMG_2968

4. If preferred, you can line your baking pan(s) in parchment paper so it can be easily transferred into the hives without falling apart.  The mixture will dry and becomes quite solid, so I don’t bother using a liner.

5.  Pour the sugar dough into the pan, spread it out evenly, and press it down tightly.

IMG_2969 IMG_2971

6.  Use a knife to score and section off the cake before it dries.  I cut mine into 4 large pieces.  I’ll insert one block per hive.

IMG_2972 IMG_2974

7.  Take your finished pan of sugar cakes and place it in a warm, dry room for at least 2 days until it dries out and hardens.

IMG_2976

8. Dig out the blocks and allow to dry a bit more.  Since the bottom doesn’t get air, it may still bee a bit moist.  Again, if you use parchment to line the bottom of the pan before pouring the sugar, then you can pull them right up and place the blocks into the hive.  But if you don’t line the bottom, then its a good idea to flip the block and allow the bottoms to dry, as well.

My pieces broke in some places, but for the most part, they are large, easy to handle chunks that will be savored and appreciated by the bees as they continue to survive a few more weeks of winter.  Now we wait for a nice 40-50-something degree day so I can quickly pop these into the hives.  Always good to bee prepared!

IMG_4891

RIP Yellow Hive…Again

Saturday, January 17, 2015

IMG_2947

Winter is a period of worry and uncertainty when it comes to the bees.  Yesterday was in the 40’s, so I took the opportunity to peek in on them and add candy.  The only hive that showed any sign of life was Mint Hive.  That doesn’t mean they aren’t clustered down in the bellies of the hives keeping warm, but it certainly stirs up anxiety about what I did, should and shouldn’t have done, and whether I’ll have any hives left by time spring gets here.

Yellow hive, my strongest going into winter, was found at the top clustered and dead.  They had plenty of stores, the hive looked dry inside.  Maybe the cold got to them, maybe they starved regardless of stores, maybe they separated and froze.  I don’t know.  When things warm up a bit I’ll get in and take a closer look.

Last year when this happened I was crushed.  This year, its disappointing and frustrating, but not the end of the world.  If I lose all 5 hives, then I’ll most certainly be on the verge of hanging up my bee suit.  But I’ve got too much invested, and I love my bees.  Worst case, I’ll learn from my mistakes, start with two new packages in the spring, and get a better plan in place for next winter.

All the best to everyone else’s hives this winter.  Stay warm, read up, and get that equipment prepped.  Doesn’t seem like it now, but spring will be here soon!

We Bee Cold!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

IMG_2933

Well, so much for the 60 degree days.  It’ll be 9 degrees here in Central MD tonight.  For us, that is COLD.  Burr!  This is the time when I start to worry…and wonder…and worry…and wonder if I did right by the girls this winter.  Hoping for some warm reprieve.  In the meantime, I’m getting more candy made so I’m prepared to stock them up on food the next time I’m able to get into the hives.  I’ll step up there tomorrow and clean their entrances of dead bees.

The Cat House

The bees aren’t the only ones who are cold.  We have two kittens who showed up at our house over a year ago.  A year later, they’re still here, inside all cozied on our bed.  Spoiled little monsters.  But their mamma is very ferrel and she still comes around.  We feed her and the hubster made her a nice covered shelter with lots of hay for burrowing, which she has not yet used.  It breaks my heart that she’s out in the cold while her youngsters are living the high life.  But she’s a wild one.  Very very skittish.  She’s a bee-utiful girl too.  Makes me wish I was Dr. Doolittle and could talk to the animals.

IMG_2935

Indoor Activities – The Soap Incident

Then there’s the great indoors – I love soaping.  My latest project was a 3 lb batch of cold process honey oat soap.  I was excited to try out a brand new soap mold.  The key word here is “soap” mold.  Soap is not cold when you put it in the mold. It is still warm and pourable, so you would think that if a mold is designed for soap, it would withstand some heat.  Well it started off great, then a few hours later we had a melt down…literally.  The mold melted down and my soap collapsed.

IMG_2930

Disappointing.  I love the handsome, uniform bars.  But I’m over it.  In 4 weeks it’ll be ready for the bathtub or shower and no one will care that it looks like the state of Tennessee or a monument from Stonehenge, as long as it lathers up and cleans.

IMG_2938

 

I hope everyone else’s indoor activities are going well – getting the equipment prepped, making candy for the girls, reading up in preparation for the spring explosion.  I’ve already seen beekeepers taking orders for nucs and packages, and our bee club will be holding their annual new-beekeepers course in another week.  Wow, time goes crazy fast.

To you and your bees – hang in there, stay busy, and stay warm.

 

BooBee December Update

December 13, 2014, Saturday

IMG_2859

Between work and the holidays, my free time has disappeared, and so I’m playing catchup on my bee journal.

The weather changes every few days around here – 60’s and sunny one day, then below 30’s and bitter cold.  I don’t mind that because the girls get opportunities to get out and about and I can check on their statuses.  I confess that during the winter I never quite know what’s going on, and I’m never an optimist.  Anything can happen at any time.

Possible Issues with Purple Hive

Everyone is still flying about during warm spurts, but I have noticed that Purple Hive has a lot more dead bees coming out of the hive than the others, and Mint Hive doesn’t appear to have much activity at all.  When I lift the lids, I see bees in all hives but Purple Hive.  That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re dying out because they may be toward the bottom staying warm.  Candy has been consumed and they are cleaning house regularly, so there is activity.  I just have to sit back and hope for the best until the weather turns warm enough to warrant further investigation.

Winter Prep

I hadn’t shown off our winter wind breakers this year.  Last year’s wind breakers were very effective, but a bit tedious to put up and maintain.  This year we went with a simpler approach.  My husband owns a large format printing business, which means he has access to coroplast and metal frames that stick in the ground.  He used thick 1/2 inch 4 ft x 6 ft sheets of coroplast to form a barrier around the outside of the hives.  This creates an easy, inexpensive and effective wind breaker.

I don’t wrap hives, mainly because I believe that hives need to breath and that wrapping prevents that, causing ventilation issues.  If we lived in Canada or Vermont, then yes, I would probably wrap.  But with our warmer climate, although we have cold spurts and snow, I don’t think it warrants wrapping.  Wind breakers help tremendously for keeping out the cold and they’re much easier to work around.

Bees can manage in the cold – moisture is a bigger problem.

IMG_2856

IMG_2854

Candy Making Party

I mentioned that they’re eating candy.  In November our bee club had our annual Candy Making Party.  I love the candy making party.  Always a fun time to get better acquainted with other beekeepers, ask questions and learn.  Click here to check out our candy recipe.   The bees seem to enjoy the candy and since the party, I’ve already replenished their supply.  Some feel that candy is for emergency feeding.  True, but I don’t think it hurts to keep it in the hives during the winter to ensure they always have food.  If they don’t need it, they won’t eat it, it’s a simple as that.  I supplemented with candy all winter last year and had two very healthy hives come through with flying colors.

One lesson I learned is NOT to cover the top of the frames with candy because this inhibits ventilation.  This year I placed the candy across the front third of the hive on the side where the morning sun first hits.   This helps soften the candy and allows plenty of room for air to circulate.

IMG_2847

IMG_2841

 

So there you have a two month update in a nutshell.  Bees, winterization and candy…oh my!  Hope everyone’s girls are hanging in there through this cold and blustery time of year.  Expect the worst and hope for the best…that’s my motto!

I am looking forward to the quiet time to catch up on indoor activities like reading up on my strategies for the coming year, cleaning equipment, and making homemade lotions and potions.  Stay tuned for fun recipes and how to’s.

Best wishes from all of the BooBees at BooBee Honey for a bee-utiful, happy holiday season!!!  

Initial Prep for Winter 2014-15

Sunday, October 5, 2014

IMG_2754

I can’t believe it’s that time of year already.  Seems like yesterday we were chasing swarms and working to keep up with the spring explosion.  This year, it looks as though we’re going into winter with 5 hives.  I do no go into winter optimistically.  The bees are resilient, but anything can happen between now and spring.  I keep moving forward, try to do the right things and hope for the best.  I went into last winter with 3 hives and came out with 2.  Ventilation was the big issue.  Bees can handle cold, but they can’t handle wet.  The lost hive contained lots of moisture.  So above keeping them warm, I want to be sure the hives have good ventilation.

I took advantage of yesterday’s 70 degree weather to do some winter inspecting and prep.

1) Check for strong hives.  

I did not check for the queen this time, since I did find brood two weeks ago and the numbers look good in each of the boxes.  I’m not messing with them, since that does more damage than good.  Brood is at bottom, stores are at top.  My overwintered hives have lots and lots of stores, even Green Hive despite the robbing episode.

2) Checking for stores

Mint and Purple Hives, my two new hives, are lower on stores but feeding like crazy.  I’m continuing to feed them like crazy so they can stash it away, and I’ll give them both several frames of honey left over from last years hives.

3) Feeding 2:1 Syrup with Honey B Healthy

That’s 2 parts sugar to 1 part water – all hives are feeding right now in hopes that they’ll pack it away and have plenty to eat for winter.  I always use Honey B Healthy (HBH).  In fact, I make my own HBH which contains organic wintergreen, lemongrass and spearmint essential oils to help keep their guts clean and to help ward off varroa.   I’ll post the recipe soon!  Just as effective, and much cheaper than buying it.   If you do purchase HBH, use 1-2 tsp per gallon of syrup.

Mason Jar Feeders – I switched all of my hives to the mason jar feeders for several reasons:

1. They’re inexpensive and and easy to make.  Especially nice when you have a bunch of hives.  I simply drill 10-15 holes in the top center of the lid using 1/64 size drill bit.

2. They’re easy to collect and fill as needed.

3. I put 2 jars in, so when one empties, I can remove and they still have syrup left in the second jar until I fill the first jar up again.

4. Easy to see what they’ve consumed through the clear glass.

5. They fit securely within a medium box.

6. They dispense the right amount of syrup, so there’s less chance of it sitting and crystalizing.  And if it does crystalize, you can see it through the jar.

I place the feeders on a set of wooden or plastic chopsticks so the bees can fit beneath the jars.  After awhile, they become a permanent part of the inner cover as the bees glue them in place.

IMG_2747

IMG_2746

4) Feeding Grease Patties

An easy supplement to help ward off tracheal mites.  Click here for my Grease Patty Recipe.

IMG_2745

 

6. Installed Mouse Guards

We had our first front/freeze warning, so I installed my mouse guards so the little critters can’t make their home in my hives.  I used the Brushy Mountain mouse guards last year, which worked fine.  But I find myself going with the easy, less expensive options as my apiary has expanded.  1/2 inch hardware mesh works great.  I set the entrance size to larger to prevent bottlenecking, and to allow for a bit more ventilation.

IMG_2748

IMG_2749

That’s it for now.  Our first round of winter prep.  I have a few more tricks up my sleeve to help them out this winter, but the bulk of the work will be up to the bees!

The Girls Get a Bathroom Break

Saturday, February 22, 2014

20140222-213125.jpg

After 3 weeks of nonstop freezing temps and snow, we finally got a warm day. Warm enough that Green Hive 1 (GH1) and Blue Hive 3(BH3) could clean house a bit and benefit from a much needed cleansing flight.

At the end of January, we lost Yellow Hive 2. Just when I discovered what had gone wrong (hint: bad ventilation =moisture) the cold returned and I didn’t get the chance to make adjustments to GH1 to ensure it didn’t experience the same demise. I did, however, do something very stupid. I pulled out the mite board which I had inserted as a bottom board.  I should have pulled it out a few inches at a time over a week or two to allow them to acclimate.  But I didn’t know and instead yanked it out in one feel swoop.  But I learned that the cluster positions itself at the warmest location in the hive, and by drastically removing the bottom board just prior to a cold snap, I risked chilling the brood while also making it harder for the girls to stay warm.

My reason for doing this was:

  1. The hive needed better ventilation, and
  2. BH3 has no bottom board and is currently showing up its much larger neighbors. No ventilation issue whatsoever.
  3. Screened bottom boards also help control mites.

I will use only screened bottom boards from now on.  

So when I looked into GH3 earlier this week and saw an empty top box, I was prepared to write their eulogy. But today, although the top box still appeared empty, quite a few bees were buzzing out the bottom. I’m still unsure of their exact state, but I do know they have lots of stores, so they don’t have to come up top to feed if they don’t want to. The cluster may be hanging out in a lower box. I was just happy to see the activity and felt sad that no nectar was in sight.

BH3 has a huge cluster and they are eating away at the sugar candy. Rather than order a package for spring, I’m considering ordering 1 or 2 Texas queens from BeeWeaver and just splitting BH3. The bees are dark in color, they’re cold hardy, and they’re bred to be mite resistant. I like ’em!

Blue Hive 3 so far looking strong.

Blue Hive 3 so far looking strong.

I did make a few adjustments to help improve ventilation in both hives. The crazy boxes with pine chips have been removed. It’s been mentioned the chips could be blocking air circulation. I moved candy to one side of the frames, around the cluster, and not taking up any more than 1/4-1/3 of the frame space. And I inserted a chopstick into one corner of each hive to prop the top cover and allow for ventilation.

20140222-213203.jpg

Chopstick in corner beneath top cover helps ventilate the top without allowing much space for mice to get in.

I was so glad to see the girls today. I thought about pulling up a chair and just watching the show. Today was a great reminder that spring is just around the corner. Another few weeks of winter cold and we’ll bee in growth mode. Lots of decisions and preparations ahead. Lots of new lessons to learn. I can’t wait!

 

 

 

Breaking the Cluster

IMG_3581

Winter Newbie Mistake – January 5, 2014, Sunday

With a forecast of sub-freezing wind chill temps nearing, I got anxious about adding a solid bottom board to Blue Hive 3 (BH3).  Keep in mind, temps were still darn cold – 30’s and 40’s.  I did add mite boards in the bottom of Green Hive (GH1) and Yellow Hive (YH2) to close off any bottom drafts, but those hives are larger and stronger.  BH3 is a little guy that so far (knocking on wood) has survived this cold snowy winter.

The intent was to lift the hive and slide a board beneath it.  Bad idea.  I pryed the bottom with my hive tool and jostled the top of the hive trying to remove the wind barrier frame.  Suddenly bees began coming out.  I began apologizing and willing them to go back in.  We stopped, put the barrier back and dispersed.  Another lesson learned the hard way.  I thought for sure I’d lose BH3 over this one.

The BH3 Verdict – January 20, 2014, Monday

Our first semi-warm day, mid-50’s, since the jostling incident.  I was on vacation, but the hubster kept watch over the hives and reported that bees were indeed coming out of all three hives, including BH3.  GH1 was going nuts.  Tons of bees out and about relieving themselves.  YH2 was also awake, but not nearly as much activity as GH1.  I never know what to think of YH2.  They’ve never been as active as GH1, and just when I think the worst, they prove me wrong.  Best news – BH3 had bees coming out. Yay!  All three hives are still alive for the time being.  I left them plenty of honey stores, and they still have plenty of candy to supplement their feeding.  I shall leave them alone til our next 50-something degree day.

Lesson learned:  Best to leave the bees alone in cold temps.  Any rapping or tapping on the hive could break the cluster, and breaking the cluster could prove fatal to a hive.