I leave lots of honey on my hives in the winter. Usually about 70 pounds for established hives, a bit less for the smaller hives. In a normal year this will provide food for the bees from October, when forage disappears, to late February, when forage emerges. This year was a bit different.
A warm winter in Washington
The weather turned odd. Why do I imagine everyone regardless of where the live in the world now nodding their heads? We normally have snow, lots of snow.
This year we had sun. Not lots of sun, but quite a bit. And only one week of snow. This was worrying as bees were out and about, not in cluster. When I see bees out and about I figure they’re eating more honey for energy. So I checked the hives and found that most were fine with lots of honey but about 8 smaller hives and 2 larger hives had plowed though their stores. I needed to make bee candy.
A Bee Health Aside
No matter what we make for the bees. Nothing is as good for them as their own honey. I do mean their honey. Anytime you give a hive honey from another hive you are risking the movement of diseases. I do move honey frames around between my hives. I never use any other beekeepers honey in my hives. That said, if you, or you bees, don’t have food – anything is better than starving. So we should make that “anything” the best thing we can. I use Cane Sugar.
As of this time, Cane Sugar is not GMO (I think), but Beet Sugar is GMO. So my bees get cane sugar fondant.
Bing-a-Ling Bees’ Candy Recipe
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.
I Channel My Mother
My mother was a great woman (who could periodically drive me mad, but that’s what moms are for). Raised 2 kids alone, a brilliant mathematician, rose to be a VP in a prominent think tank. Could not make candy to save her soul. Divinity: flat, not fluffy. Pralines: they were supposed to be that runny, right? You get the picture. I have inherited this lack of ability, it would seem. Mine was not nice disks. Mine broke apart and was crumbly. I know it’s me and not the recipe; it’s a family thing.
Making Bee Candy (fondant)
Details and A Photo Sequence
Weighing the Cane Sugar
Wax paper in cookie trays : where the fondant will be poured
I use a deep pot. A long piece of wood is used to stir the fondant. A candy thermometer watches the temperature.
Slowly, and I do mean slowly, because you have to keep stirring, the bee candy thickens.
My bee cooking is down in a section of the barn. I have barn cats who really like this, as the heater is on during cooking. The actual process rather bores them, however.
Finally the fondant has gone up to 242 and down to 190F — at which point I poured – I’m lying, I scooped it out and mashed it down into the trays. As I said lack of cooking skills must be genetic…
Really, Brad’s was completely smooth and didn’t crumble.
Then out to the bee yards to put the fondant on the top bars.
My hives have a small “collar” – a 2 inch tall box – on top. If you look close you can see the top entrance at the top of the image. The candy is placed on the top bars, the burlap laid back down over the candy, and a piece of insulation above the burlap — then the top is put back on.
One little bee came up to test my cooking. If the bees need the candy they will eat it. If they don’t need it, they will ignore it (it’s not as good as honey). But in the mean time, I’ll worry less.
That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees and Honey, Maple Falls, Washington. Has the world’s odd weather affected your bees or changing how you are managing your bees? Do share….