Do your bees have enough food to survive the winter?
Honey bees need honey as their food source during the winter when it is too cold to forage and there is very little in bloom. Hopefully, you left them 60-80 lbs of honey going into the fall season. This equates to about eight deep frames full of honey. Sometimes even a strong hive with a large population will eat through honey stores faster than expected. A good beekeeper will assess the food situation. There are a couple of ways to do this. You can carefully lift your hive from the bottom box using the handles and get an idea of the weight. Is the hive far lighter than it was in the fall? If so, you know that your bees are likely running out of food. Another way to assess is to wait for a 55 degree winter day and quickly take a peek inside (no smoke needed) through the top cover. Do you see a lot of bees near the top of your hive? If so, they are running out of food stores.
Starving over winter is a common way for bees to die. Don’t let it happen to you! Sugar syrup, which is a liquid, will freeze this time of year. This makes it a poor winter food option. The good news is there is an option for feeding them during the winter – candy boards! They are solid, candy-like, and can be placed directly on top of the highest box in your hive, right underneath the outer cover. The warmth from the bee’s cluster approaching the top of the hive box will warm the candy board, softening it so that the bees can consume it.
You can make one easily in your own kitchen. I use a recipe from Honey Bee Biology and Beekeeping by Dr. Dewey Caron. I had the pleasure of meeting him this past summer during National Honey Bee Day. He is an incredibly knowledgeable beekeeper, and I found his recipe for a candy board easy to make.
Mix eight cups of granulated sugar into one cup of water and one cup of light corn syrup in a large pot on the stove.
Turn the heat up to high and stir to completely dissolve.
Stir frequently. It will begin to boil fairly quick.
Use a candy thermometer to determine when the mixture has reached 242 degrees F. I noticed that it started turning slightly amber in color around 235 degrees F.
Remove it from the heat and allow it to cool to about 180 degrees F, stirring occasionally. I was surprised how quickly it came to a boil, but how slowly it took to cool down.
Stir it to an even consistency and pour into a mold. You can pour it directly into an outer cover if you have an extra. I use a rimmed cookie sheet lined it with freezer paper, which was slightly smaller than the dimensions of my outer cover.
Let it cool completely before placing onto your hive.
Try to find a 50-ish degree day to place it on your hive. Although it doesn’t take but a second to do. You’ll want to make sure that you have space or clearance to place the candy board so that you can still fit your cover back onto your hive. I created a spacer with ventilation holes by cutting four pieces of wood that were the exact same diameter as the edge of my hive box. I secured the corners of these pieces with wood glue and screws.
To place the candy board, quickly remove the outer and inner covers, and carefully place the candy board directly on top of the top bars. It can be helpful to place a cut piece of hardware cloth underneath to prevent pieces of the candy board from falling through and getting stuck between frames. It’s OK if your candy board breaks when you place it. Just puzzle it back together. Place your spacer to give your candy board the clearance it needs, and then place your inner and outer covers back on top. Presto!
Check on your hive periodically when the weather allows. Look to see if they have begun to eat away at the candy board. If so, be prepared to make a second one. A candy board is an easy way to assist a hive through the winter. It is sad to see a hive die from starvation when there is a way to prevent it!
Keep your bees buzzin’ y’all!