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Hive Body Reversal, Feb Feeding and Snow, Snow, Snow

The weather continues on its current course of ‘lots of moisture’ and ‘cold temps.’ In truth, the moisture is the only oddity, from my standpoint. The temps have not been too bad. We had 10.5 inches of snow at the Wilton House this past Saturday. A lot of it is still out there, since the nights have remained below freezing. As with the December snow, several bees from both hives either crawled out to die on the landing board or were able to muster enough energy to fly a few feet before dying (unless that was the work of the ‘Undertaker Bees’!) I am not nearly as worried about this as I was in December. It seems that both hives were pretty strong a couple of weeks ago, despite all of the cold weather.

But, there is always the threat of starvation. It would appear, based on conversations and reading, that February and March are the real times when starvation is a threat. In February, a strong hive begins to build up for the early March blooms of the Maples (and, I am guessing, the hollies.) With all of this new brood to care for, a long stretch of cold can keep the bees from moving to their food source. Even if they can move, they might have eaten it all up.

So, February is the time to go in and check on them (when the temps rise above 50). Make sure that a full frame of honey exists on each side of the cluster. If not, they must have some supplemental food (sugar water and some pollen.) The ramp up of brood needs to be in full swing by early March, when the Maples should be blooming.

This is also a good time to consider a Hive Body Reverse, where you swap the top Deep with the lower Deep. Basically, the bees should have moved fully into the top Deep, eating into their reserves. Swapping the Top Deep with the Lower Deep will put the bees back at the bottom of the stack and create the illusion of empty stores above. This is another option to the Checkerboarding strategy that I discuss elsewhere on the site.

2 comments to Hive Body Reversal, Feb Feeding and Snow, Snow, Snow

  • Hey Jones,

    Your comments on Hive Body Reversal reminded me of an article I read recently in “Bee Culture” magazine Dec. 2009; page 51. Article called: Objection To The Double Deep. It’s a little much to try to paraphrase here and I can’t remember all of it anyway but I’ll be glad to bring the copy I have if you don’t get that magazine.

    Also, from all I’ve read, feeding in February should probably be Fondant rather than sugar syrup. If you think there are not enough stores close to the cluster you can make up a batch of fondant and on a warm day when they bees are flying open the hive and put chunks of the stuff on wax paper or other edible surface on the top bars right above the cluster for emergency feed. Some folks also put down a layer of newspaper above the cluster and put cane sugar on top for feed. If the bees are still in cluster they will not be able to move to get to the sugar syrup and could starve just the same. Here’s a fondant recipe. You can ignore the “bee tea” and essential oils parts if you want. Sugar and water is all you need …

    From: http://www.honeybeelives.org/

    Late Winter Bee Candy

    Feeding your honeybees can be critical at this time of year, as more fuel is needed to raise the brood
    chamber to 95 degrees for optimal brood rearing. Proper colony management should ensure adequate
    honey reserves are left on the hives for winter, however if there is a shortage, feed and then keep feeding
    until the spring nectar flow kicks in. The recipe below is for late winter emergency feeding. Bee Tea
    should not be fed at this time of year, as the bees cannot metabolize moisture during cold weather. Once
    brood rearing has been fully established by the bees’ own rhythm within the hive, change the candy to one
    containing the pollen/protein that they will need to help feed the brood. Do not spur on brood rearing
    early as it threatens the sustainability of the hive. (Please be beware of commercial pollen patties.)
    Honey provides the bees the carbohydrates to generate warmth, and principally consists of glucose and
    fructose. When we use white cane sugar to feed our bees, we must transform the sucrose of sugar, which
    is a complex sugar, into the simple sugars glucose and fructose that can be more easily digested by bees.
    This is called invert sugar which can be accomplished by heating water and sugar to a point where is
    breaks down naturally. This process can be hastened with the additional of acerbic acid from vinegar or
    crushed vitamin C, but until further investigation I think it best to keep the transformation via heat only.
    You need a Candy Thermometer or one that can tolerate 242 degrees (digital would be best). Have
    everything ready, and realize that this takes longer than you may think to make these, especially the first
    few times. Each batch has taken me 1 hour – start to finish. It’s helpful if doing a large batch to have
    someone else around to share the time. It also helps to have someone to laugh with when you feel like
    you are in an episode of “I Love Lucy.”
    Mix together in a heavy-bottomed, wide-mouth pot over medium heat:
    One part water (including seeped tea) to Four parts White Cane Sugar
    4 cups water plus 1 cup tea (5 cups total liquid) to 10 pounds of sugar (20 cups). (I make a separate quart
    jar of dandelion/chamomile/dried thyme tea to keep in frig for use –strain before adding to recipe)
    Dash of salt
    Bring to boil in uncovered pot, stirring frequently to help dissolve sugar and keep from sticking. (Please
    note that mixture swells quite a bit during the boiling period so best to have a large enough pot.) Once it
    boils, cover and allow a low boil for about 5 minutes. Then uncover, and stir until it the temp reaches 240
    degrees (depends on altitude and humidity). (Note: I may recommend stopping it at 236 degrees instead
    for better fudginess. Any comments are appreciated)
    Remove from heat and let cool to 200 degrees, add 1/2 tsp of Honey B Healthy*. Once cooled enough
    beat with an electric blender until it turns a bit cloudy. (I tried using a whisk but I don’t recommend this.)
    When temp reaches approx. 190 pour immediately into containers to form sugar cakes (use pie tins – jelly
    pans, etc) lined with wax paper to help removal and handling once cooled. When cool the consistency
    should be firm but not completely hard, kind of like fudge. They can be used as soon as cool, or stored in
    plastic bags. Peal off wax paper before using or storing. The sugar cakes will be harder and more brittle
    when cold, in the warmth of the hive they will become less hard. Best not to put cold cakes into hive.
    On hive, place a shim between top Hive Body and the Inner Cover. Lay two small wooden pieces above
    frames within hive, and gently place the sugar cakes onto these so it can be accessed all the way around.
    * There is a concern about Honey B Healthy because of the sodium lauryl sulfate and other additives used. The following
    recipe, using food grade essential oils, is a similar concoction to be used as a feeding stimulant, and to help protect the bees’
    mid-gut. Ingredients: 5 cups water, 2 1/2 pounds of sugar,1/8 teaspoon lecithin granules (used as an emulsifier),15 drops
    spearmint oil,15 drops lemongrass oil. Bring the water to a boil and integrate the sugar until dissolved. Once the sugar is
    dissolved remove the mixture from the heat and quickly add the lecithin and the essential oils. Stir until everything is evenly
    distributed. This solution should have a strong scent and not be left open around bees. Cool before using. We have recently
    heard of something called Apiforme, essential oils without bad additives, yet have no experience with it yet.

    *** too much snow and I’m getting bored ***

  • I hear ya on the snow!

    I was also wondering about the fondant method and have read and heard a lot of folks talk about bee’s not being able to take up liquid syrup in the Winter. So, I asked Tom Fifer what he does. He told me he uses syrup, Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall.

    I decided to take his advice, although I didn’t ask him how he was feeding the syrup (although I will the next time I see him). Some folks have said you need to use the inverted jars if you use syrup in Winter, as opposed to my top feeders. I can say that my bees are eating the syrup up any day it gets above 50.

    Regardless, thanks for the info. I may try the fondant method next, assuming it ever gets above 50 again…

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