Saturday, December 26, 2009
LESSON 68: What Do Bees Do During The Winter? & Candy Boards To The Rescue!!
Merry Christmas from David & Sheri Burns at Long Lane Honey Bee Farms!
It is always so rewarding to enter into the Christmas season. For us, it means another year of hard work under our belts, experience gained and hopefulness for another great bee year. Of course, the greatest blessing of all is the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. We give Christ all the glory for blessing us beyond our imagination.
Sheri and Karee have been making lots of good food and some extra Holiday sweets that are impossible to resist. We had our family Christmas gathering at our home on December 20th, and we enjoyed entertaining 20! Our family continues to grow!
This year we insulated our entire bee building, added on another build room and a paint room. We’ve really been enjoying working in a warmer environment with more room!
We’ve decorated our home with a Christmas tree, lights and other decorations. For a tree stand I use a 3 gallon bucket, stand the tree in it and fill it with small rocks. It holds it really tight and then I fill the bucket full of water. My wife wraps the bucket with a special Christmas cloth.
Because our youngest son is only two, we could not put our gifts under the tree, or little Christian would open them up when our backs were turned. He likes Thomas the Train toys, so he’s got a little Thomas the Train track around our Christmas tree. Battery powered and all, playing Jingle Bells as it goes by. There’s nothing like see Christmas reflected in the eyes of a child. Here’s our family all dressed up for Christmas doing our annual Christmas dance!
LESSON 68: What Do Bees Do In The Winter? & Candy Boards To The Rescue!
In previous lessons I’ve talked about how to prepare our hives for winter. Please review those previous lessons if you become nervous about your bees this winter.
But before you become too anxious about your cold bees, let’s gain some comfort from understanding how bees overwinter.
The bees prepare for winter long before we even think about it. In the early spring bees are working hard to store up honey for the long winter months. All spring, summer and fall the bees are making preparation for winter. Their stored honey is their only hope of making it through the winter. They only need 3 pounds of honey per month, provided there is no significant brood to feed. That’s why most hives are doing fine now, in December and January, because with little to no brood to feed, there is food in the hive. However, in January as the days begin to lengthen slightly, the queen begins to lay alittle more, thus requiring more food to feed the larvae. This increases week by week until most hives become stressed in February and March, unable to continue to feed themselves or the larvae and they perish from starvation. Therefore, candy boards to the rescue!
I believe the reason most hives perish in late winter is because they were reserving limited stores of food and therefore reduced their brood rearing. This makes for a decreasing hive in number and a hive that will eventually die out or become so weak that even if it survives into spring, it will not make any surplus honey.
When beekeepers complain of low honey production, their hives probably suffered from low nutrition in December and January when they needed it the most. Now is the perfect time to slap on some candy boards.
Bees do not hibernate during the winter. Instead, we use the word “cluster” to describe what bees do all winter. They cluster together. When I first started keeping bees I remember someone explaining to me that the bees form a ball in the hive and cluster in a ball and stay warm. My first thought was wouldn’t the frames interrupt their ability to form a tight cluster? One year I removed some frames to see if the bees overwintered any better since they could actually form a ball without frames breaking up the cluster. Didn’t make any difference. Heat travels well through the combs and frames even plastic frames. Remember, the bees do not heat up their entire hive like we do our homes. Instead, they merely gain heat from their surrounding sisters. When the temperature outside dips to 50 and below the bees begin to form their cluster. The colder it becomes, the tighter the cluster.
The cluster moves around more when the temperature reaches around 50 outside. At this temperature or higher, they may actually travel to a frame of honey that is around them and carry that honey back to the cluster to feed others. And at temperatures 50+ they will fly outside the hive to finally go to the bathroom (defecate). During the winter, the temperature in the center of the cluster is maintained around 80 degrees and warmer if there is brood. However, toward the outside of the cluster the temperature may barely be above freezing. Cold bees are pulled back into the warmer cluster by warmer sister bees.
I believe my bees do better the more winter fly days they have per month. It seems to me they stay healthier if they can fly one or two days per winter month. But that sometimes never happens here in Central Illinois.
In the cluster the bees stay warm by generating heat by flexing their muscles. To do this, it requires eating honey. The colder they are, the more they will need to eat. But the warmer it is, the more they eat because they’ll want to move around and even fly out. Therefore, we have no choice but to leave 60-80 pounds of honey in the hive for winter, or feed them candy boards or sugar water during the winter. By January and February the bees have made their way up into the top deep hive body. The image shows how we can rotate our two hive bodies in April. But, never rotate the hive bodies unless you are absolutely sure that the entire cluster is in the top deep. Never break up the cluster if they are in both the top and bottom deep. Some beekeepers rotate their boxes too early and put the cluster in the bottom deep away from the upper heat source as heat rises. A cold snap can produce a larger number of dead bees than is acceptable.
Candy boards have long been a practice of feeding bees in the winter. It is labor intense and almost impossible if you have hundreds of hives. But you can always make up a few candy boards and feed your weakest hives. I’ll tell you how, step by step in this lesson. Please keep in mind that nutrition is everything in keeping healthy colonies.
Traditionally pollen patties have been used in late winter and early spring as a nectar substitute until regular nectar begins to flow. However, in the last few years, more and more beekeepers are now using pollen patties all year, even throughout the winter. Many feel it can’t hurt, and I suppose I agree. Pollen patties during the winter could cause the queen to lay more, and thus require more food to feed an unusual amount of brood during the winter. But, I’d rather have a thriving winter colony than a hive that is barely hanging on till spring. Err on the side of overfeeding, not underfeeding.
I want to share a common candy board recipe with you that works for me. CAUTION: Making candy boards is messy and can be dangerous. You must work with extremely hot syrup of 240 degrees. Be very careful!
Traditionally a candy board is a board with hard sugar candy stuck to it. (You can click on the images to enlarge them.) It is placed directly above the cluster. It sometimes is placed above the inner cover and sometimes below it and in my case in place of the inner cover. You can make your own if you are a handy carpenter, or you can purchase them from us. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE
They are made from thin plywood with an edge board much like an inner cover. The proper measurement is 16 1/4 x 19 7/8. The candy is poured into this board to harden, then placed on the hive, candy side down. The candy hardens really fast and sticks real well to the board.
Here’s how to make a candy board that is just enough for one board.
First, boil a pint of water. A pint is 16 ounces. Next add 5 pounds of sugar and use a candy thermometer. Heat to 240 degrees. At this point, the sugar will foam up twice as high as when it was cooler so use a tall pan to allow for the expansion.
ANOTHER USEFUL TIP: Use a real long stirring spoon so that your hand will not be too close to the 240 degree syrup. The steam coming off the syrup is hotter than the syrup. That’s why it is steam! You will need to stir the candy frequently to prevent caramelizing the solution. The candy mix will appear clear during the boiling process as the temp reaches 240.
Now remove the candy from the heat and allow to cool to around 180-200 degrees. I continue to stir my mix until it gets just below 200.
At this temperature, it is still runny, but hardens within a few minutes, so don’t take a phone call once it reaches 200. At just under 200 degrees pour the mix on your candy boards.
Here, my wife Sheri is pouring out the candy on the boards. Make sure it doesn’t run over the edge. A second set of hands is not necessary, but helpful to get the last drop from a deep pan. You have to spoon it out.
Sheri did a nice job pouring out 5 pounds of syrup onto this board. Believe me, it hardens really fast!! You’ll be surprised how fast it hardens up.
Now to those of us who love to experiment and go beyond tradition, take a look at this candy board. Look at what I did! I mixed in Brood Building Pollen Patties into the candy board. I used a cup to dip and pour the candy out around the pollen patties. Now the bees have a source of protein and sugar if they want it!
Now is a good time to place candy boards on hives that are not well supplied with stored honey. And if you are wondering if you can open your hive up in the winter to put a candy board on, yes. Popping off the top cover and inner cover and placing on the candy board can be done in under one minute, with minimal temperature change to the cluster. Pick the warmest day possible with the least wind and moisture. Or if the weather is bad and they are hungry, just get it on there fast! I’ll be putting mine on in the morning before church. The temperature will be around 20 degrees. This can really help save the hive if they have little stored food.
It has been a pleasure being with you today, and from Sheri and David Burns, we do wish you a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year.
Here’s our contact info:
Long Lane Honey Bee Farms
14556 N. 1020 E. Rd
Fairmount, IL 61849
BLOG LESSONS: www.basicbeekeeping.blogspot.com
Posted by Long Lane Honey Bee Farms at 11:37 PM