Monday, February 17, 2014

Winter Activities For Beekepers- Feeding The Bees

We finally had a nice day with a high in the upper 30's that coincided with one of my days off.  It was a good day to take the bee candy I made a few weeks ago out to the hives

I have always fed the bees extra sugar cakes to make sure they can get through late winter and early spring without starving to death, but every year there is still honey left in the hives by the time the dandelions bloom.  The bees do consume the sugar cakes at the same time they eat the remaining honey, so the question is- Would the bees survive just fine without the sugar cakes?  The answer is- I don't know.  But I would rather be safe than sorry.

Anyway, when I got out to the hives a pulled the tops off, this is what I found:
Georgia's cluster

Ida's cluster

You can see the clusters in each of the two hives- it looks like both are coming through the winter in pretty good shape. I think Georgia might have a larger population than Ida but it is hard to tell as we can't really see how far down the cluster extends.

I put an empty super on top of each of the hives and laid the sugar cakes inside.  Here is a picture of what that looked like before I put the top cover on.
Ida with sugar cakes inside an empty super
I glanced down between the frames and it looks like all the frames in the upper deep hive body of each hive still have honey- that is a good sign that they will remain healthy through the spring.  But I didn't pull any of the frames out since I didn't want to disturb the clusters too much while it is still cold outside, so I don't really know how far down the honey stores actually go.

 I plan on splitting one of the hives to repopulate a third hive that is currently vacant later this spring- probably toward the end of April.  I don't know which hive will get split- we will just have to wait and see which population is booming the most

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Snowy Hives

February is a miserable month.  The holidays are over, the days are getting a little longer, we are looking forward to spring, and what do we get?  Snow and cold.  We woke up to a fresh blanket of snow this morning.  Here is what the hives looked like.

I went out and cleared the snow away from the front entrances.  They won't be using the entrances today, but I wanted to make sure they were able to get the air circulation they need.  I did not see any indication that the bees were alive and doing well, but at just six degrees Fahrenheit I'm sure the clusters were pretty tight and they weren't moving anywhere.

We just finished a week of sub zero temps so I still haven't had a chance to open up the hives and put in the sugar cakes I made a couple of weeks ago.  I hope to get them in the hives later this week when it is supposed to get into the upper thirties.  Maybe I will see some signs of life, too!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

It's Been A While

It's been a while since I last posted anything in this blog- almost a year.  Well, lets catch up a little.

In the spring of 2012 I got a third hive and filled it with a package of Russian hybrid bees.  They turned out to be not what I had hoped for.  The were very aggressive whenever I worked with them and never even built up enough to add a honey super.  That fall I did not feed them and reduced the hive down to just a handful of frames with any honey on them.  I assumed they would die out during the winter months. I was going to split one of my other two hives to repopulate the hive the Russians were to have left vacant.  To my surprise, they were still going strong the next spring (last year, 2013) and the queen was laying like gangbusters.  I decided to get rid of the Russian queen and replace her with an Italian queen I had ordered from a supplier.  It looked like all was going well with the new queen when she suddenly disappeared- maybe the Russians ended up rejecting her.  In any case the hive ended up dying out before the end of the summer and, of course, I harvested zero honey from that hive.  The other two hives, on the other hand, performed well all through last summer and I harvested 25 gallons of honey between the two of them!

So as of right now my little apiary consists of two hives with Italian bees and one hive sitting empty.  This spring I plan on splitting whichever of the two is building up the fastest and repopulating the empty hive.  I will queen her with an Italian queen I will order from a supplier.  If I can get all three hives healthy and producing all summer long, the honey ought to come pouring in!

So here we are in February 2014.  It doesn't seem as though our winter has been particularly cold- we did have one stretch of bitter cold back in December but that has been it so far.  We here in Wyoming just missed the polar vortex that froze so much of the nation in January.  But we have not had any of the winter thaws that we usually get form time to time.  It seem like sometime in January I can usually count on some days when the temperature gets up above 40 degrees and I can get some supplemental feed out in the bee hives.  That has not happened this year.  In fact, we will be down in the negative teens to negative 20 this week.  I did take some time to make some bee candy this weekend.  I can't put it out in the hives yet, but when the temps allow it I will be ready.

You can find lots of recipes for bee candy on the internet, but here is how I do it:

1. In a large sauce pan or heavy bottomed stock pot add 1 part water to 5 parts sugar and 1/4 teaspoon vinegar for every pound of sugar you use.
2.  With a candy thermometer attached to the side of the pan and stirring occasionally, bring the solution to a boil and continue cooking until the syrup reaches 235 degrees (or the soft ball stage- at least that is what it says on our thermometer.)  Continue boiling at this temperature without stirring for three minutes.  Remove the pot from the heat and wait for it to cool down.

3. While the syrup is cooling, line some kind of mold with waxed paper that has been sprayed lightly with cooking spray- this will allow the finished candy to release more easily from the waxed paper.  I used a couple of Pyrex baking dishes.

4.  When the syrup cools to about 175 degrees you can pour the syrup into the waxed paper lined dishes.  Some recipes say to beat the syrup with electric beaters first to start some sugar crystallization.  I don't know how necessary that really is.
5. Let the candy cool overnight, remove it from the dishes, and peel the waxed paper off.
The resulting sugar cakes should not be too hard and can be broken into smaller pieces easily.
As soon as the weather permits I will add an empty super on top of the deep hive bodies of each hive and place the bee candy inside.  This should keep the bees from starving until the pussy willows bloom around the end of March or beginning of April.  The dandelions should follow soon after that.

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