Winter management of the beehives

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I miss my bees during the winter.  The long cold and snowy months when a beekeeper can’t go out to play with her bees are hard for me.

But yesterday was a gorgeous January day–sunny and relatively warm (for January), and I was feeling energized after helping a local prune her beautiful apple tree.  So I trudged through the snow to the hives behind the house here in town, hefted them from the back–just a couple of inches–to gauge their remaining stores.  But what I really wanted to know was–how are my girls doing?

I’d been working on candy for the bees for the last couple of days.  I had to make two batches because the first one somehow came out wrong–more like taffy–and I decided against using it for fear of it slopping down through the frames and gooping things up (like my bees).  I had used the recipe and instructions from the Maine Beekeepers’ website–you can find that information here.  I followed their directions for stove-top candy, using my candy themometer, but the stuff never became brittle–just taffy-like.

So I performed some research online to try to figure out what I had done wrong in order to prevent it happening again.  Some of the information I found indicated that I could have let it boil longer at 234-degrees to make a harder candy, some recipes called for cream of tarter, which I did not use because the MSBA recipe did not call for it.

While I was browsing the internet for help, I came across an interesting method for making “candy’ at Beverly’s Bees.  You can check out Beverly’s site and the page with her unique twist on candy-board making here.

It seemed a fool-proof method, so I figured I’d give it a go.  I simply dumped the contents of a 10-pound bag of sugar into a large kettle, added 3 cups of hot water and mixed and mixed until all of the sugar was moistened and evenly combined.  Then I spooned the sugar into 6 pie tins lined with waxed paper, put them all out in the cold mudroom to harden, and a couple of hours later I had some very nice “sugar-cakes”.

winter beesAfter the heft test I decided then and there that I just had to know if my bee-colonies were still in-tact, so I fetched my gear and the sugar-cakes and popped open the first two hives to slap the cakes on top of the frames.  In the the first colony my girls were already right at the top of the upper box and came flying out at me as soon as I opened them up.  I had the sugar on and the hive closed up within a minute.

The second backyard hive were much quieter.  I had to bang on the outside of the boxes and tip my ear toward the frames in order to hear their buzzing deep within the hive.

And that’s perfectly normal–that’s about how the colony should be at this time of year.  When all of the bees are already at the top of the hive in January, it tells me that that’s a very strong hive with a lot of bees, and I’m going to have to watch those colonies very closely from now til spring to make sure they have enough food to survive until the first nectar is available to them.

winter apiarywinter bee-candyAfter I finished in the backyard apiary, I drove out to Medicine Hill to trudge through the snow to do the same with those four colonies.  In each hive there were bees boiling over the tops of the frames in the upper box.  I put the sugar-cakes on and quickly closed them up again.

Before I came home again I stopped by the house at Medicine Hill to chat with Linda, the farmer there.  I shared with her the news of our acreage and she gave us permission to use her commercial kitchen to get our processor’s license so that we can bottle and sell our honey in local stores.  Yet another hurdle over-come.

And that’s that.  I’ll have to make up some more sugar-cakes to have on hand, and those hives that are strong in numbers will need to be monitored.

Share your thoughts, comments or questions!