Sugar Lumps and our new Feeding Trays and Weatherproofed Spacer Rims.
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Up in the foothills of California, 2100’ in Grass Valley to be exact, we have crazy winter weather. At the snowline, we always get a little snow, sometimes feet, but it only lasts a few days. And a couple of weeks of freezing 22 degree weather in December/January. We are in California….no matter what the winter weather, the sun come out every 3rd or 4th week and it’s beautiful, sunny and in the 50’s, 60’s, sometimes 70’s. Bees are flying. We try to have something blooming all year round. We have rosemary and Grevillea, both winter blooms. We plant mustard in mid-summer for late fall and winter blooms. And mostly, we do not pull out the broccoli after harvest because it will continue to put out tiny buds that bloom like crazy. When bees break cluster, they want bloom.
What this crazy winter does for our bees, the cold and warm sequences, they will go through their honey stores very fast. If you are not around to see how heavy your hives are, you have a real danger of starvation. We travel a lot in the winter, with all the conferences and talking to clubs, not to mention the family holidays and a certain granddaughter on the east coast, we can be gone weeks at a time. And we are the beekeepers. We do have help here, they work the garden, help pack orders, but they do not do bees.
My hubby made a bunch of candy boards out of plywood, 3” deep, with all the joints fiber glassed. I could not believe how much sugar we needed to make the candy to fill these bins. And they were heavy and awkward. In the spring, sheets of sugar would fall out of the lids. With the big gap, the bees would hang comb on their new high ceilings. Wasn’t very happy about the candy board, we used them for about 4 years.
In the fall of 2010, I read about Emergency Winter Rations and Moisture Control in a Kelly’s Beekeeping blog. It was pretty simple; you took a sheet of newspaper, cut it so that it was centered over the frames with about two inches of frames showing around the perimeter. Spray the newspaper with water. Put a 2” spacer rim on top of the hive body. Then you take a 2 pound coffee can filled with granulated sugar and pour about 1/3 or about 1-1/2 cups of it on the newspaper, spray with water until it starts to clump, then repeat. The sugar absorbs the water and hardens into a lump. And you can put a protein patty in the sugar.
It’s important to spray the sugar with water. If left dry and the bees did not need it, they would clean it out of the hive. We’ve seen this with powdered sugar dusting, when there’s a nectar flow, the bees remove it. They do pack it away during a dearth.
Hardened sugar lump are ignore until they need it. It’s pretty typical to have bees starve to death just a few frames away from beautifully capped honey. When the bees are in a cluster, they will not move side to side, but they will go up, and that’s what makes candy boards so popular. Food is above their heads.
Another cool thing, the sugar will absorb moisture from the hive.
November 2010 we tried this method. We opened up the hives in middle of January to find the bees all over the sugar. Now I had a problem, I like to dust the bees for mites (Powdered Sugar Method) once a month during the winter (great time to remove phoretic mites. Removing the sugar lump was messy. Sometimes I could pick up the whole piece, but as the bees ate it down, it would break into chunks.
I tried several different versions; including making sugar lumps in pie plates in the house and letting them harden, then taking those to the bee yard. But once the bees were into them, it was hard to remove and replace.
We have several dehydrators and had to replace the plastic tray inserts in them and got some with larger holes. I tried one of those under the newspaper and wow, did it work well. For spacer rims, we used our 8-frame adaptors stacked up in two’s. That way, we could stack up 4 and as the bees ate the sugar down, we could remove two of them at a time to lower the ceiling. Best, we could remove the tray with the sugar lump on it without any problems, dust the bees, put it back, and when time, take them away altogether, remove and put the top back on.
We decided to make our Weatherproofed Rim spacers 1-1/2” high. We can stack two of them to make a big enough sugar lump to last through the winter into spring. And remove one of the rims as they eat the sugar down. We also ordered our Feeding Trays with large openings so the bees could get through.
Late January – SUCCESS!! The bees removed the newspaper between the plastic ribs and were all over the reduced sugar lump and had consumed most of the protein patties.