Saturday, January 22, 2011

They're Alive! Winter Inspection

Blue skies!
Making the bee candy and seeing the sun for the first time in ages inspired Mark -- he decided that rather than wait until tomorrow to take the candy out to the bees (clouds and wind are in the forecast), we'd go today.  As in, "get-your-stuff-let's-go-right-now."

I'll admit it: I've been worried about the little critters. I was nervous too.  What if they were all dead?  What if I am a complete failure as a Bee Mama?  In the recent newsletter from the MS Beekeepers Association, Harry Fulton admonished beginners to watch their hives and make sure they never had less than 3 frames of honey.  Did we leave them enough stores to get through the winter?

We walked out to Bee Hill. The sky was gorgeous, there was a slight breeze, and the temperature was in the mid-40s.  The bees, we thought, were all snuggled up inside their hives.

Bees coming and going in Hive 1.
Imagine our surprise when we got to Bee Hill and there were bees in the air!  I went to Hive 1 first, figuring those aggressive monsters would be the hardiest and most likely to fly in spite of the less-than-57-degree weather.  Sure enough, bees were coming and going through the entrance!  "We've got bees in 1!" I shouted to Mark.  I turned to look at Hive 5.  "They're flying out of 5!  And there's one on 4!"  I was so excited I was practically giddy.

We decided to start with the smallest hive, Hive 4, the barbecue bees.  They're the only colony that had only one super going into the winter. They're also the ones that have been on my mind, thinking they'd be dead from the cold and lack of stores.

Hive 4 is ready to rumble.
Hive 4 is sooooooo not dead.  When Mark cracked the lid, those things came boiling up to see what was going on, and they took to the air.  They started hammering my bee hat, and Mark got stung twice.  Mark was so eager to put on a candy patty he didn't even tear off the paper plate and closed it up as quickly as he could.  We debated continuing, especially since Mark didn't have on his bee jacket, just a long sleeve shirt and overalls.  But, we decided to keep going, and moved to Hive 3.  Only a couple of bees came up to check us out, so we added half of a pollen patty just in case they were low on protein and a candy patty, and then closed them up.  We followed this process with each hive, and apparently the other colonies opted not to waste the energy coming up from the brood box and the extra super to see what all the fuss was about, so no more stings. All the other hives seemed to have plenty of honey stores left, and one or two bees curious enough to let us know that there were still living bees somewhere in the dark recesses of the brood box.  We went back to 4 and carefully added a second candy patty and half of a pollen patty so we could leave them alone for the duration of the winter.

A single bee heads straight for the pollen patty on Hive 2.
Bee Hill
I'm so relieved!  Mark said, "I figured they'd be okay since we did everything the way we were supposed to."  Of course, the eternal optimist. Now I can get busy planning flowers to plant in the spring!

Making Bee Candy for Winter Feeding

Today Mark & I made "bee candy" which is used to feed bees during the winter when the temperatures don't allow for syrup (below freezing) yet the bees don't have the honey reserves needed to make it through until spring.  Pictures on Steven's Bees increased my worry that we needed to do SOMETHING.

I used a recipe found initially on wikibooks, and found it also on WVBeekeeper

Rather than use plain water, I made chamomile tea as Linda advised in making her syrup. I used 2 different thermometers and it seemed to take forever to get the proper temperature (238 degrees F).

Our attempts to beat the mixture didn't seem to work so we poured it up. It hardened quickly and did not resemble fondant in the slightest.  It would have made good peanut brittle!  I'm afraid it may be too hard for the bees to use -- only time (and more research) will tell.
Depending on how this works, I may try a recipe from a blog called Mark's Bees next. He credits Steve from Steve's Apiary for the recipe. We did follow Mark's example of adding a splash of vanilla to attract the bees. 

Many recipes exist online, as well as discussions about adding cream of tartar or vinegar, the use of essential oils, etc. Hopefully before next winter I'll have time to do more research and come up with a preferred recipe and figure out if the final result is supposed to be hard or soft or something in between. 

If anyone has recipes, suggestions, or experiences to share, please comment!