Frosting the Hives

The weather in Philadelphia was very warm for December and several days nearly broke record highs.  I had some concerns for the food stores for some of the hives and decided to take advantage of the weather to provide the bees with a little winter food.  For those, like myself, that fee sugar, there are typically three ways you do it.  In the spring, you provide a 1:1 sugar to water mix to the bees when starting out new packages or if you are trying to stimulate them for making wax and brood rearing.  This ratio of food simulates the nectar bees bring in during the spring flow and helps get them building.  In the fall you give them more sugar syrup but at 2:1 ratio. This the bees can take in as food to store for winter if their honey stores are light due to a bad year or the beekeeper taking more honey than they should have.  By having more sugar in the mix the bees can evaporate the moisture more quickly, something very vaulable for them as temperatures drop and the days become shorter as winter comes closer.

The third type of feeding is to give them fondant.  The same sticky sugar frosting that goes on wedding cakes and they use on all of the cake shows to make giant frosting sculptures.  Fondant works in the winter because the bees can pick it off of the top bars where you place it and use it as is.  They do not need to store it and evaporate the moisture like they do for sugar syrup.  It is also something you can throw on a hive quick in January or February when you get one of the rare days warm enough (over 50F) to open the hive up and check on them.  It is always sad to see a hive starved in the spring, as happened to Leaf Litter last winter, especially since it is a fate that as a beekeeper you can take some action on to assist them with.

I decided that though all four hives should be ok with food for the time being, it was not worth it not to put on some fondant now while I had the chance.  Hopefully they will not need it, but if they do it is there.  If you have not worked with fondant it is very sticky and can be a bit of a pain.  In my experience it is best to freeze it and then you can more easily cut and manipulate it without getting it stuck to everything.  Unfortunatly for me, the freezer I use to store extra bee supplies in recently died and I have yet to replace it so all of my fondant was at maximum stickiness with room temperature.  Other than being messier and taking a bit longer all of the application steps are the same as if it were frozen.

I learned last year that it is best to prepare the fondant before you get to the hives.  This saves you time and preserves the warmth the bees have spent their precious calories on to heat the hive. Some people who make their own fondant, which I have not attempted yet, simply pour their freshly made fondant to cool into the deep side of a spare inner cover for a ready to use winter feeding top. Since I do not have spare lids or make my own fondant I take the fondant and make strips about an inch wide and a quarter inch thick, and make them short enough that they fit under the inner cover going the short way.  I then place enough for one hive on sheets of wax paper which the fondant does not stick to as readily and stack them for a trip out to the apiarys.

Fondant prepped on a tray with wax paper ready to head out to the hives

Once you get out to the hives you simply take the cover off and throw down the sugar.  It was interesting seeing how the hives were doing at this point in the winter management season.  I had not been out to them for a little while, and was eager to see how they were.  Last year I had little concern doing winter checks and putting on fondant, but at least when I went out this time I had to put on a veil and gloves.  Rhinelander bees stung me before I even had the inner cover off, and they proceeded to attack while I put the sugar down.  The bees of Cheesepalace were not quite as vicious, but the scent of bananas that signal alarm to a hive was apparent the second I removed their inner cover as well.  Boatmurdered only had a few bees at the top and paid me no mind, while leaf litter had no bees at the top when I removed the cover though a few curious ladies came up to see what was goign on once I had frosted the front of a few of their frames.

Two stingers left in from Cheesepalace defenders
Two stingers left in from Cheesepalace defenders

The frosted top of Boatmurdered, with more fondant waiting in the distance

The frosted top of Boatmurdered

I am a little worried about the food stores of Rhinelanders and Cheesepalace.  Both hives seemed to have enough when I last checked their fall stores, but their aggressivness and the large amount of bees that greeted me on the top bars makes me wonder if either I did not properly assess their food supply or they simply ate through it much quicker than anticipated.  The few bees that greeted me from Leaf Litter also have me concerned for that hive, fearing that maybe they have already absconded or starved, but I did not get a chance to check into the brood next to see if it was true or I am simply paranoid.  Hopefully this food helps them out enough until I get back to them next, likely in January.

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