Posts Tagged ‘bee candy’

Happy Christmas to all you beekeepers and bee carers out there!

Happy Christmas to all  readers of my blog, and also to their bees! I hope that you have had a good 2013 and your bees are all set up well to survive through the winter if you are in the northern hemisphere – remember to check on them for levels of stores as well as during and after any adverse weather conditions that we may experience in the UK. Make sure that the hive entrance is clear of both dead bees so that they can fly and excrete waste on warmer days and also to avoid suffocation by snow when it arrives.


(please note the attached photo taken in 2012 is just stacked honey supers and DOES NOT contain bees before you start to ask….)

I have been busy making bee fondant at the weekend using my normal  Fondant_recipe which can be downloaded from the link, I have found that the bees have happily taken this over the last few years, often not until late February or early March but I like to give it to the bees at Christmas just in case! We have had a warmer-than-average December and this may have affected how much of their stores of honey and syrup that the bees have used in the hives and I lost a colony last year to isolation starvation despite having fed them in the Autumn and given fondant over winter.

I will also be applying oxalic acid when we get a break in the heavy rains and gale force winds – I will aim to do this slightly earlier next year though following the most recent research from Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects (LASI) at the University of Sussex that indicate that between the dates of 10th December and Christmas is the optimal time for oxalic acid treatment. They also recommend that you check for sealed brood and destroy any, say, 48 hours before applying acid.

Checking the hive entrance during the winter months

Checking the hive entrance during the winter months

With many tales of beekeepers taking presents to their bees at Christmas I would be interested to know of anything that you do each year, feel free to comment…

I hope to keep adding to this blog as and when time allows in 2014, thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings your continuing comments and questions – this makes it all worth while for me as the writer….

I can also be found at @danieljmarsh on twitter or British Beekeepers page on Facebook.



Death of a colony – a beekeepers loss

The cold spell that has dominated the last couple of weeks has finally broken this weekend and I was keen to get down to my apiary to see how the bees were faring. The hives were last opened and checked at the end of December, about 3 1/2 weeks ago, when I applied the oxalic acid and fed large blocks of home-made bee candy to each.

My new apiary assistant to help with the bees

My new apiary assistant ready to help with the bees

We had five national hives and a poly nuc to check on this visit as the Warre hives are being left to their own devices over winter and we were only checking to see how the bees were doing with the candy feed and replenishing if needed. The first hive that we checked had a late swarm, collected in August and headed by a buckfast cross breed queen. At the end of last year they seemed to be doing quite well, the queen was a good layer, and although the colony was smaller than the others it seemed to be building at a steady rate and the bees were very chilled, beautiful to handle and I assumed they would be one of my success stories of 2013.

A dead colony clusters on the frames

A dead bee colony clusters on the frames

Dead bees clustering on the frame and covering the floor

Dead clustering on the frame and covering the floor

When we opened the hive I realised pretty quickly that there wasn’t the normal activity I would expect to see at this time of year, especially as the ambient temperature was around 9 degrees Celsius when bees would normally have broken from their winter cluster around the queen and resumed normal hive activities during the day. On closer inspection we found that the colony was completely dead with the bees clustering on the frames as they would have done in life.

It was a sad moment for me as this is the first colony I have lost to starvation in five years of keeping bees.

This hive had a reasonable level of stores when checked in December and a 400g block of bee candy was placed over the feed hole in the centre of the crown board but frustratingly this had not been touched despite the bee cluster being directly below it.

The starving bees had filled the cells in the frames head first, I assume looking for food, and many had died in this position.

Dead bees in the frames

Dead bees searching for food fill the frames

The other hives were checked and all appeared normal, three had finished their candy feeds but the fourth hive, with a similar size colony but different type of queen, had only just started to use it.

I have now doubled up the feed on each of the hives to take them up to the warmer weather when I can give a thin sugar syrup as a spring feed to help the colonies build strength again.

Candy feed on crown board just being started

Candy feed on crown board just being started

Doubled up blocks of candy on a hive

Doubled up blocks of candy on a hive

I am left wondering if I had used a small eke (spacer) to raise the crown board and put the candy direct on the frames would they have taken it, but then again they had full access to the candy and were right below it and hadn’t touched it so maybe not. Should I have moved them into a nuc for over-wintering or culled the new queen and consolidated them with a stronger colony? There is no point dwelling on the loss to much but their demise seems harsher than a colony losing a queen or having laying workers as you end up feeling responsible for their fate to some extent.

As a beekeeper it is lovely to have the opportunity to visit your bees during the long winter months, to see them flying again with the promise of another spring arriving and as the new plants are just beginning to appear through the receding snowline.

Bee in a poly nuc

Bee in a poly nuc

The bees in the poly nuc appear to be doing quite well. This a bit of an experiment this year as Paul only obtained the nuc in 2012 and populated it with a swarm he collected. The greater insulation should be keeping the bees warm and require less use of their precious stores but the downfall with this type of ‘housing’ is when it comes to feeding as the ‘crown board’ is a flexible sheet of clear plastic, with no feed hole, and no room under the roof for candy. Does anyone know if you can get a poly nuc eke to raise the roof, or if syrup feed is used in the built-in feeder (bottom of the picture) does it freeze or will the bees even take it during the winter months? Be good to hear of your experiences of using these new hives.

Dead frames, the comb will be removed for candles and the boxes sterilised with a blowtorch

Dead frames, the comb will be removed for candles and the boxes sterilised with a blowtorch

I hope you have enjoyed reading the blog,  feel free to contact me with comments, suggestions or general feedback, click on the right column to subscribe and receive updates when I next have the time between chasing the bees to write again.

I can also be found at @danieljmarsh on twitter or British Beekeepers page on Facebook.


N.B. clicking on the images opens a higher resolution image in a new window.

The apiary - January 2013

The apiary – January 2013

January checks – are the bees still alive?

As I said in my previous post the winter months are pretty quiet for the bee keeper. So long as you have taken the time to ensure that the hives were fed syrup at the end of the summer and each now have enough stores to feed them over winter, have a healthy laying queen and are as disease free as possible then it is a bit of a waiting game to see if they survive the colder months or not.

The bees are now clustering around the queen in the hive, keeping the temperature at 34 degrees. They do not keep the hive at this temperature but the brood area is kept this warm. The queen will have started laying again somewhere around Christmas day so now is far more critical to the colonies survival than earlier in the winter.

On warmer days occasionally bees can be seen leaving the hive and travelling a short distance before returning. With a lack of forage these flights are purely for defecation purposes so it is best to avoid the flight path!

Bees leaving the hive for defecation flights

It is re-assuring for the bee keeper to see his bees are still active and alive. Gently rocking the hive or knocking on its side will respond in a gentle roar from the bees, another sign that they are still alive. If the returned noise is more like a groan or moan it is likely that the colony is without a queen and therefore unlikely to survive the winter.

It is important for the bee keeper to remove the mouse guards and clear the dead bees from the entrance during the winter. The bees are very efficient at cleaning the hive to remove the risk of disease during the summer months but this becomes increasing difficult during the winter with less bees to perform the task and a large perforated strip of metal across the hive entrance (the mouse guard!). A long bladed screw driver is perfect for scrapping out the dead bees from the hive floor – this is perfectly natural!

Winter checks on the colonies

Winter checks onthe hive - a little assistance required















Whilst there is no brood in the hive the bees are very inactive, they do not need to generate as much heat and they consume very little stores (with no young to feed). As soon as the queen starts to lay again the bees will start to slowly move across the frames and access the honey and pollen that they stored up in the summer months and use as much as 4 to 6 times the amount as they did before. They tend to access only the frames that are immediately adjacent to, or above, the brood so it is not uncommon for a hive to starve whilst they still have adequate honey supplies stored in the hive. It is also possible for a colony to have adequate stores that have hardened and crystallised and therefore the bees are unable to ‘dilute it’ and remove it from the cells.

It is important for the bee keeper to be aware of the amount of supplies within each hive but it is not really acceptable to open the hives for more than a few minutes during the colder weather without the risk of chilling, and therefore killing, the brood.

Traditionally the beekeeper would ‘heft’ the hive on its stand to try and assess the amount of stores left and a hive at this time of year will still require about 25 kg. If the winter has been particularly cold and it is possible that the bees may have consumed a greater amount of the honey stored you can supplement the feed with bee candy or fondant. This is made by boiling 2kg white granulated sugar in  1 pint of water and bringing it up to 117 degrees. The resultant candy will store for several months when wrapped in plastic and can be feed direct to the bees either over a feed hole on the crown board or direct across the frames. It is far more common for the bees to starve in February and into early March as the hives consumption increases with no way of replenishing the stores.

  • Bee candydy over the feed hole on the crown board
  • Feeding the colony at this stage will also help promote egg laying in the queen and therefore get your colony size building up prior to the spring nectar flow arriving and making sure the colony is strong and ready to forage when it does. – this can make all the difference to the size of the honey crop come August.

    Now is also the time to organise your bee keeping equipment before the start of the next season. New equipment can be ordered (many suppliers have sales over the winter months) and old equipment can be repaired and re-treated before being put back into the elements.

    Organising equipment before the summer season

    Finally you can retire back into the warmth, happy that your bees have survived this far into the year and hoping that they make it out again in the spring ahead.