Like a bee in a candy store

Happy Thanksgiving weekend from the United States, when families and friends come together to eat a lot of food, watch sports, and give thanks for the good things in life. The official holiday was started by none other than our first president George Washington, who proclaimed November 26, 1789 “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer” (at least, according to Wikipedia).

I found some time to both appreciate and tend my bees this weekend, and made some candy boards for them to snack on during our cold (cool?) winter nights. We had temperatures around 60 F (15 C) all weekend, so it was a good time to finish my winter preparations.

Candy Boards

Three finished candy boards for my Langstroth hives. ©Erik Brown

My three Langstroth hives seem a bit weak for the winter, especially Mars, so I thought I would try Rusty Barlow’s candy board approach. Rusty runs the Honey Bee Suite blog, which if you are a beekeeper you should definitely follow. She has been using these candy boards for three years, as a way to provide some extra food for her colonies. I haven’t found a good way to augment the stores in my top bar hives (and I think they are in better shape). So for now, they are on their own.

Rusty’s candy board is pretty straight forward. You take an eke, also called a mountain camp rim or a baggie feeder, attach a plastic queen excluder to the bottom, and pack it with sugar mixed with a little water. Instant feeder.

The Eke

My first problem was that Brushy Mountain Bee Farm only carries 10-frame ekes, which they call baggie feeders. This is a little strange because they are otherwise a great source for 8-frame equipment. I had a trip planned to my parent’s last weekend, and Brushy’s New Columbia store is right off Route 15 in Pennsylvania, which is on my way.

Not to be daunted, I ordered an extra medium super. My dear old dad, a woodworker, could surely fix it. We reached the store late, but I thought to call ahead and they simply set my order outside under a tarp for me to pick up. I love great customer service.

My father cut the medium sides into just over 2 inch pieces. When I got home, these nailed together nicely and I had my three ekes.

Ekes

Three 8-frame ekes made from a medium super. ©Erik Brown

The Candy Board

Making the candy boards, with some initial sugar and pollen patties in place. ©Erik Brown

The rest of the construction went pretty smoothly. I primed and painted; then screwed the queen excluders to the base of each box. Two issues I encountered: first, make sure the excluder is flat when you screw it on. My first one was a little buckled because I didn’t check this. Second, don’t over-tighten the screws, as it may warp the excluder.

I also bought some pollen substitute from Brushy Mountain, as Rusty advocates this in her post. Pollen patties are also favored by small hive beetles in our area, so I only put a small amount in each. Each eke received four pounds of sugar, a blob or two of pollen patty, and another four pounds of sugar. For my cheap sugar, I found that two tablespoons of water per pound was needed to get the right consistency.

On the Hives

The next morning the sugar was quite hard; perfect. I thought the two-by-fours would be difficult to remove, but a knife and a little water freed them up. That was Saturday, and with temperatures in the mid-60’s (18 C) it was a good day to open the top of the hives. Per Rusty’s suggestion, I added an Imirie shim underneath to provide some space and a top entrance. The top entrance provides ventilation in winter to allow humid air to escape rather than forming condensation in the hive.

Candy Board

A candy board on top of Ganymede. You can see the top entrance underneath. ©Erik Brown

About that Top Entrance

Callisto

My hive Callisto on November 26. The bees where quite active today. ©Erik Brown

Rusty’s post this past week on overwintering hives in single deeps had a comment questioning whether ventilation holes were really necessary. The comment referenced an article Honey Bee Engineering: Top Ventilation and Top Entrances from the August 2017 issue of American Bee Journal. I started subscribing to ABJ this year so I found the August issue and read the article. In summary, top ventilation causes the bottom to middle of the hive to be cooler even though the top of the hive remains warm. This may encourage the bees to move up within the hive more quickly than without a top entrance. I should note that the article does not address humidity issues, which is a big issue in The Pacific Northwest where Rusty lives.

I was unsure about the top entrances anyways, as our winters tend to be rather dry, and this article confirmed it. I didn’t really want to open the hives again, even though the bees were flying in the sunny mid-50’s this afternoon. So I plugged the holes with a small piece of foam insulation, and taped them over with duct tape.

Having the candy boards also provides an easy way to check on the hives later this winter. I can peek in the top and check the sugar levels. I was pleased to get this done, and feel more hopeful that Mars will make it through the winter.

Like a kid in a candy store

None of my books had a good proverb or saying with the word “candy,” so I was forced to use the Internet. The Free Dictionary site came through for me with this saying. I was unable to find any definitive origin information, so I am not certain when and how this idiom was first used.

To get a sense of the phrase’s history, I searched for “kid in a candy store” on the Google Books Ngram Viewer. This is a fun site to play with, and gives a sense of when a phrase started to be used in books (seriously, click the link!). Based on the chart, the phrase was popular enough in the 1950’s to be used in print, and its use has only increased since then.

In any case, the saying seems appropriate for this post. I would much prefer to feed the bees honey, as honey is probably healthier for them than sugar (just like humans). The candy boards provide some insurance through the winter, especially if the weather stays cold as some weather folks have forecast.

May you prosper and find honey.

5 thoughts on “Like a bee in a candy store

  1. What machine is used to cut the boxes into thirds? And thanks for the post on winter upper entrances. I attended a lecture this spring by Rudi Peters, who keeps bees in a climate similar to the PacNW where Rusty (and I) live. Rudi is adamant that upper entrances are not needed even in our wet winter, and cause problems. I blogged on his lecture, https://herewebee.wordpress.com/2017/03/14/snow-business/ As for honey, if the honey crystallizes, or is high in solid content, then sugar syrup honey is better for the bees over winter. They really depend on pollen for micronutrients. Also worth considering with honey fees is the whole issue of agri-sprays…if the nectars gathered contain field spray residues, then the bees may receive, in their winter stores, constant micro-doses of toxins. So again, sugar syrup honey comes up trumps!

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    • We (or really my dad) just used a table saw. For a medium box, set the spacing to 2 and 1/8 inches, and make two cuts on each side board. I labeled them ahead of time to make it easier to put them together afterwards. Some glue and nails and they were done. I painted with a darker color since they are typically used in cool weather.

      Thanks for the link to the lecture, will have to take a look. I have heard that syrup can be better as well for overwintering, not sure it is fully substantiated yet. Interesting stuff, thanks for the comment.

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