Sweeter than Honeycomb

The other day I told you about what’s happening in our backyard beeyard. I wanted to share a photo of the bee candy I mentioned in that post & talk about sugar cakes a bit more.

To make sugar cakes, I boiled five entire pounds of sugar for a long time with a little bit of water, heated it to hard-ball stage (250F), cooled it down to 200 F and then poured the molten sugar lava into greased paper plates. Once it cools and hardens, you can peel the plate off and feed it to the bees, or store the extras in the paper plates. (This is not a precise recipe or method, and if you need to make sugar cakes, follow along with someone who knows what they are doing. For example, this) 5 lbs of sugar made 4 cakes of bee candy.

The girls are crazy for it. They love it more than the frames of honey that I selflessly did not steal from them last fall. They are eating it like, well, like candy. The bees ate 1/2 of the first cake pretty much immediately, so I pushed a second cake into the hive on President’s Day. Since it’s started snowing in Olympia, I haven’t had a chance to check and see their progress on the second candy cake, but I’m sure they will eat through it in no time. At this rate, we are going to go through a lot of sugar before the spring nectar flow starts. Hopefully once the weather is a little warmer, the bees can move around the hive more freely & rediscover their honey stores. On one of my favorite bee keeping blogs, Honey Bee Suite, Rusty wrote recently:

The best advice I can give is this: buy sugar wherever and when it is on sale. Some places sell it in 50-pound bags which are often cheaper but harder to handle. Most stores have sales from time to time. If you stay in beekeeping you will never run out of a need for sugar.

I wish I had stocked up on sugar when the stores were having holiday baking sales. Sometimes you don’t fully understand your future needs and maybe you live in a little house that’s short on cool, dry storage options, so you don’t like to hoard things you might not use like 50 lbs of sugar. Then, you end up paying extra for sugar later. Live & learn, eh? I love how the sugar candy looks like the surface of the moon. I love to see the bees tunnel through the cake of sugar; they seem so excited about it. And now our bees have a better chance of making it in this big, crazy world. Thanks, sugar cakes.

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7 Comments

Filed under bees, winter

7 responses to “Sweeter than Honeycomb

  1. Hillary

    When I saw the thumbnail pic on your facebook I totally thought it was the moon.
    So, not to be a debbie downer, but I guess I thought at some point you started getting enough honey to be sweetener sustainable and not have to buy sugar. Does that happen?

    • A lot of beekeepers end up with more honey than they can use in several lifetimes. That’s why they sell it. But for everything there is a season – honeymaking season is not February in the northern hemisphere. My bees actually have a lot of honey, but they can’t get to it because it’s so cold. This is an emergency measure to keep them alive so I have bees next year. I might end up harvesting that surplus honey for myself in a few months — but right now, they are on the top of the box going hungry.

      A beekeeper that manages their bees perfectly and gets tons of honey to harvest and leaves tons of honey for the bees may still have to feed in the harshest parts of late winter. A new package or a swarm might not be strong enough to get through the winter without your help. Some years, you might not feed bees at all. Some years, you might feed bees a lot. They can produce more sweetness than they consume, but they still need what they need at the time that they need it. A good example might be chickens. Chickens produce protein in the form of eggs, but not all the time. You still feed chickens when they stop laying (when they are molting, or in the winter). It would be cruel not to. Even though the overall lifespan of the chicken shows a net gain of protein for the human, sometimes the chicken needs food and needs food and needs food and doesn’t give anything back. They are managed livestock (both the chickens and the bees), and you manage your resources accordingly to manage theirs. A lot of beekeepers feed even their strongest, best colonies in the early spring to trick the bees into building up their populations earlier than they would naturally. That way when the nectar stars, you have more bees ready to work. (it takes 21 days to make a bee, and the honey flow can be DONE GONE OVER! in less than that)

      Anyway, I could go on about this forever. I’ll stop now.

  2. Hillary

    Thanks for the explanation! I clearly have a lot to learn.

  3. Saja

    Is it possible to photograph the bees eating the cake? Your description of how they get excited and tunnel into sounds so wonderful.

  4. That’s the prettiest candy cake I’ve ever seen. I made some a while back, but they were a bit on the bumpy side.

    I recently posted a video of our bees eating away at the candy cakes. The bees are all over them. I think they might even prefer the candy cakes over their regular honey stores. Judging from the last time I checked, it looks like they ate about 3 pounds of candy in a month.

    Once the weather warms up and stays above freezing, I plan to add feeders to my hives so their populations are strong for April when the dandelions bloom. Then they’re on their own. The trick now it keep them alive until spring.

    All the best with your bees.

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