By , on January 19th, 2012

Feeding bees in winter

1. Introduction

Zachary Huang, January 18, 2012

January 6, 2012. It was 50 F (10C), but with strong sunlight it felt like 65 to me. Alex (my postdoc) and I checked one yard  and found 12 colonies alive. He did another yard and also 14 alive. Only one dead at home yard (out from about 12). That day some bees were near the top of the hive, that means they were running out of food. Bees will only move upward in the winter (and they move pretty much that way during summer too, but at least they can reach for food anywhere during summer) and if there are food below, they could still die from starvation! Alex will be going back to China tomorrow so we made some sugar boards today and took some photos. He made 4 yesterday.

An average colony in our area needs 60 lbs to winter…since a 3 lb package will cost me $75-80 in 2 months, I decided to invest time to feed my bees so that I do not have to buy as many.
2. Metho

2.1 recipe:
John Sinanis gave me this recipe below (and he also donated 6 boards to me last year):

1) heat up 4 cups of water (=940 ml), till boil
2) add 15 lbs of sugar (7=kg), mix well with water
3) add 4.5 tea spoonful of vinegar (~22 ml)
4) Boil to 234 (110 C) degrees, Put the lid on for 3 minutes.
5) Let it cool to 200 degree (90), then whipped no more than 2 minutes you will see white bubbles.
6) Pour sugar to the tray, Let it cool for one day or overnight, Then is ready.

This time we made it right. Last year we thought it was 4.5 cup of vinegar and the liquid wont solidify and the lab was a mess with sticky syrup…

2.2 Photos
1. Stirring the sugar + water + vinegar mix, Turn the dial to around 4 o’clock setting on the stove. This will take about 20 min.

2. Once the mixture starts to boil, it will be at 110 C. so you do not really need a thermometer.

3. Cooling it cold water will take only 5 min to come down to 90 C

4. Carefully pour the sugar to the sugar board, which is a board with a central hole (for bees to come up), and the same size as the outside dimension of a standard Langstroth hive.

5. There are boards Alex made the day before. The new ones are not ready until a day later.

6. We drove to the George’s yard, which is about 30 minutes away, just north of the Sleepy Hollow State Park. There was a truck at the road, stopping us from driving in. I thought we could drive in fine since it was 22 F that day (-6 C) and the soil was frozen.

7. we used a dolley to haul the 4 boards to the bees, about 200 meters away.

8. We had ot across a small bridge over a stream.

9. Finally we are there!

10. I recorded that the 4 hives near the end had less food. The first one was fine, the bees were below the top most medium super and we had to knock on the hive to hear the humming to know the bees are still alive. My only good ear had trouble hearing though, and I had to hit the hive hard to hear a response.
But the 2nd hive, the bees were near the top…and 5-6 of them flew out after we removed the inner cover! Alex was in a defensive posture here 🙂

11. One bee was crushed when we closed the hive (the inner cover go over top of the sugar board) in a hurry.

12. Ready to open the last one (#4 in this yard).

13. Bees were alive and near the top…

14. a bit closer…

15. Alex’s left ear becoming red after a 30 min exposure in the 22 degree temperature…

16. Back “home” around 3:47 pm.

3. Results and Discussion.

It remains seen whether the ones receiving the sugar boards will make it or not, will update around beginning of April.

6 comments to Feeding bees in winter

  • Hi Zach. I see in the photos that your hives are configured with one deep brood box and two medium supers. I have been thinking of moving to this configuration from the 2 deep configuration I use now. Since I prefer to not use queen excluders I’m sure this will be more convenient to manipulate frames when the queen has placed brood in the honey supers. I see this configuration often in more southern climates but haven’t seen it used much in these parts. Do you have any thoughts you could share regarding this configuration? It’s benefits versus drawbacks? Thanks

    Jim Withers

  • Zachary Huang

    the good: easier on your backs since you will only need to lift 2 mediums to work on the deep, and not a deep one ontop of the lower deep.
    the bad: you now have two types of brood frames…deep and medium. that is the only draw back I see. for wintering I definitely like this one better…easier to shuffle a medium around if one is dead and move to a live one.

  • Ted Fischer

    Zachary – I use a similar method – except I break the candy apart (my boards are covered first with waxed paper) and distribute it as needed in an empty shallow super put atop the brood chamber. In your method, how do you distribute extra candy, when the bees have finished with the first board? I would think that the board would be full of bees getting at the last bits of candy.

  • Linda Bradley

    Do you have the plans for the forms that you poured the sugar mixture into?

  • Zachary Huang

    I do not distribute extra candy. They will only get one board per colony, which should be enough to sustain them for about 1.5-2 months. I do not think they will start on the sugar right away, maybe in another 2 weeks…

  • Zachary Huang

    No, I do not have the plans for it. John Sinanis gave these to me and he had Lloyd make them for him. It is pretty simple, about 1.5-2 inch deep inside, basically a tray with a round hole in the middle, the rest is similar to the out cover, except the outside dimension of this tray matches the hive body exactly. I am sure you can find it on

    Ok, I found one youtube video which you might find useful: here

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