Tuesday, December 28, 2010

How to make candy for your honey bee colonies!

It was in February of 2010 that I worried that my bees may starve through what was left of the winter.  When we started out last winter, the hive was heavy with honey.  But it was a long winter, and like every other living being, the bees ate to survive.  The hive became very light and I could tell that their honey stores were depleting.  That's when I decided to use the "mountain camp" method of feeding to keep them from starving.  With the mountain camp method, which you see above, basically you lay a piece of newspaper or wax paper across the top frames, then you add a layer of sugar, wet it with warm water, add another layer of sugar, wet it, then keep repeating until you build up a decent store of food. Pros: The bees have food and shouldn't starve. Cons: Its messy and gums up the hive.

A few months ago, I knew my bees were running somewhat low on stores.  So to beef them up, I fed them 2:1 syrup until they stopped taking it.  Then I considered using the mountain camp method again to get them through this winter.  But then I saw a blog post where fellow beekeeping friend and blogger, Steve at Steve's Apiary in Cedartown, Georgia, posted a recipe for bee candy.  When I saw his blog post, I figured I would give it a try.  It looked easy enough and might be fun.  So I ran down to the grocery section at Walmart and purchased the ingredients, but you can find them at any grocery store.  I doubled Steve's recipe since I have multiple hives, but you could cut it in half if you need to.  Here it is:

Bee Hive Candy  
Ten pounds of granulated sugar
32 ounce bottle of clear Karo Syrup
2 1/2 cups of water
1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar (to keep it from crystallizing)
Pure vanilla extract
Heavy grade paper plates (don't use foam plates)
Candy thermometer

First I put the sugar and Karo Syrup in a large, stainless steel stock pot. Then add the water and the cream of tartar.  My advice is to use a pot with a heavy bottom.  If you don't, when the syrup starts cooking, it will burn and you'll have to start over again.  I started out with a high heat, then once it starts to boil, I turned it down to medium high.  Oh, and prepare to stir, stir..and stir some more!

The syrup has to reach 240 degrees Fahrenheit.  And it will.  Just keep watching the heat and stir, stir..stir!  At first, the syrup is cloudy but as the syrup heats, it becomes more of a clear liquid.  What do you do now?  Just keep stirring.  When it starts boiling, take your candy thermometer and keep checking it until the mixture reaches 240 degrees.  Once you get there, turn the heat off and continue to stir the mixture.

Keep watching your candy thermometer, and when the temperature drops to 180 degrees, you can begin to pour it in the paper plates.  But before that, I added a healthy splash of pure vanilla extract to give the mixture some smell to attract the bees.  But be CAREFUL!  The candy started to splatter after I poured the vanilla in, and I had to back away until it settled down.  But as I stirred the candy, the sweet smell of vanilla filled the air.  From the pot, I poured the mixture into the paper plates with a metal ladle.  The entire mixture was enough to fill nine large Chinet paper plates. 

If you don't think that all that stirring is enough to build up your biceps and triceps, then maybe scrubbing and washing the pot and spoon will give you a workout.  Actually it wasn't that bad at all.  I'm sure the dish washer would easily remove the candy residue, but I just decided to wash it the old fashioned way.  

How did the bees like it?  See for yourself!  The next day, I broke a few of them in half to give them a rough edge and to make it easier for the bees to get started.  Before I put the candy in the hive, I laid down a sheet of wax paper and punched small holes in it so the bees could easily get to the candy.  I also sprinkled some Mega Bee pollen substitute around too.  The bees went right to it and started eating away.  I consider this to be a great success.  So did the bees.

The next time I make bee candy, I think I may experiment some.  I may try some essential oils or maybe a splash of Honey-B-Healthy.  Or I may try some other natural additives to see what the bees are more attracted to, for example, citrus or mint extracts.  Oh, and by the way, I couldn't help but test the final product to see what it tastes like.  My opinion?  Marshmallows.  Its nowhere as fluffy as a marshmallow, but tastes just the same.  I'm no fan of marshmallows.  So I'll leave the candy for the bees.

Just a note: You can find cheaper syrup besides Karo brand, but I wouldn't.  Karo lists just corn syrup and water in the ingredients.  I found a cheaper brand that was full of preservatives and things I'd never heard of.  It pays to read labels.  Second, unless you're an excellent candy maker, you need to use a candy thermometer, and if you don't have one, buy one.  Don't chance it because you will mess it up.  And last, be careful.  The boiling candy mixture is extremely hot.  If it gets on your skin, you can count on a really nasty burn.  Protect your hands with protective, insulated gloves...maybe something like an Ove-Glove.            

If you decide to try it, good luck!  And thanks to Steve for passing along his recipe.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas brings a honey of a package! Beekeeping goodies and a white Christmas!

Christmas morning brought all sorts of gifts to my house; clothes, gift-cards, edible treats and more.  One thing Santa Claus delivered (for me of course) was beekeeping goodies!  I got new beekeeping overalls, new gloves, and a stainless steel honey extractor!  While I was perfectly okay with the "crush and strain" method, Santa Claus decided that was a little time consuming, so he had those hard working elves make an extractor and he delivered it during the night.

The description, written by those nice people at Dadant and Sons (I'm sure they guided Santa's elves) says: Stainless steel hand powered. Capacity: 2 frames (9 1/8" deep maximum) per load. Stainless steel extracting basket and top assembly. Piano style continuously hinged lid. Easily converts to 175-lb, storage container. Frames must be removed and turned to extract both sides. 1½" plastic honey gate included. Tank: 304 stainless steel 14" dia. x 23¼" tall, all welded construction.  It looks like the slim, old-timey washing machine like my Great-Grandmother used to have.

As I said before, I was happy with the crush and strain method.  But I guess Santa Claus figured that with multiple hives, and chances are more coming this spring, an extractor would be the ideal gift! 

Who am I to second-guess Santa?  He's one smart man!

We also had the surprise of a white Christmas.  Honestly I don't remember the last time we had a white, snowy Christmas, but it was a wonderful way to celebrate the holiday.  Christmas morning started out sunny and bright, but the clouds gathered as the day progressed, then the snow started after lunch.  The weather forecast called for 3" to 6" of snow, and by holly...I mean by golly, we got it!  Needless to say, it was absolutely beautiful and created memories for many!

Merry Christmas to all!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Although its been said many times, many ways...

And to my many fellow beekeeping friends
around the world, I bid you and yours:

Feliz Navidad!
Fröhliche Weihnachten!
En frehlicher Grischtdaag!
Nollaig chridheil huibh!
Milad Majid!
Noeliniz Ve Yeni Yiliniz Kutlu Olsun!
Kala Christouyenna!
Feliz Natal!
Mele Kalikimaka!
Nadolig Llawen!
Natale hilare et Annum Faustum!
Pozdrevlyayu s prazdnikom Rozhdestva is Novim Godom!
Joyeux Noel!
Buone Feste Natalizie!
Hristos se rodi!
Vrolijk Kerstfeest en een Gelukkig Nieuwjaar!
Srozhdestvom Kristovym!
Mo'adim Lesimkha. Chena tova!

And for 2011, may your hives be full and your honey sweet!

God be with you all..


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

My worst fears may come true. It may be a long, hard winter!

The news accounts are true; the East coast is absolutely, positively frigid!  As you can see, it was mighty cold here this morning.  When I snapped this picture, the temperature was 13-degrees, but the morning low at sunrise was an icy 11-degrees.  And the weather services are calling for snow and ice here tonight and tomorrow, then another wave of it on Saturday.  It looks like Old Man Winter decided to come calling a little early.

In preparation for the cold snap, I checked my bees over the weekend.  They're no longer taking syrup, so I switched over to feeding them homemade bee candy (the recipe is coming in a future post).  Two of the three hives are fine and I'm sure they'll make it through the winter.  But the third, the lime green hive, I admit I have grave concerns about. 

The temperature on Saturday was 45-degrees as I did the quick inspection, and the bees in the yellow and orange hives met me as I cracked open the tops.  Everything looked fine although they were a little testy.  I'm most sure they wondered who was opening their home in the cold weather.  So I placed candy and pollen substitute on the frames and shut everything up tight so they could settle down.  Plus I didn't want to take too long and allow the cold air to permeate the hives.

But the lime hive, well, that was a different story.  When I opened the hive, I found honey all through the top chamber, but I only saw a few bees...and they were dead.  I looked down through the hive and could see all the way through to the screened bottom board.  And as I put my head down near the top, I could hear buzzing.  Finally in frustration, I took my hive tool and rapped several times really loud on the side of the hive.  That's when a handful of bees came to the top to see what the ruckus was about.  With an uneasy feeling, I put the candy and pollen substitute on the frames and quickly shut it up.  I may be wrong and hope I am, but I have a feeling that may be the last time I hear buzzing coming from this colony.  This has been the weakest hive I own; much weaker that the other two and just slow to build up.  If they are lucky enough to make it through the winter, the first thing I want to do this coming spring is replace the queen.  While she was fine initially, I think she has slowly failed as the year progressed.  And my gut feeling is that if I don't replace her, they'll supersede her on their own.  We'll see what happens.

I'll post the recipe for the bee candy soon.  Its a heck of a lot better than gumming up the hive with the "mountain camp" method...and my bees went right to it.  

Until next time, BEE warm!    

Friday, December 10, 2010

You can see my hives from high in the sky thanks to Google!

Well what do you know?  Google has changed their newest satellite maps in my area and now you can actually see the bee hives behind my house!

The older images that Google used before were seriously outdated.  They were really fuzzy and it was tough to make out the details about my area.  But they obviously decided to do an update sometime since mid-March of this year because my outbuilding, which is located at the lower end of my property, was finished when the image was made.

If you click on the photo above, you can see my house as it looks high in the sky.  You can see my house, then my outbuilding -- and just to the upper right of the building -- you see my hives.  And of you look really close, albeit a little fuzzy, you can even make out three bee hives.  I believe the glow from the hives is the sun's reflection from the sheet metal of the hive covers.  And if you look just beyond my hives, you can see the creek that my bees use for their honey and to cool the hives in the hot, humid summer months in North Carolina.

Looking at the image, I have to wonder if that's the view my girls see when they make their orientation flights to learn where home is?  Is that the sight they see when they come home after a long day of foraging?

Google is getting really good with the technology they use these days.  Before you know it, they'll get so good, you'll be able to make out the bees as they come and go from their hives!

If you want to see if you can find your house and even your hives, click on the link above and play around with it.  Its pretty simple to use and fun too.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Another reason to buy LOCALLY produced honey!

I was picking up a few things are the grocery store when I happened to take a good look at a bottle of honey sitting on the shelf.  And when I read the label, I could see just one more reason why people should buy locally produced honey.  

Whenever I talk to people about honey bees, I often tell them to support their local beekeepers.  Why?  There are so many reasons why.  Mainly because local honey is so much healthier and contains the elements (nectar and pollen) from local fruits and vegetables and flowers which is great for people with allergies and other health issues.  Plus its great to suppport the local beekeepers and their families because you keep local dollars in their pockets.

But here's another reason.  Take a good look at the label from this container of "Burleson's Natural Pure Honey" that I found at the grocery store.  While Burleson's is headquartered in Texas, the honey in the bottle comes from EVERYWHERE else!  If you read the print, you can see that it comes from the United States, Argentina, Canada, Mexico, Brazil and Vietnam!  So while the honey in the jar did in fact come from honey bees which makes it natural, it also comes from all over the globe.  And to me, that's just not good. 

I've read that almost 240 million pounds of honey is imported into the United States from a number of countries, but mainly from places like Argentina, Canada, China and Vietnam.  Who knows what kind of management practices some beekeeper in Vietnam may use with his or her bees...or what chemicals they use to treat them?  I've read accounts where Asian honey, tested by U.S. Customs, contained Ciprofloxacin and Enrofloxacin and different pesticides.  If you remember, Ciprofloxin or 'Cipro' was the same antibiotic used to treat people exposed in the Anthrax attacks years ago.  Who wants that made-made chemical compound in their honey?

Please understand that I'm not slamming beekeepers in other countries.  I have many online friends who are beekeepers in other continents and countries...including Canada.  And I thoroughly enjoy reading their blogs to see how they handle their bees.  But when it comes to honey, I just think its better to buy a locally produced product from people you know.  That way you know how they handle their bees and know about the end product.  My opinion is that's its better for everyone all around.

Support your local beekeeper!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

SNOW! My area gets the first snowfall for the fall/winter season of 2010-2011!

Its the beginning of December, but Santa Claus would be proud of the first snowfall for the fall and winter of 2010-2011. And hey, according to the calendar, its not officially winter yet!  The snow started around 2 o'clock on Saturday afternoon with huge flakes falling, then light snow, and then back to huge flakes.  Throw in a light sprinkling of some sleet too and we got a nice wintry mix.  As you can see though, the concrete and asphalt were warm enough to not cause problems until night fell, but the roads started getting slushy late in the evening.

North Carolina is the home to the University of North Carolina Tarheels, the North Carolina State University Wolfpack, the Wake Forest University Demon Deacons and the Duke University Blue Devils.  Since this bird house is Duke blue, it would only be appropriate that a blue jay reside there in the warm summer months!

A sleeping Dogwood tree.  This is a beautiful tree that borders my property and is covered with dark pink flowers in the late spring in time for Easter.  Snow flakes covered every limb!

One of several camellia bushes in my yard.  Mind you, they're all covered by snow now, but they're loaded with buds for the spring of 2011!  I don't think that bees are attracted to camellia flowers because I've never noticed them on mine.  But my neighbors keep beautifully landscaped yards so they have plenty of other flowers to choose from!    

No album of a snowfall would be complete without a snapshot of my bee hives.  Yes the girls are all snug as bugs inside their hives.  But as you can see, the snow covered up the entrances to all three.  While it sometimes acts as an insulation barrier to keep those icy winter winds out, it also keeps the bees from going out when temperatures rise.

To help the ladies, I opened up their entrances so they wouldn't have to wait for Mother Nature to do it for them.  Now they can quickly and discreetly go outside to do their business when nature calls.  By the way, the bees in the yellow hive are still taking 2:2 syrup from the Boardman feeder.

The snowfall of December 4th covered everything.  It was truly beautiful.  And thank goodness it happened early enough in the day that everyone could enjoy it.  With the Sunday temperatures forecast to be sunny and in the 40s range, you will never know that a snow event even happened here.  But with photos, we'll always have our memories.  Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!