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)
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.