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Discussion Starter #1
Hi all,

I'm in E Pennsylvania and the temps are hovering around 30F. I've had the sugar boards on (mesh board with slab of sugar and prot patty, then quilt box above that). Am happy to see the bees very active on sunny days. I was curious how they were doing with the sugar board and while the hives were quiet this morning I snuck a peek. I just lifted the quilting boards enough to look at the sugar boards and was surprised to see the clusters there on both hives. Well, maybe the top of the clusters. I'd guess the sugar is around 40-50% remaining on each hive.

Question: When I made the boards I mixed up the sugar and poured it onto the candy boards with some newspaper. Obviously now I want to just add more sugar without removing the board from the hive-- so I assume I make it similar and just plate it out on a cookie sheet and then break it up to put into hives? And- with the cluster being up in there do I just open the top quilting box to shove some more sugar pieces in? I'm nervous that I'll disrupt the queen by messing around if the cluster is up there..

Anyone have some advice on how best to do this?

thanks

brad
 

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Remove the protein patty as soon as you can. It is not good to have it in the hive during the winter (starting now) until mid-late February when the bees can fly regularly again. Protein makes them need to poop - which they will be reluctant to do inside the hive. It can lead to dysentery.

Even in the late winter and very early spring pollen/protein sub can create issues: by prompting extra-early brooding you risk disturbing the natural build-up progression beyond what they bees can otherwise easily support. This can lead to chilled brood, chalk brood, and prematurely running out of food.

It will also dramatically increase your early swarms risks. Unless you have the experience and skill, and empty drawn comb to manage this, you are playing with fire. You will have enough challenges with swarming after your first overwintering (lack of equipment, i.e. drawn empty combs and experience), so don't add to your burdens. Managing swarming at the end of winter is the most complex task of the whole beekeeping year. (And you thought you'd have it aced if they simply survive!)

The bees don't consume pollen (which is what protein sub/supplement is supplying) in the winter. Their metabolisms run on a high-carb diet: honey or sugar (or commercial winter patty).

It's not too late to begin pollen supplement/protein sub in March, if needed. (Early March for you, mid-late for me up here in northern NY). Once you start, you must be prepared to continue providing it until there are both reliable natural supplies, and the foreseeable weather that will allow the bees to access it. Inconsistent pollen availability is a risk factor for expressing European Foul Brood disease - not a cause (the disease is caused by a bacteria), just an additional (and avoidable) environmental factor that can tilt the scales in the wrong way. I keep pollen patty on through the start of apple blossoms/dandelions, especially if we are having a cool rainy spring.

Nancy
 

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Here's a quick easy way to make mini sugar blocks to resupply your sugar board. I make all of my blocks this size. They are easy to place on the top bars, can be moved around or new ones inserted to fill in empty space as the bees eat the blocks, and they are easy to remove in the spring if there are any left over.

* In a bowl thoroughly mix in just enough water to get the sugar to a crumbly consistency, similar to a wet snow that packs.

* Cut a Dixie cup to the proper depth so the blocks will fit into your rim, that will be your mold to make the blocks.

* Gently pack the sugar into the cup and smooth off the top. Don't pack it in too tight, you want the sugar to be slightly porous so it will dry quicker.

* Turn it over onto a board or tray covered with wax paper. The cup mold will slide right off when you lift it up.

Let them air dry, and in about 3 days they should be dried enough for you to gently turn them over so the bottom side is exposed to the air to continue drying. Three or four more days and they should be solid enough to carefully stack in a 5 gallon bucket and carry out to the hives. The pics here are a 4# bag of sugar. You can make as many or as few as you need.
 

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Someone please correct my logic on sugar bricks. There are 2 types of bricks, ones made by simply wetting sugar and those that are made by heating sugar with vinegar to change the sugar to "inverted sugar". By having inverted sugar, the bees can readily consume the bricks by simply dissolving it with water. Without inverted sugar, the bees need to dissolve the brick with water and put the syrup in their honey gut where enzymes convert the sugar and then regurgitate it to fellow bees to consume.
Is this correct? I use the heating method with my bricks and could save a bunch of time and energy by just moistening it.
Thanks!
 

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My bees do very well on bricks made the simplest way. I have seen starving bees in the spring before flying weather, use moisture from inside the hive to liquify and store frames full of syrup. I wonder how many colonies are lost due to sugar caramelized in heating and the additive of various angel farts. KISS
 

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The main objective is to keep your bees alive until spring. Adding dry sugar or blocks is intended to be an emergency measure to sustain a colony that is in trouble with their stores. I look at is as a Bread and Water subsistence diet to buy some time until they can forage for steak and potatoes in the spring.

I think honey is the ideal overwintering diet. Sugar in various forms is a good substitute, it can keep colonies alive when they need help. I suppose inverted sugar is better than raw sugar, but I've tried both and I've seen no real difference in the two.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
thanks everyone- that's helpful. Ok- so I'll yank those pollen patties off tomorrow morning.. hopefully the cluster isn't right on them. Suppose I should suit up and have a smoker going in case?

thanks. You're right Nancy.. I thought survival to spring alone was the biggest challenge..
 

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Discussion Starter #11
forgot to ask: confused if I should be adding vinegar or not to the sugar; have seen multiple recipes with every possible variation. Consensus?

So- I just took a peak thinking the cluster might be further down and I could yank the pollen. No such luck- the sugar board was nothing but bees- couldn't even see the pollen patties on either hive. Does this mean that there are no more honey stores in the hive below? That they are totally dependent on supplemental sugar now?

And-- Nancy- do you think if I remove the pollen tomorrow (I'll smoke them down I guess and really get it out) it's still early enough in winter than I haven't doomed them with over pooping/populating etc? I really have seemed to make every possible mistake this first year-- it's incredible that the hives are still going at all, really.

Thanks for all the helpful input.

Brad
 

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Of course, you should suit up and have a smoker going. That's just common sense. It's likely you will not need them, but if you do, it will be too late.......

Managing your way through your first overwintered spring is absolutely nothing like your experience from your establishment year spring and early summer. The swarm instinct that's expressed after wintering is completely different from whatever "swarming" behavior you observed this summer.

I tell my students that the "first beekeeping year" is 14-16 months long before you're back on completely familiar ground. In other words, take the time when the bees spent getting fully established after installation (typically 2 or 3 months) and add 12 months to that. The only good thing is that in successive springs hereafter, the periodicity is just a calendar year. Most new beekeepers have no idea how atypical those first months are while the bees are making a home for themselves and settling in. It's important this summer to set your sights on making sure that by next winter you're sitting on a surplus of empty, drawn, combs to use as tools in swarm management in the spring of 2020.

This spring, it will be pretty much catch-as-catch-can to finagle your way through without losing your bees to the trees.

Spend your winter boning up here on BS on the various swarm-dampening techniques that can be deployed. Look for writing by MattDavies (in the forums) and Walt Wright (in the Resources section), etc. Plus there will be endless questions and comments on the topic if you can persuade the BS search function to work effectively. MattDavies ideas don't require empty drawn combs, but Walt Wright's do. But don't let that deter you from studying Walt's ideas. (His writing is a bit opaque, but keep drilling down on it.)

I use Walt Wright's ideas earliest in the season (late March or early April, depending on the weather, and continuing on through the end of May); then about a month later, I add in Matt's techniques; then I starting using Mike Palmer's very useful technique of tipping boxes up (each brood box, as frequently as every five days in every hive) to keep a constant watch for swarm cells. (That's easier on the bees than pulling frames on that often.) But I am also always prepared with double-screen boards, and extra boxes, and extra drawn comb to make a swarm pre-empting split, even if I don't intend to allow it to become independent in the end. So you should also Google Wally Shaw's "The many uses of a Snelgrove board " (a kind of double-screen board) in order to get that technique firmly in your head. If you discover pre-swarm signs you have to act at once. When you first got your bees last year your queries were intermingled with lots of discussion in the forums about swarming and SB, etc., but it probably didn't seem relevant then. It will be, in just a few months.

One thing that I remember from last year was that a lot of people seemed to think using a Snelgrove was a swarm preventive tactic. No, it is a last minute swarm rescue tactic. Because even if used to make a split, unless you arrange the frames in a particular way, the bees can still swarm away from the SB-divided hive.

If you want to chill out the bees' very natural intentions to swarm you have to start months before they are visibly showing signs of getting ready to swarm, and then, never let up in your deterrent efforts. Not until,you see them making lots of white wax on the tops of combs and settling in to make some honey. (That assumes you have drawn super frames for them to make honey in, if not you'll stay on thin ice awhile longer.)

I have always been able to keep my bees in the boxes I want them in, but I have to tell you, it is the most physically demanding and bee-intrusive work of the whole year. And by the end of it, the bees and I are heartily sick of each other.

During my first winter, I was flabbergasted - and then horrified - as it dawned on me what the prospective amount work would entail. Because I, like you, was quite pleased that my bees were alive and thriving in their snug boxes. Little did I know, what a scramble I would have keeping them there through the first weeks of June. I had no more empty drawn comb than the average first-year beekeeper. That taught me a lesson: with my students, I am now relentless about getting them to arrange it so the bees make additional surplus brood-nest sized combs in the first summer. (Empty drawn honey-super sized frames are useless for swarm management which involves frame manipulation in the brood nest.) So much so, that I recommend only offering brood nest sized boxes and frames in the first summer. You may get a little honey harvest in them, and then they can be re-purposed as swarm-management, Snelgrove board, tools the following spring. And you need to get an extra brood-nest height box to house them during the first summer, which is needed if you plan to deploy a SB, anyway.

You have a lot of reading and research in front of you. And don't let anyone tell you that swarming, because it is a natural instinct in a strong over-wintered colony, is inevitable or unstoppable. That's a rationalization for beekeepers who don't know what to do, or are unwilling to do it thoroughly. You have managed bees - so, manage them!

Nancy

ETA: Yes, add vinegar. It helps invert the sugar to mae it more palatable.

No you have not doomed your bees, though they might have been brooding later because of the added pollen. (This affects your calculations for doing a broodless-period OAV, if that was in your plans.)

No, their presence on the supplemental chow does not mean they have run out. If they have run out, they will be on the chow. But being on the chow doesn't mean that they have - it just means they like what you're offering. it's warm enough right now that they can move around in the hive as they like. Lift your stacks, (or weigh them) if they still feel heavy, there is still honey (or syrup) in the hive. They may have moved above it, however. (And they don't readily go back down in really cold weather.) That's why I like to make sure my top box is solid honey, straight across, and also I don't add solid food until just before the weather really closes in, after Christmas. I can't recall exactly how you described the state of your hives' preps, but I expect they're OK. (Anyway you can keep them supplied with supp. sugars all winter, if needed.)

Don't sweat getting every last crumb of the patty out. Just remove any decent-sized chunks - flicking the bees gently off, and back down into the hive. Next spring, when you are putting pollen patty in, just use fractions of the slab and feed them only enough so they are just barely finishing the old supply up when you go back in. (The pace of consumption will pick up as they successively raise more brood.) Too much uneaten pollen sub patty, can give SHB a leg up early on.

In winter, though, for sugar, fondant, bricks, etc., pay attention to weather forecasts around the time you plan to resupply, and don't fall into the trap of delaying it and then being prevented from cracking the hives open in really unsuitable weather. Do it early, if needed.
 

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Someone please correct my logic on sugar bricks. There are 2 types of bricks, ones made by simply wetting sugar and those that are made by heating sugar with vinegar to change the sugar to "inverted sugar". By having inverted sugar, the bees can readily consume the bricks by simply dissolving it with water. Without inverted sugar, the bees need to dissolve the brick with water and put the syrup in their honey gut where enzymes convert the sugar and then regurgitate it to fellow bees to consume.
Is this correct? I use the heating method with my bricks and could save a bunch of time and energy by just moistening it.
Thanks!
When I make sugar bricks I do use vinegar but the purpose is not to invert the sugar. I feel the odor make it more attractive to the bees. There is no proof or scientific reasoning behind it, it is just a feeling. In my opinion, cooking the sugar is a complete waste of time and energy. I use a bit more than 2 tablespoons of vinegar per pound of sugar. Mix it up well, press it down to compact it and let it dry overnight. That is it. If I need them in a hurry, I put them in the dehydrator for an hour. If I use the Kitchenaid, I can make 4 pounds of sugar bricks in less than 5 minutes. If I do it by hand, it takes 2 minutes longer. As Vance G said, keep it simple. The bees don't care if you spent 12 hours making the blocks or only 25 seconds.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Ok- thanks Nancy. I was able to get some patty out of one hive-- but I think the other patty is all gone in the other hive. Bees were super sluggish and didn't even react to my hand in there getting the patty.. but they have definitely put the hurt on that sugar block and I need to get some more in there this week.

It's funny- as a kid when we had hives (I wasn't so involved- just did what my dad told me so I'm a beginner again now 40 years later) it seemed so simple- and in talking to my dad it was. Every year he got the bees going, left them alone and they did their thing. He'd inspect "every now and again" and he got some honey twice a season and made sure they had some honey on the hive for winter. We had 3 hives for 10 years and they were really successful. He can't believe how much goes into beekeeping now. That was right before Varroa hit- so certainly it was easier- but it does seem like it is exponentially more complicated now.

I enjoyed my first season- but it was way more of a time and effort suck than I had anticipated. The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know and need to learn. And, I think to some extent, the 'beginner' books etc downplay just how much is involved in beekeeping. I'll have to see how my 2nd season goes-- all this swarm prevention/rearranging frames, constant surveillance etc seems like more mental and free-time bandwidth than I reckoned for. Again- I was assuming once these buggers got going, other than making sure they were queenright and smushing queen cells, basic inspections etc, they kind of just did their thing.

Anyway, I'm hoping I can get these bees through the winter and have a successful spring.. one season at a time I guess!
 

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when making in cookie sheets cut the size you want before hardening. much easier then trying to break after.
 

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Discussion Starter #17
Thanks-- I did score them, so hopefully easy once dry.

House smells like 100% lemon essential oil! Wow- that stuff is potent!
 

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Lemon oil???? Essential oils are not a good thing for the guts of bees who can't go out to poop...

Sugar bricks: sugar, vinegar, citric acid, and poultry electrolytes (in tiny quantities, if you absolutely must). Nothing else.

Nancy
 

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Discussion Starter #19
Yes, lemon oil. I saw several recipes for sugar bricks that included lemon oil (and other essential oils, honey bee healthy, etc). Here's one (I didn't follow this recipe- but found several like this):
http://basprings.com/fondant-bee-candy-and-brick-candy-recipes/

I give up! I bet next reply someone will say: "you put SUGAR in there?!"

Curious if there is solid evidence (ie controlled studies comparing lemon/essential oils to placebo) showing that essential oils cause increased bee stooling/dysentery? You definitely seem expert and without question have given out much sound and thoughtful advice. But, it does seem like there is a lot of 'absolutes' thrown around here- one person's dogma directly contradicts another's, etc. and to the beginner this is tough to sort through. Knowing what is evidence based data vs anecdotal conjecture is the tricky part.

Ok- so lemon oil, no good. Is there any utility to saving the 10lb of brick I just made? If oils really make them stool, then I suppose they shouldn't be given until they're flying regularly, which is when I won't be giving them sugar bricks.

Thanks,

Brad
 

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Save that brick for adding to a nuc this summer or a hive this spring once they have consistent flying weather. Remake them without any essential oils. Also FYI when people are saying to use vinegar they mean REAL Apple Cider Vinegar. Be careful lot of imitations. If you're confused just use water and be done with it but get them on asap.
 
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