Posts Tagged ‘fondant feed’

FEEDING THE BEE HIVE WITH BAKERS’ FONDANT – 1st wk in February 2015

Note the flat bag of fondant under the Perspex crown board. The eke ( half a roof one inch deep) creates the recessed space for the fondant. On top of this goes 2 layers of cardboard for insulation and then the full water-proof roof.

Note the flat bag of fondant under the Perspex crown board. The eke ( half a roof one inch deep) creates the recessed space for the fondant. On top of this goes 2 layers of cardboard for insulation and then the full water-proof roof.

Another tip from expert beekeeper at the South Wexford Beekeepers Association last meeting, John Morgan. He warned that February is the month when the bee hive is at its most vulnerable. Stores of honey are depleted and the weather is too cold and flowers too scarce for gathering pollen. So if one has not fed one’s bees already this winter gone, now is the time to do it.

The recommendation is to feed fondant, not syrup at this time. The bees prefer the fondant in this cold weather. I bought a large bucket of fondant from the in store baker in Superquinn, Swords, Co. Dublin. (Yes, that long ago!) It has lasted me a few years and only half the bucket is used so far.

To feed the bees, one uses an eke (shown in the photo) to create a recess on top of the frames under the roof in the brood box. Into this recess is placed a flat resealable freezer bag of fondant. A hole the size of a 50c coin is cut in the middle of the bag. This hole is placed as close as possible to where the cluster of bees are hanging out on the frames. The bees will eat their way through this fondant starting with what is exposed by the hole. It should be interesting to see how much of the fondant was eaten when the weather warms up sufficiently to open the hive to see if I can find and mark the queen. This must wait until the daytime temperature is consistently over 10 degrees centigrade.

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FEEDING BEES WITH FONDANT – 4th wk in January 2014

Quickly placing a flat bag of fondant in the eek space at the top of the brood box to supplement the bees' winter stores.

Quickly placing a flat bag of fondant in the eek space at the top of the brood box to supplement the bees’ winter stores.

With the temperature at present in single figures, the bees are clustered in the hive keeping warm and eating away on the stores of honey they accumulated last autumn before the temperatures dropped too low and the flowers faded. On a fine day if the temperature is around 10 -11 c, the worker bees may start cleaning out the hive and checking if pollen is available. Meanwhile, the bees depend on whatever food is in the brood box.

In January, I like to give the bees a foot square, one inch thick plastic sachet of baker’s fondant. A baker in Superquinn sold me a bucket of fondant a couple of years ago which keeps well if sealed. Using a re-sealable plastic bag, such as the Brennan’s or Mc Cambridge brown bread bags, I stuff spoonfuls of the fondant in to the bag, flatten it down to about an inch thick and re-seal it. Using a serrated knife, I cut a cross under the bag so the bees can get access to the fondant which is placed in the brood box.

Putting the fondant feed on top of the frames in the brood box is a quick operation. The weather is too cold to have the hive open for any length of time. All I need is an eek, a wooden frame which raises the hive roof an inch proud of the frames to facilitate the flat bag of fondant. With the eek in place, I just peel back the open side of the bag to about one inch square to allow the bees get access to the white sweet substance. Quickly the roof is replaced and hopefully the bees will hardly know they have been disturbed! I will not open the hive again until the temperature is about 15 c on a fine spring day. Until then, an occasional check to see the hive has not been interfered with, and a gentle ‘heft’ to check if the brood box is a healthy weight. Putting an ear to the hive wall in the winter reveals, not hibernation, but much sound of movement, clicks and buzzing – a hive of activity!

ONE BEE COLONY DIES BUT THE OTHER SURVIVES AFTER LONG WINTER – 1st wk in May 2013

The surviving colony of healthy well tempered bees housed last August as a swarm captured by John.

The surviving colony of healthy well tempered bees housed last August as a swarm captured by John.

With some trepidation, myself and beekeeping mentor friend, John Holland, approached my two hives in our friend Carmel’s garden to see how the two hives had survived the winter. The temperature outside was about 16 degrees centigrade and the day was fine. It is generally not a good idea to open a hive for any length when the temperature is below 15c as the bees get dangerously chilled. However back in January, I had briefly lifted the lid to place flat bags of fondant on top of the frames so the bees would have some food to survive the very long winter. This was intended to supplement their own winter stores.

One hive was active, the other dead. When we opened the quiet one, the remains of a bee cluster were to be seen. The small size of the cluster suggests there were too few bees to maintain the 37 degree standard temperature of the hive, so essentially they died of the cold. They had hardly touched the fondant I have placed in the hive, so they were too weak even to feed it seems. There were many signs of chalk brood as well, so the brood box and frames will need to be sterilized so all parts are disease free before a new colony can be given a home there.

The other hive was a total contrast. It shows good signs of a young fertile queen as larvae were prolific. In fact the brood box seemed to be quite full of bees. Immediately, we put on a queen excluder and a super on top of the brood box and queen excluder. This super of frames will give the bees space to put the honey ‘up in the attic’ so to speak. This will leave more room in the brood box for the queen to lay eggs and breed more bees. Had I not put on a super, there is a risk that the lack of space might have caused swarming. There is no guarantee the bees are not thinking of swarming so each week from now on, I must make time to examine this healthy hive. If it is growing fast enough to split, then I will have an empty brood box now to house the new swarm. We live in hope!

HIVES NEED FEEDING AS MILD WEATHER IS CAUSING BEES TO FLY BUT FEW PLANTS IN FLOWER – 1st wk in January 2013

Weather is more like June than January to the bees, except the flowers of June are absent so the hives could starve if they are not fed now.

Weather is more like June than January to the bees, except the flowers of June are absent so the hives could starve if they are not fed now.

The weather today was an unusually warm 10 – 14 c. In ways the mild weather  is welcome for doing the outdoor jobs like tidying the shed or sowing onion seeds in trays or carrot seed in the greenhouse soil. However, the temperature is noticeably higher than many days were in July or August last year. If this is bizarre to humans, imagine the effect it has on other animals. These temperatures trick them in to behaving as if it was spring or summer already.

In the case of my beehives, the bees should be clustered for the winter at this time. By clustering in a ball a hive of honey bees can maintain a steady temperature in the hive of 37 c, even if the temperature outside was to plummet as low as minus 37 c. This is not likely in Ireland as long as the Gulf Stream keeps warmer water from the Caribbean lapping our shores. However, the weather is remarkably mild and more like spring or summer as far as Irish bees are concerned.

The advice I read about in ‘An Beachaire;, the magazine of  FIBKA, the Federation of Irish Bee Keeping Associations, (see www.irishbeekeeping.ie,) is to visit the hives and feed the bees on such a mild January day as this. Before my visit  I prepared a few resealable freezer bags, filling each with some ‘bakers’ fondant’. A bucket of this white sugary thick goo I bought in Superquinn at the in-store bakery in Swords. Before opening the hives I cut two slits crossways in the middle of each feed bag. Open side down I placed a feed of fondant gently on the top of the frames, between opening and closing the lid of each hive as quickly and gently as possible. I’m glad I wore the bee suit, even for this quick operation, as the bees were wide awake and ready to defend the hive at a moment’s notice.

Even if the bees have enough of their own honey in store, the presence of fondant will do no harm. As Philip Mc Cabe, the FIBKA (Irish beekeepers’) PRO is wont to say: ‘Better for the bees to be looking at the feed, than looking for it’! Handy as the mild weather is, I do hope we get a bit of a cold snap to kill off a few of those slug eggs lying in wait in the soil. Last year’s mild winter was a big boost to the slug number, making it difficult to protect young seedlings in spring especially.