Sugar or winter patties

I have not made an update to this web page in a long time. I was recently asked about feeding granulated sugar to honey bees as an emergency feeding method. This brought to mind this article which I wrote long ago, but apparently never posted to this web page. I believe this past was written in late March, so keep that in mind. I consider feeding of sugar syrup much past November as an act of desperation, “I might as well, or they will starve anyway”. In winter there are alternatives.

Sugar or winter patties

This is a follow-up to my post on February 23rd concerning emergency winter, or early spring, feeding as a result of a question from a beekeeper asking how I make my patties. Which in the post I refer to as both sugar patties, and winter patties. I call them sugar patties because they are mostly sugar, with minimum moisture.

The reference as ‘winter patties’ is because some of the beekeeping supply companies make a similar product, and market them as ‘winter’ patties. So I don’t make them, but purchase them. They keep well, I store them in a plastic storage container with a tight fitting lid, which is convenient for both storage, and moving them around. The main point to keep in mind about this type of patty is that they are mostly sugar, and there use in the winter, or early spring is to head off starvation. One could feed what I call thick sugar syrup this time of year, containing two, or even three, parts sugar to one part water, but the issue with this solution in winter is moisture.

I saw visible evidence of this problem years ago when feeding a two frame observation hive that sat in my library, and had completely depleted its food (honey) reserves. I mixed up a quart of two parts sugar to one part water, which is likely similar to putting a gallon of syrup on a hive, and put the jar in the observation hive’s feeding port. The bees quickly sucked down all the syrup, and filled most of the empty cells in the comb of the frames. However, within an hour I could not see the comb due to the water condensation on the glass of the hive. This told me that something similar goes on inside our hives when we feed even thick syrup in the winter. And wet cold is worse than dry cold for any living organism. Ever since then I have looked for alternatives to syrup in this situation.

Of course I have also always said that if you think your bees are going to starve to death, any action is preferable to letting them starve, but there are better alternatives to syrup in the winter, and beekeepers have known this for a long time. Making ‘bee candy’, or fondant is an old method for winter feeding, and even just putting dry sugar on the inner cover is a quick emergency winter feeding method.

Beekeepers have come up with other sugar, low water recipes as well, such as a friend’s ‘sugar mush’ formulation. I am not sure when the supply companies started making ‘winter patties’, but I think them a more convenient alternative to making my own. Though these commercially made patties do contain a small amount of protein supplement, it is a very small amount (perhaps 3%), and not enough to stimulate brood production. Protein patties by comparison contain close to 20% protein.  Some sources of winter patties are Dadant & Sons, Mann Lake, and Blue Sky Bee Supply. Other supplies may offer them as well, just put ‘winter patties’, and the name of your bee supply in a search engine to find out.

The patties can easily be cut in half with your hive tool if you wish to offer the hive less, or if you are unsure if they need extra sugar. They are wrapped in wax paper which the bees quickly eat through, but I score the patties with my hive tool as I place them into the hive. I place them on the top bars of the upper box, and then place the inner cover back on in the upside down position, this gives the bees plenty of space to go at the patty from the top and bottom. It also makes it easy to check and see if the patty has been consumed.

First 2017 opening of my hives

Here in central Kentucky it has been a very mild winter. Many days were above 45°F, which meant bees flying and drinking from my bee waterer.

On these warm days I observed lots of activity at the entrances of my hives, which has made me curious about what is going on inside. However, I have a policy of not opening hives and disturbing the clusters until we have consistent weather above 60°F. That time finally arrived this week as daytime temperatures climbed above 70°, and I took my first look inside.

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Insect stings and the Schmidt “Pain Scale for Stinging Insects”

A number of years ago I met a honey bee researcher from the Tuscon USDA Bee Lab named Dr. Justin Schmidt. Sometime later I read about his Pain Scale for Stinging Insects. Not too surprising, since one of his research interests was Africanized Honey Bees. These bees are known for their stinging, as I discovered first hand in Africa in August.

While boarding a plane in France for the last leg of my a flight to Africa, I picked up a copy of the International New York Times. What was on the front page but this article about Justin, titled The Connoisseur of Pain, about his first hand experiences with stinging insects. Was someone trying to tell me something? After returning home last week I was forwarded the following link to the Jimmy Kimmel Show. Guess who was on the show? And Justin has a new book out, which is mentioned in the video clip.  Check out all three links – interesting, entertaining, and educational. Science is fun, though research can be painful. I prefer to stick to honey bee stings. They are fairly low on the pain index.

Phil’s trip to Africa, Aug 26th – 30th, 2016: Week of instruction

A busy week of teaching concluded my assignment in Nigeria.  On Monday and Tuesday, I worked with the institute’s apiculture instructors.  Officially, my mission here is training the trainers.  Though I have had quite a bit of contact with students, working with the staff has been my priority.

Over the years, I have developed a set of PowerPoint presentations for beekeeping classes and meetings.  I am constantly updating and adapting them for particular audiences. After spending my first few days here getting familiar with African bees, top bar hives, and their approach to beekeeping, I made some more revisions.

nigeria instrut

Little changed was the first segment: honeybee biology.  I added more information about honey bee classification, and subspecies. Which will be the subject of a future post. Continue reading

Post 5, August 25th & 26th – In the classroom and hives

August 25th, 2016 -Thursday, Classroom talk

I have learned a little more about the institution where I am working.  The Federal Polytechnic Ado-Ekiti, as its name implies, is a technical, post high school educational institution.  Degrees are offered in fields such as engineering, business, and science, including computer studies. There is also a Center for Entrepreneurship Development and Vocational Studies (CEDVS), which is home to the apiculture and other agricultural programs.  I mentioned some of the agriculture related studies in the previous post.  The goal of the center is to prepare students to enter the workforce, or ideally to create their own businesses, after graduation.  Each morning I have been eating honey which was produced locally by a graduate of the program.


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Phil’s trip to Africa, day 5, Aug 24rd, 2016: Stung by bees on four continents

As you might assume from the title of this post, I was around bees today.  We were not actually opening hives (not intentionally, anyway) but close enough.  We started the day with a trip to one of the apiaries with Ayodele Sulaimon, the chief apiculture instructor here at Ado-Ekiti, and a number of his students.

DSCF2104 (2)Phil & some of the students

The task at hand was setting up empty hives to serve essentially as bait hives. That is an empty hive placed by a beekeeper, in an apiary or a location where feral colonies are known to exist, in hopes that a swarm will decide to move in.  Result: a free colony of bees! Continue reading

Two different deformed wing viruses

This is from Joe Traynor’s recent newsletter. Joe is a beekeeper and broker in the almond groves in California. Which means he connects almond growers needing bees for pollination, with beekeepers having hives to lease. I have known Joe for many years, and while his columns are mostly related to news in the almond/beekeeping relationship, it is much more. This next piece is an example.

“And Then There Were Two (or more), Australian entomologist Denis Johnson surprised the bee world when he found there was more than one species of varroa and that varroa destructor (which we have) was far more lethal to bees than varroa jacobsoni (endemic to Apis Cerana). Now, some great work by UK apiculturist, Stephen Martin has shown that there are two (or more) strains of Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) one more virulent than the other. Let’s hope that the less lethal strain will prevail.”

Phil’s trip to Africa, day 4, Aug 23rd, 2016: Arrival at my destination

Another travel day.  I had a wake-up call at 6 AM, breakfast at 7, and left the hotel at 7:45.  Take off was scheduled for 9:45 AM, but was delayed until 10:30. It happens here too.  After a one hour flight and picking up our baggage, it was already noon.  The three hour drive was bone jarring.  Welcome to travel in the third world. Continue reading

Phil’s trip to Africa, day 2 & 3, Aug 21st & 22nd, 2016: Travel & rest

Day 2: Sunday was more air travel, and no sleep.  After a 1-hour flight to Atlanta, 8 hours to Paris, and 6 hours more from Paris to Abuja, I was worn out.  Counting layovers and an hour for customs in Nigeria, that adds up to 24 hours of non-stop travel.  I rarely sleep on airplanes, and this weekend was no exception.  After a short ride to the hotel and a quick supper, it was lights out for me. Continue reading

Phil’s trip to Africa, day 1, Aug 20th, 2016: Start of the journey

August 20th, 2016

I am currently somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean on my way to Abuja, Nigeria, as a volunteer for a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Farmer to Farmer assignment.  In 2012 I took part in a similar program in Bangladesh, where I provided instruction to beekeepers in a small village.  In Nigeria I will be working in a “train the trainer” program at a rural educational facility, the Center for Entrepreneurship Development and Vocational Studies (CEDVS) in Ado-Ekiti, Nigeria.  In Ado-Ekiti I will be working with both staff and students, providing classroom instruction as well as hands on training in hives located at the center.   Continue reading