January In the Apiary

Our January meeting will feature an in-depth talk on winter feeding. We highly suggest attending!

Deciding if emergency feeding is necessary consists primarily of two parts.  Remembering how much stores were there during your last inspection and hefting, with your hand, one end of the hive.  If it’s significantly heavy, compared to an empty hive, they’re probably alright.  If not, they likely need emergency feeding.  If you have a warmer day (45 degrees or so) and your hives seem light, you can pop the cover off and peer down between the frames to verify how much stores are still available.  You do want to avoid removing the cover when colder (30 degrees or less) unless absolutely necessary, as the bees may break their cluster and may not reform soon enough to keep warm and alive.  Remember, winter has just started, and there won’t be any natural food until March or so. Big thanks to Kate Riding for writing our January Notes below! -Allen Engle

Emergency Feeding

            Dry sugar and fondant, the two holy grails of winter feeding, are most commonly used as emergency feeding.

You could just pour dry sugar in the inner cover, but this requires the outer lid to be removed so we use a variation of that method. My mom found the idea of dry sugar cakes over a year ago and it’s not precise but it’s easy and effective.

Dry Sugar Cakes - it’s just sugar and water.  

  1. Fill mixing container with White Cane Sugar.
  2. Add water until sugar becomes moist and starts sticking together.
  3. Dump and press the mixture into parchment lined, large baking sheet with sides. Although any baking container can be used.
  4. Let dry until hard, or (if you’re in a hurry) place in oven at 170 degrees with oven door ajar, until hard, let cool.
  5. Put in hive, or store for weeks in whatever (it can be in the pan, above the fridge (that’s where I store mine.))

Serves: 1 pan = 2 servings Active Time: 10min

We like this method because it’s simple, stores indefinitely, and we can carry the pan out to the apiary, break it into large chunks, and just slide it into the inner cover by lifting the outer lid only an inch, minimizing invasion into the hive.

I haven’t used fondant, though I’ve heard that it is a life saver. The bees eat it up and thrive on it.  My bees have reacted well to the dry sugar, but yours might do well on fondant.

You’ll need:

10# granulated sugar

1 quart water

1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice

5-8 drops of essential oil (optional)


  1. Prepare molds, (pie pans, paper plates, take out boxes, all greased and put on a heat proof surface.)
  2. Measure the water and the vinegar (or lemon juice) into a large pot and bring to a slow simmer.
  3. Pour in the sugar, stirring until it dissolves completely. Keep stirring until you feel no “grits” in the water. If the sugar won’t dissolve add more water, little by little, until all the crystals disappear.
  4. Once the sugar is completely dissolved, you can gently turn up the heat to medium high and stop stirring. Insert your candy thermometer. (Because the crystals are gone, there is nothing to settle on the bottom and burn; the sugar is in solution.)
  5. Boil the mixture until the thermometer reads 234 degrees F, then remove the pot from the heat. If you wish, you can test the candy at this point. Place a drop of syrup into a glass of cool water. Reach in and get the drop. The drop of candy should flatten and run down between your fingers.
  6. Set the pot aside to cool to about 200 degrees F. You can set the pot in a sink of ice water to speed up the process, but it is not necessary.
  7. When the fondant reaches about 200 degrees F you may add a few drops of essential oils, if desired.
  8. Pour the fondant into a stand mixer with a paddle attachment and slowly beat until the mixture turns light-colored and smooth. Alternatively, you may knead the fondant with your hands, but be careful of the heat.
  9. Divide the mixture into 8 or 10 paper plates and then allow it to cool completely.
  10. Once cool, wrap the fondant in plastic wrap or wax paper. You can store the fondant for several weeks in a cool place or for long periods in the freezer.

Serves: 4-5 hives Prep time: 10 minutes Cook time: 1 hour Total time: 1 hour 10 minutes

Credit: Rusty Burlew, Honeybee Suite

But, why feed? When your girls are hungry and have run out of honey stores, they need to be fed. If bees run out of food, they starve, so it's just a matter of your bees being dependant on you till March, and wanting to keep them alive through the winter. Once you start feeding, you can’t stop feeding. There is nothing in bloom, and consequently nothing to eat. But feeding isn’t the only reason to be worried in the winter.  There is also blown off covers and freezing bees.

Checking Covers

            I’ve learned from other's experience that outer covers can be blown off by hard winds and wind tunnels. Placing a good size rock on the top of the hive lid is an easy and simple way to prevent this problem.  In high wind areas a tie down strap can be used to keep the hive boxes secure.

Although keeping the covers on is one thing, checking the covers is another. When covers come off, the bees freeze from the wind, rain and snow that is whipped into the hive.  The chance of being in the apiary when a lid blows off is next to zero. This means damage to the affected hive has already happened upon discovery of a displaced lid.  You race against the clock, throw the covers back on, run to get a strap or rock, and hope for the best. OR, you could go out to the apiary, and find your covers on nice and tight, because you prepared for the oncoming battle with the winter wind.

Ratchet down the hatch, keep warm and stay fed this winter.


  1. Rusti Burlew, Honeybee Suite  https://honeybeesuite.com/how-to-make-fondant-from-table-sugar/
  2. Marcia Simmons, Serious Eats https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2012/04/diy-sugar-cubes-homemade-sugar-cube-recipe.html
  3. Diana Sammatato & Alphonse Avitabile, The Beekeeper’s Handbook Fourth Edition

A big Thanks to Kate Riding for writing this month's notes!

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