Keeping your bees alive and healthy during the winter is a very important and sometimes challenging task. One very effective method of feeding is putting sugar directly on the top-bars of the top box of the hive. When the cluster is in direct contact with sugar (even solid sugar), it is very difficult for them to starve. Below I have outlined a recipe I have found to be very useful in keeping my bees healthy and happy during the winter. In order to make Bee Cakes, you will need the following:
- 4lbs sucrose (while table sugar – beet or cane is fine… just needs to be white)
- 2cups water (tap water is fine)
- 1tsp white vinegar (acid + heat inverts the sucrose into fructose & glucose)
- 1+1/4 cups pollen substitute (I use UltraBee from Mann Lake)
- 2x 9in. cake pans (or something similar)
- Aluminum Foil
- Large stock pot
- Wooden stirring spoon
- Candy thermometer
- Measuring cups & spoons (1C dry, 1/4C dry, 1C wet, 1tsp)
First, you will need to line the 2 cake pans with a single sheet of aluminum foil each. You’ll be pouring the hot liquid sugar mixture into them, so the aluminum foil needs to be as high-up as possible on the edges of the pan. You’ll also want to make sure the aluminum foil is as flat & “wrinkle-free” as possible so that the cakes are easier to unwrap when you put them on the hives.
Mix the 4-lbs of sugar, 2-cups of water, and 1-tsp of white vinegar together in the pot, and stir until it makes a thick white liquid.
Put in your candy thermometer & turn on the burner to start heating the sugar mixture. Stir constantly to keep even heat distribution. The mixture will eventually start boiling & will expand a lot. This is why you need a large stock pot… if you use a small pot it could overflow the top & cause major problems.
You’re looking for the mixture to get up to the “Soft Ball” stage… this is aprox. 238-242 degrees. Once it reaches this point, most of the water will have boiled off, but you’re looking to get a bit more water out of it (maybe 1-2 more minutes)… just don’t let it get much over 242 degrees. You’ll know it’s ready because a lot less steam will be coming out. Then take it over to the sink, pull out the thermometer, and add the pollen substitute.
Stir in the pollen substitute making sure that you get most of the lumps out (doesn’t have to be perfect). Then pour the mixture into your foil-lined cake pans to cool. Note… once you take the mixture off the heat you’ll need to move pretty quickly. You have to get the pollen substitute incorporated & the mixture poured before the sugar cools enough that it starts hardening.
Let the Bee Cakes cool & harden, and then wrap the foil over the top of them & store until you’re ready to put them on the hive. When you do go to put them on the hive, remove the foil & set the cake on the top bars of the hive.