Last week I had a chance to get the bees buttoned up for the winter (read… finally got off my lazy duff and did something I should have done 3 months ago…)
We had such beautiful weather through the months of October and November, the girls were still out flying, and doing their thing and to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure what I should do. They seemed pretty happy – so I was content to let them keep doing what they were doing. Then in a space of a couple weeks it got insanely cold, then rained, and I didn’t have a decent day to open it up for quite some time.
The other problem was – I knew that they didn’t have enough honey put away for the winter, so feeding them was a necessity and I had no idea how I should do that. I didn’t like the syrup option – it would get too cold… I didn’t want to be opening the hive constantly for small amounts of dry sugar, a front of the hive feeder would make the bees come off the cluster to eat – I really needed something at the brood, but was at a loss of what to do.
Until I came across the concept of a candy board with a protein patty sunken inside.
It required a bit of building, but the basics of the principle is this. Think of it like a super shallow ‘shallow’, that is lined at the bottom with 1/2 inch hardware cloth for support. Into this you mix a combination of sugar, water, vinegar, and a little bit of lemongrass essential oil – then pour that mixture into the box – spread it and let it harden. That gives them solid food for the winter.
The problem I had was my boxes – I have them in a medium, shallow and a deep. The deep is at the top as I was trying to encourage them to move the brood up from the shallow where they swarmed to, into the deep – but they never did. (So I thought). 3 boxes was way too much open space to keep them warm for the winter – not to mention, the main brood cluster was in the middle box of those two and the bees would have to leave the cluster to eat – and that’s no bueno.
So I did the only logical thing a guy should do. Go outside in the cold of January in Oregon, open the hive, rile the bees up and put a candyboard in. Yup. That’s what I did.
Like many things in life, I learn most of my lessons the hard way – apparently beekeeping is no different.
I pulled the deep off – of course splitting the cluster. The bees went ballistic, but I quickly placed the candyboard, then went to shaking off the frames of bees in the deep that represented the top of the cluster. Thankfully that wasn’t brood, just a small amount of capped honey. All in all – I was in the hive less than 5 minutes.
Since they didn’t the honey – I brought it inside for us to taste.
After cutting the caps off to let it drain… well – that’s when things got interesting.
I don’t know a lot about beekeeping, but I don’t think the honey is supposed to look like Robitussin…
We began to theorize what might have happened, trying to understand where it came from. We went from sugar syrup on a hummingbird feeder, to other possibilities (vampire bees)… then I googled it, and sure enough got a hit – this has happened two other times in the U.S. so far as I can tell that has been documented. Once in Utah – where a beekeeper was feeding his bees crushed up candy canes and the Red 40 got into the honey of his bees, and dozens of other commercial hives costing an insane amount of money… another time – the bees got into the stuff at a Maraschino Cherry plant in New York… the lightbulb went on. We are within bee forage distance from the Oregon Cherry Growers plant… where they manufacture … yup! You guessed it… Maraschino cherries.
So it’s been a bit of an interesting experiment in what the bees bring home. To a certain degree, it kind of defeats the purpose of trying to have organic backyard honey if your bees are getting into vats of High Fructose Corn Syrup and Red 40… the good news is – it appears that this was late season honey. If I pull the honey earlier in the summer – we should be ok. If they want the red stuff later they can have the red stuff.
I’m certainly not eating it…