Today (November 13, 2019) is going to be the coldest day of the year here in the DMV since the Polar Vortex in January. It is time to take the 2:1 syrup off any hives that still have a feeder and put on the “bee candy” or fondant. I have posted a recipe for making fondant that I shall be using today. This weekend I mixed up several buckets of 2:1 syrup before I realized that most of my girls had reduced their consumption of liquid supplemental feed. Rather than dump out about 50 pounds of sugar in the form of 2:1 syrup, I am going to try to convert it to fondant.
This could end up as a sticky mess!
When to Stop Feeding 2:1 Syrup?
I completely confused one of my beekeeping protegés last week when I indicated approval of his removing the top feeder while visiting his hive. Later that day I mentioned in an email that feeding 2:1 sugar syrup will add some support to his bees that have a high mite load. So what is “the right answer?” What I have learned from various mentors and readings is, of course, inconsistent.
Some beekeepers have a specific date or natural phenomenon (first frost, first hard freeze, all the leaves have fallen off a particular tree, etc.) that they use to tell them when it is time to take off the 2:1 syrup. Others have quantitative measurements that they use to decide whether to feed: “When a hive has at least fifty pounds of capped honey stored, I stop feeding.” Some beekeepers don’t believe in supplemental feeding at all. They don’t want to waste resources on weaker hives or support the propagation of “weaker” genetics by supporting the survival of bees that are not instinctively good at preparing for winter. A fourth opinion is “feed them 2:1 syrup until they won’t accept it.”
I favor the last approach. Our bees come from several different strains of “local mutts.” Looking at the visible differences between my worker bees, some have more Carniolian some have more Italian. Every now and then I see a bee that makes me wonder whether there is still some European dark bee genetics floating around.1 Anyway, the different sub-species of A. mellifera show different traits for winter behavior. Some beekeepers prefer Carnies to Italians because the queens shut down brood production early in the fall and don’t breed themselves to starvation in the winter. The Italian queens don’t seem to stop making brood into our fall. I still saw open brood and plenty of capped brood in the hives that I inspected this past weekend. My intuition tells me to let their instincts guide when to stop taking syrup. When they can’t cure and cap more syrup for winter stores, they should stop taking the syrup. I am hoping that the bees will instinctively consume the remaining uncapped nectar / syrup in the hive before they start uncapping honey and eating their honey stores.
It seems that my different hives stopped taking syrup at different times. Even two side-by-side fall nucs that were started with different queen lines cut off at different times — one stopped weeks ago, the other slowed down about a week ago. There are probably other factors at work too.’
Tonight’s low temperature will hit 20 ℉. All liquid feeders must come off ASAP. At this point, the sugar syrup will freeze the bees if they come in contact with it. They should all be in their clusters today.
Can I Reuse my 2:1?
I am not going to try to retrieve the syrup from my feeders and cook it into fondant. I could … but that syrup has been contaminated by bees slurping it, mold that has been growing in it, etc. As much as I hate to waste food, even bee syrup, the stuff in the feeders is garbage.
I do have about ten gallons of fresh 2:1 syrup that I mixed up on Saturday. I think that I can convert that to fondant if I get the proportions correct.
2:1 Syrup Ingredients
My 2:1 syrup is mixed up in 37.5 pound batches of:
- 25 pounds (11.34 kg) white cane sugar
- 1.5 gallons (5.68 l) water
- 1 tablespoon (12.6 g) apple cider vinegar
- 5 drops of green food coloring
The yield is about 3.8 gallons of 2:1 syrup.
The vinegar acidifies the syrup, which slows mold growth, and catalyzes the inversion of the sucrose into glucose and fructose. The bees add enzymes to nectar to invert the sucrose. The vinegar starts the process
The green food coloring is a sentinel to tell me whether I am extracting “bee-cured sugar syrup” (BCSS) instead of honey made from flower nectar. I don’t want to be selling or giving away BCSS as raw local honey. The first frames that I harvested and uncapped this year contained a ring of green-tinged “honey” which I removed before extracting the real honey.
The fondant recipe that I use contains:
- 10 pounds (4.54 kg) white cane sugar
- 1 pint (0.473 l) water
- 1/2 tablespoon (6.3 g) apple cider vinegar
It looks like I will have to do some math to get the right proportions of sugar to water.
The Reformulation Calculation
- 37.5 pounds is approximately 3.8 gallons of 2:1. One pint of 2:1 weighs 1.23 pounds.
- 1.23 pounds of 2:1 syrup would by 0.82 pounds of sugar and 0.41 pounds of water, by weight.
- 1 pint of water weighs 1.04 pounds, so we need 2.54 pints of 2:1 syrup for the 1 pint of water that the fondant recipe calls for.
- The 2.54 pints of mixed 2:1 contains 2.08 pounds of sugar, so another 7.92 pounds of sugar needs to be added to 2.54 pints of 2:1 to complete the sugar and water requirements for the fondant.
- Some simple calculations give us the requirement for an additional 3/4 tablespoon of cider vinegar to make the ingredients equal.
It worked out pretty well. I started by bringing the fondant barely to a boil and mixed in the sugar slowly to bring it to a molten state. I kept a small pot with near-boiling water handy and if the fondant became too thick to stir, added a little bit of water to keep it moving. Our goal is cakes of solid sugar candy, so adding a little extra water does no harm.
The fondant came out just fine.
Now, if I have ten gallons of leftover 2:1 syrup, that would be 31.5 batches of fondant. I will need 250 pounds of sugar. And a lot of time. I probably am not going to make that much fondant this year, but at least I know.
- Check your hive feeders before you mix up gallons of 2:1 syrup in October. Some of your girls will be guzzling it down, some will start to shut down.
- At least one very well-respected beekeeper in this area (Montgomery County, Maryland, USA) keeps a small amount of 2:1 syrup on his hives throughout the winter. His experience is that some bees in the winter will take solid sugar, some will only take syrup, and he doesn’t know in advance which is which. He uses an insulated medium box instead of a shim over the top box of frames. He places dry fondant and a jar of 2:1 with a pierced cap directly on the top bars. I will give this a try and see how it works out this year.
- Covering every surface in the kitchen with plastic before starting your fondant machine will go a long way to maintaining marital bliss. I think this should go into my fondant recipe too!