How to feed stacked nucs in winter
Vince Poulin, a beekeeper in Vancouver, British Columbia, sent me an idea he had for feeding nucs that were stacked one atop another during the winter. This is a problem I’ve wondered about but never actually solved.
It’s nice to be able to stack nucs or small colonies with a double-screen board (Snelgrove board) so that warm air can be shared between them. The problem comes when you try to add feed. Not only are the boxes heavy, but feeding means you have to unstack them, which allows cold air or rain to enter the hives.
Vince came up with a system that looks good to me, and I’m eager to give it try. He was kind enough to detail his method and provide the photos.
Many thanks to Vince for sharing his ideas.
Feeding stacked nucs in winter
Rusty suggested I write a post on a method I came up with for feeding hard candy to stacked nucs this winter. In summer I reared four walkaway nucs. I have three remaining that I want to try over-wintering. None had sufficient time to build a supply of winter honey. Two of the colonies fill single brood boxes while the third fills a good portion of a second box.
As a strategy to help get them through winter Iʼve stacked the two smaller colonies so they can share heat. This raised the question of how to feed them without unduly disturbing the colonies when it is cold. I could have provided each candy boards but those looked to me to inhibit air flow between boxes.
Whatever method I came up with had to be so easy to do that a family member can check and feed the bees as necessary. To get them to do that while I was away, it needed to be easy and take little time.
Lots of people feed hard candy to bees as a supplemental winter diet. This looked like the answer: hard lumps of sugar inserted into hives as needed. The only problem I could see was, in order to slip a candy cake or brick into a hive, it required lifting boxes high enough to get the brick inside. This breaks seals, allows cold air to get in, and would be by no means an easy task for someone less interested in the bees than the beekeeper himself.
The frame feeder
An added problem was how to do this on stacked nucs. Lifting boxes was out of the question. So how to do it? It did not take long, but the idea of a “Feeder Frame” came to mind, a simple frame that could be opened to allow a candy cake or brick to be inserted.
I built it as conceived, and sugar bricks can be easily slid into place without disturbing the hive. They go directly on the tops of brood frames. Bees donʼt have to travel far to reach them and the candy can be eaten from below.
In all fairness I have not put this idea through winter yet but have installed Feeder Frames on all my hives for this winter (2019/20). They work well. Bricks slide in with ease and require no lifting of boxes. You can monitor sugar consumption by just looking inside. Anyone in the family can do this.
The frames I made are 2” in height with a width and length that matches the boxes. Three sides are solid and one side has an opening. The opening is fitted with a wooden plug that sits between two rails about 1/4” thick. The plug is sized to fill the opening and faced with a 1/2” piece of wood 2” in height to match the height of the feeder frame.
I extended the facing 3/4” beyond the frame so that a hammer and wedge can be used to pry the plug from the frame should the wood swell to a point where the plug is hard to remove or has been sealed in by bees. I drilled a 3/4” hole in each plug so it can be used as a top hive entrance once all wasps are gone.
Below are several images to help explain how the frame works and its placement on the hives:
Sugar cakes without cooking
Many people feed cooked sugar to bees, but I agree with Rusty. Why take a chance if a sugar brick can be made hard enough without cooking. The trick I think is getting get the right moisture content in dry sugar for it to harden well and be used for my purposes without breaking.
I have done several batches and think Iʼm on the right path. My first “no-cook” bricks broke apart — too dry — not enough moisture. The last batch was just removed from furnace closet and have hardened nicely. I think they will work fine. For me the trick was adding more moisture so as to get a good set.
Editor’s Note: I think this is a cool idea that could be used not only for feeding stacked nucs, but for feeding colonies that are not stacked. With a feeder that opens from the side, you could add candy cakes all winter long without cracking open the lid. Cool right? Let us know if you give it a try.