Homemade Honeybee sugar cakes can make a huge difference for your bees this winter!
Beekeeping in the spring and summer is fairly hands-off when you have an established hive, but the cold weather brought in by fall and winter increases the amount of attention that you have to pay to your bees.
In the warmer months, bees leave the hive to gather food for the colony. In the fall & winter months, the bees stay in the hive and cluster together to stay warm. Even if they did leave the hive, they wouldn’t find enough food to keep the colony alive. This is where your responsibility as a beekeeper comes in.
There are a few different ways that you can provide food for your honeybees throughout the cold seasons, but homemade sugar cakes are the favorite food option for my hives.
How to Make Sugar Cakes for Honeybees
The sugar cake recipe varies from beekeeper to beekeeper, but the end goal is the same- make a solid cake of sugar that can sit inside the hive for easy feasting.
In the event that your bees have enough honey to get them through the winter, they may not even touch the sugar, but having it available to them is a good idea.
My recipe is fairly simple, but it does include citric acid to invert the sugar which makes it more digestible for the bees. You can find citric acid in the canning section of your local grocery store.
Homemade Sugar Cake Recipe
- 7 cups White Sugar
- 1/2 cup Apple Cider Vinegar
- 3/4 tsp citric acid
- Bee Pro or other pollen substitute *optional
- Bee friendly essential oils like Honey B Healthy *optional
You will also need a baking sheet, a cake pan, or a loaf pan to use as your mold and a sheet of parchment or wax paper.
Pour the dry sugar into a large mixing bowl.
Combine the apple cider vinegar and citric acid powder (and essential oils if you are using them) in another bowl.
Add a little bit of the vinegar/acid mixture to the sugar at a time. Make sure that the vinegar is evenly incorporated into the sugar. You can mix with a stand mixer, a hand mixer, a spoon or fork, or with your hands.
Sprinkle a little bit of pollen substitute (I use Bee Pro) into the mix and combine. It should be the consistency of wet sand.
Line your mold with parchment paper or wax paper. This is to help make sure the cakes don’t stick to the mold after drying.
Spoon the sugar mixture into your mold (loaf pans and baking sheets work great) and press it down to compress it.
Make sure that the sugar cake isn’t any taller than the inner cover of your bee box or you won’t be able to use it.
At this point, I sprinkled some more Bee Pro on top of the sugar cake. Don’t do that. It gummed up and didn’t allow air to dry the sugar.
Simply pack the sugar mix down and use a knife to cut it into smaller cakes (whatever size works best for your hives). You can add more bee pro after the cakes dry.
Let the cakes sit out to dry for 24-48 hours. If you have higher humidity, it may take a little longer.
You can speed up the drying process by drying them in an oven at 130 degrees F OR using a dehydrator. After it dries, you can sprinkle more Bee Pro on top.
Now you are ready to place your sugar cakes in your hive. Place one per hive on top of the frames. You can use a feeding shim for this if you like.
- If you have extra moistened sugar that fell off of your cakes, you can store it in an airtight container for later use in another cake or in your spring sugar water.
- The bees typically consume an entire sugar cake within a week to 10 days if they need it.
- Be sure to check the hive at the week mark to be sure that your DIY sugar cake wasn’t too large or too small. If there is too much extra sugar left in the hive for too long, you risk an infestation of hive beetles. If it was too small for your colony, the bees could starve.
- Clean the bottom board after a week. This also helps reduce the risk of a hive beetle infestation.
Other Ways to Feed Honeybees in Winter
Grease Patties- These winter patties are made of shortening, oil, or other grease and white table sugar. Sometimes essential oils are added to help combat varroa mites. See a grease patty recipe here.
Candy Board- This makes a hard candy for your honeybees. Sugar and water are heated to make syrup. A candy thermometer is required for this. The syrup gets poured out onto a cookie sheet until it hardens.
Pollen Patty- Pollen patties are a mixture of a pollen substitute, sugar, and water.
Bee Fondant- Homemade fondant is made similarly to candy boards, but it isn’t cooked long enough to become hard candy. See a honeybee fondant recipe here.
**Don’t feed sugar water in the winter as the bees usually won’t eat the liquid feed when it is cold and it could cause moisture issues OR freeze in the hive. Liquid feed is best reserved for early spring and late fall.
>>More Winter Homestead & Beekeeping Resources<<
- 20+ Winter Homestead Essentials You Need to Stock
- How to Make Homemade Winter Chicken Treats
- How to Catch a Wild Bee Swarm
- Overwintering Honeybees: 5 Things You Need to Know
- How to Extract Honey
- The Honeybee Record Book