Preparing your beehives for winter is an important part of beekeeping. Of course, the goal is for each hive to have plenty of stored honey to eat during the cold months. But, that does not always happed. Making a candy board for bees is one way to ensure the colony has ample food reserves inside the hive. This technique may help a colony avoid starvation during long cold Winter weather.
How to Make a Candy Board for Bees
Boards with sugar candy are one of the best ways to feed bees in Winter. Though ideally, we want the bees to have enough of their own honey – this method adds a bit of insurance.
There are several advantages to this feeding method. One of the main benefits is having the feeder located inside the hive.
This means that the bees will be able to access the sugar regardless of the weather outside. On warmish Winter days, the honey bees can break cluster and feed. As the season wears on, the whole cluster may work it’s way up to the candy.
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Feeding regular sugar is another option for in-hive feeding. However, bees sometimes do not recognize dry sugar as food and throw it out of the hive. Firm sugar is not as likely to be removed by the worker bees.
There are several methods of making sugar candy boards to feed beehives. Recipes for bee fondant, sugar boards or candy boards vary a bit in ingredients and methods of construction.
Some of them require “cooking” the sugar. Properly cooked sugar may be an acceptable method of feeding your hive-but it requires a lot of care.
Over-heating the sugar can actually create compounds – HMF ( hydroxymethylfurfural) that are dangerous for the honey bees. There is also the risk of burns associated with heating and pouring the hot mixture in forms.
What You Need
This feeder does not have to be elaborate. Mine are not and yes they are ugly but they work great. You need to make up the candy recipe and then create a wood and wire frame to hold it.
Ingredients for Sugar Recipe
Some recipes for making sugar or fondant get really involved – that doesn’t have to be. This simple recipe is so easy it really shouldn’t be called a recipe. You only need a few items.
- granular cane sugar
- pollen substitute (optional)
Create a Hive Shim or Form
When placing a thicker slab of sugar in the hive, you need a form. Bee suppliers have special forms to purchase that can be used as candy boards.
They cut the height of the box down to 2” and nail wire across the bottom. This is a great way to save some money – the costs of beekeeping can get expensive.
Adding Pollen Substitute to Candy Boards?
Some beekeepers like to add pollen substitute to their candy board recipe. Personally, I prefer to add a small pollen patty mix in one area of the board.
This allows the bees to choose whether they want the protein or not. You do not have to add pollen substitute.
In fact, some years I do not add it. I had rather make pollen patties for use in late Winter/early Spring. You will see some images with and without protein.
In addition to being a “cheap” method, one of the best things is that you can used these year after year. They are only on the hive for the Winter months – mine are still going strong at year 4.
With a reduced hand strength, my biggest frustration was getting the wire to bend and behave. It does not have to look pretty. But, when added to the hive, all the boxes must fit together allowing the hive to be closed.
This is a very easy and somewhat fun beekeeper task. However, it is messy! Don’t try it in your kitchen if you have any other possibilities. Even with plastic trash bags under the trays – I feel gritty sugar on the floor of the honey house for a while.
This year, I used strips of those cheap paint drop cloths under each board. This helps hold in the sugar while it dries and makes it easy to move to the bee yard.
You don’t have to fill up every inch of the board (though it is great to do so – especially if you know your climate requires a lot of food.)
I know my bees will not run out of food before I start to monitor them in late Winter so I don’t fill out to the edges. I can always add more if needed. It is important to spread the sugar over a wide area across the hive – we don’t know where the cluster will be.
A cup or funnel makes a useful center hole to aid in ventilation. (It will be removed of course.) Anything can be used to press the sugar together – even your hands. Sometimes, I use a spatula.
Remember they need to sit still and dry for a couple of days. Thankfully, this is a once a year chore that may be the difference between a live colony or a dead one come Spring.
How to Use Your Sugar Candy Board
The style of candy board used will determine whether or not you also need to leave an inner cover in place. In most cases, the candy board will sit directly on top of the upper most box of the hive.
So if you have a hive with 1 deep and a medium – the candy board goes next. I normally add the inner cover on top of the candy board and then close the hive with the telescoping top.
With this setup, the sugar is directly over the bees and the inner cover on top still provides some insulation and ventilation for the hive.
Other Ways to Use a Hive Shim
A wooden shim as outlined in this project can be used for other beekeeper techniques. It fits the dimensions of a regular hive box of any height.
Think of it as a tiny bee super box that is only a couple of inches tall and does not have a lip to hang frames.
The shim allows us to add up to several inches of sugar on top of the frames and still completely seal the hive. You can use a wooden shim with dry sugar too.
Shims are often used with some types of mite treatments such as Api Guard trays. They should not be left on the hive long term as the bees will build burr comb in them and make a huge mess for the beekeeper.
Extra Tips to Consider When Using a Sugar Board
*It is important to make sure there are no large gaps between any of the boxes. The colony will close small cracks with propolis to keep out drafts. But, large gaps will be detrimental to the overall condition of the colony.
*It is not necessary to fill the entire depth (thickness) of the form with sugar-unless you live in a region with long bitter Winters and know you need thick candy. Spreading the sugar mixture out over the frame is best as it allows more access for the bees.
*Be sure to remove the candy board feeder once warm weather arrives and natural nectar is available. The bees will move up into the area and build comb – you have been warned. 🙂
Is this something that every beekeeper must do? Of course not. Many of colonies get through Winter without this type of treatment. However, for beekeepers who want to take the time, this extra insurance is useful for some hives.
No Cook Candy Board for Bees Tutorial
- hand saw
- framing square
- small nails
- 1/2 welded wire
- staple gun
- 1 piece 1/2" welded wire piece – 22" x 19" (or equivalent)
- 1 bag granular cane sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup pollen substitute (optional)
- 1 piece newspaper
- Build a frame for the candy board: Unless you buy one already made – you need to assemble a simple wooden frame that fits on your hive.The first step is to build a wooden rim – also called a “shim” for the hive. This wooden rectangle will fit exactly on top of a wooden bee box.The outside dimensions of your wooden frame should be 19 7/8” by 16 ½”. This is the standard length and width of 10 frame langstroth boxes. The exact length you will cut each piece depends on the thickness of the boards used to make your frame. Just make sure your overall outside dimensions are correct.
- Assemble the wooden frame: Assemble the wooden frame with small nails and some type of wood glue. Glue is optional but it will make the finished product much sturdier.It is a good idea to use a carpenter's square to ensure the board frame will fit your hive boxes.
- Add wire to bottom of frame:Some type of wire or support is needed to hold the sugar in the frame. It is a good idea to use wire that is large enough for bees to squeeze through.If you can-attach the wire just inside the bottom of the wooden shim – you will not have any wire in the way to create a gap between the candy board and top hive box.A good choice is ½” welded wire. This mesh size is large enough to allow bees to move through the wire and still gives some support.
- Mix up candy board sugar recipe:In a bucket or large bowl, mix the dry sugar and a small amount of water. How much exactly will you need? It depends. It is easy to add more sugar or a bit more water. The amounts listed in the ingredients section is just a recommendation.Stir with your hand or large spoon. We want all the sugar to be moist but not soggy. We want it to clump together like a good snowball.
- Filling the frame with candy:Placing a small cup on the wire keeps a hole open in the candy. This allows moisture to escape from the hive. It also allows bees in the hive easy access to the food. (Add a second cup if you want to save space for a bit of pollen patty.)A single layer of newspaper can be placed inside to help hold the sugar in place until it dries a bit.Place handfuls of the sugar mixture around the cup and across the surface of the wire. Spread to a uniform thickness and press down firmly.(Optional) Add a small pollen patty if desired.
- Drying your bee candy board: Let the filled candy boards sit for 1 or 2 days in a warm dry location. As the water evaporates, the sugar should become hardened in the frame. Still handle them carefully as you move them to the bee yard to place on the hives.