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A no-cook candy board recipe for wintering bees

For several years I’ve been looking for a way to combine a moisture quilt with a candy board. I wrote a post about this a while back, but the board in that example contained cooked candy. I wanted a no-cook candy board for several reasons.

The first reason is that cooking sugar syrup is both dangerous and boring, a bad combination for me because when I’m bored I don’t pay attention. Not paying attention when you’re working with molten sugar at about 240 degrees F is not a good idea.

The other issue is that I keep reading articles that say cooked sugar forms high levels of hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), especially when you try to invert it with an acid such as cream of tartar or lemon juice.

The entire “invert-the-sugar-for-the-bees” argument is kind of ridiculous anyway because honey bees do it instantaneously, thanks to the enzymes in their saliva. Lots of types of nectar have high levels of sucrose, and honey bees have no issue with this, inverting it without knowing it.

The candy board frame

A candy board made to place below a quilt could not be solid, obviously, because moist air from the colony could not be collected by the quilt if that air never reaches the quilt. Secondly, the no-cook candy board could not be flipped over because “upside down” doesn’t work well with uncooked sugar.

Debbe Krape in Delaware sent me some no-cook ideas that she collected, and then directed me to the West Central Ohio Beekeepers, where some of the ideas originated. I went to work altering the plans to make them work with my system. The following is what resulted.

The candy boards are made from baggie feeder rims (or mountain camp rims) that are about three inches deep, and a plastic queen excluder, the kind that many people don’t like. A friend told me about the excluder idea, and it seemed to be the perfect answer. Remember, the excluders are not meant to exclude queens, but simply to hold the sugar in place.

Once the feeder rims were assembled, I nailed the plastic excluder onto the bottom of the rim, adding what I thought was a reasonable number of nails along all four sides. Actually, I started this project using screws, but I didn’t have enough of the type I needed, so I just used nails instead. If I find the nails pull out from the weight of the sugar, I will go back to using screws, but so far, so good.

No holes in the frame

Note that I did not put an entrance hole in the candy board frame. Every candy board design I saw had a hole somewhere, either for an upper entrance or ventilation or both. Most recommended tiny holes that I thought wouldn’t do much good, and most had to be shielded from the candy that might block them.

Since my no-cook candy board will have ventilation through the center, and my quilt has ventilation ports, there is plenty of opportunity for air flow. For the bees—should they want an upper entrance—I simply placed an Imirie shim below the candy board. This shim has the added benefit of providing some space between the candy board and the brood frames, in case the candy board sags in the middle.

Once complete, I spread a layer of plastic wrap on the table, placed the empty candy board on the wrap, and then positioned a piece of 2×4 lumber in the center of the candy board. (No, I didn’t measure the wood; it was just a random piece I found under the saw table.) Later, when the wood is removed, the empty space provides the place where the air will flow from the colony up into the moisture quilt. Some of the moisture will condense on the underside of the candy board, which is a good thing because moisture on the surface of the hard candy allows the bees to consume it with ease.

The pollen supplement

The next thing I did was prepare the pollen supplement. I decided to add the pollen supplement (as others have recommended) so that as spring approaches the bees will have an ample supply for brood rearing. Here, where we have so much spring rain, it is often hard for the bees to get out and forage for early pollen. But it was important to me to have a free choice patty—free choice meaning the bees can eat it if they want to, but they are not forced to eat it. If the pollen is mixed uniformly into the candy, the bees are more or less compelled to eat it even if they don’t want to.

I made each pollen patty from 100 grams of Mann Lake Bee-Pro pollen substitute, 200 grams of baker’s sugar, and 105 ml of water. I like baker’s sugar (also known as bar sugar) because the fine particle size allows it to dissolve quickly. Baker’s sugar in small quantities can be expensive, but in the the 50-pound bag, I pay only 2 cents per pound more than regular sugar, which is totally worth it.

At first the mix looks dry and crumbly, but I just knead it like bread for a minute and it makes a silken patty with the consistency of bread dough. You can make them in advance and they stay moist if wrapped in a piece of plastic wrap.

The no-cook candy

I decided on ten pounds of sugar per candy board based on talking to beekeepers in similar areas. I’ve heard seven pounds isn’t enough, 15 pounds is too much, so I arbitrarily decided on 10. I think most of my colonies should get by on their own honey stores anyway, but the candy board is an insurance policy of sorts and not designed to replace all their food. The feeder rims I used are plenty deep, and I think they could hold 25 pounds, depending on what you need in your area.

I placed ten pounds of baker’s sugar in a pot and added 10 tablespoons of water. Some folks recommend much more water, but one tablespoon per pound worked perfectly when I used the baker’s sugar. I don’t know if it would act differently with regular sugar, but you can experiment. Start with a small amount and add more if necessary, but remember the more water you add, the longer it will take to harden.

After adding the water, I just reached in the pot and worked the mixture by hand. I thought it would be a dry mess, but the small amount of water was amazing. It reminded me of the texture needed to build a sand castle that will hold together without slumping. It also reminded me of really dry snow that barely works for a snow ball.

Once mixed, I spread a layer on the bottom of the candy board, divided the pollen patty and put a piece on either side of the wood, and put the rest of the candy on top. Then I just tamped it down until firm.

By next morning the thing was hard as a rock. I removed the wood from the center and placed the candy on a hive. Just above the brood box I added the Imirie shim with the opening in front, then the candy board, then the quilt, then the lid.

The excluders nobody likes

I always hear stories that honey bees will not go through plastic excluders, so after a few minutes, I lifted the quilt for a quick peek. The central area was crawling with bees that hadn’t seemed to notice the excluder. I think it must be a psychological barrier more than anything: if you have to go through an excluder to do to work, that’s one thing; but going through to feast is something else again. Go figure.

So that’s where I am on the project. I have no results to report, no findings to share. But I do feel better having backup food on the hives, especially since our hot and dry summer produced very little in the way of nectar. I will keep you posted.

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

Nails-through-queen-excluder
I just ran nails through the plastic queen excluder and into the wooden feeder.
Nail-pattern into feeder
I spaced out the nails in what seemed like a logical pattern. If the nails don’t hold, I will replace them with screws.
Candy-board-on-plastic-wrap
I placed a sheet of plastic wrap on the table and then placed the candy board on top.
Pollen-sub-mixed-with-sugar
The pollen substitute-sugar-water mix looks dry, but once kneaded, it formed a nice cohesive ball.
Pollen-sub-kneaded-into-a-ball
If you must keep the pollen patties for a while before use, just wrap in plastic.
Sugar-and-water like wet sand
The sugar and water mixture feels like wet sand. Ignore the spatula and just use your hands to mix.
Pollen-patties-buried in-sugar
First I put in the wooden board, followed by part of the sugar and the pollen patties.
Pollen-covered-in-sugar
Then I covered the patties with the rest of the sugar, and patted it down firmly.
Central-ventilation-hole
The next morning, the sugar was hard and I was able to remove the wooden board. This hole gives damp air a way to travel up to the moisture quilt.
Pollen-peeking-through the sugar
You can see the pollen patty peeking out through the sugar. This is free choice feeding: they can eat the pollen or not, depending on what they want and need.
Imirie-shim with entrance hole
An Imirie shim goes under the candy board. Besides giving the bees an upper entrance, the shim provides extra room in case the candy board sags in the center.

Comments

DaveS

I’ve been using a similar method for a few years and it works well for me. Instead of a queen excluder, I screen in the bottom with chicken wire. Yours is a better/tighter fit, and I need to lay tissue paper down on the bottom before I put the sugar in or else it seeps out the bottom too quickly.

Denice Moffat

I found that 8# of sugar fits nicely into a bread mixer bowl. I let the mixer to the kneading and it worked out great! Will do this again next time. It looks like I need to make some quilt boxes now to put on top of the candy boards. Thanks for sharing this information Rusty.

Katherine

Thanks, Rusty, for sharing your genius. I’d heard of “lazy man’s candy” made of a dampened bag of sugar (still in the bag) left to harden and placed on top of the crown board, but it didn’t seem very accessible to the bees. I love your solution. It will greatly simplify making candy boards for the few hives we have that need them. Thanks again!

richard

This looks really interesting. I always love your approach because whether it works or not you have applied scientific and logical thought to your design.

Of course it will work, unless I suppose if the moisture builds up in the sugar mix to the point where it breaks up and falls through the excluder.

I wonder too whether the moisture in the sugar will form a chilled ceiling, but I guess you’ll find out. It would be very interesting to put a cheap moisture and temperature sensor on the top of the frames before and after to see the effect.

Bill

Very timely post and instructive photos. I am so cheap I do the same thing but use the gutter guard that you buy at Lowes it comes in rolls 20′ long by 6″ wide and it is less than $4. I just make a wooden frame 3/4″ for it. Hate to re purpose my queen excluders as I use them for so much in the spring. In my climate a 4# bag of sugar is plenty.

Rusty, on another related topic what do you think of using these year round when you are going to feed nucs etc. (not with honey supers on). If the bees otherwise have access to water is there any reason not to i.e. perhaps digestive problems? Sugar water in feeders is such a pain. It seems feeding sugar this way (it has water in it) is easier and less disruptive of the hive.

Rusty

Hi Bill,

I will look at the gutter guard, sounds like an interesting idea.

As for year-round feeding of sugar, I find that honey bees simply stop eating hard sugar when there is nectar to be found. Many other people have noticed bees carrying particles of sugar out of the hive and dumping it like garbage as soon as the weather gets warm. Long story short, I think it doesn’t work.

Part of the reason may be that the hive is dryer in spring and summer. The hive needs to be dry so the honey can be cured. But hard sugar requires moisture to be deposited on its surface in order for the bees to eat it. A winter hive is full of moisture from respiration which makes the sugar palatable. In the warmer months, that is probably not the case.

Bill

Rusty,
Thanks for your reply and further information. I had not known or thought about the moisture issue for the bees processing the sugar in warmer weather. I will give it some further thought. Thanks again.
Bill

Morris

Rusty this is a great idea. I like the addition of protein patties since the invertase that the bees use for inverting the sugar is a protein that must be metabolized from a protein source.

Rusty

Morris,

Good thought . . . something I hadn’t considered.

Tom Rathbun

I’ve used your suggestion for the past three years, I’ve been keeping bees for about 7 years, at first I had two or three hives and each year I lost all my hives. One year I reached 11 hives and that winter I lost 10 hives, then last year I re-built to 17 hives and I fed them with the sugar boards, and that year I lost one hive. This year I’m up to 30 hives and I’ve made sugar boards for all, only thing I did different was I also put about two tablespoons of Honeybee healthy in each board, I place pollen patties more closer to spring ( late February).
One thing I did find is don’t place them on a weak hive that is low on food to early, it will start a robbing frenzy, so I wait until the cold settles in for the season ( Northern Ohio).
Thanks for the post, I will share it on my Facebook pages and groups.
Tom

charlie beyersdorf

I use the same kind of candy board here in Marengo, Wi. with the Q excluder…I have been asked if the Q will get separated from the cluster during the winter…My personal experience is no they didn’t last year anyway….Any thoughts on this…..

Rusty

Charlie,

No, the workers will not abandon the queen and the brood. They will simply transport the food from the feeder down to those who need it.

Bill Hesbach

Thanks for this informative post. I’ve also been reading lots about HMF and different winter feeding formulas that avoid the issue. I’m starting to think I haven’t paid enough attention and just defaulted to fondant without measuring the results. The research I’ve read indicates that plain sucrose, in some no-cook form, achieves the best winter survival rates. Of course, that will challenge the thinking of some beekeepers, but maybe that’s exactly what needs to happen because beekeeping these days is different. Going into winter with high viral loads and compromised populations, may require that we pay more attention to providing food sources that won’t compound the problem.

Cathy

I have been scowering all sorts of books publications and the net for ideas on how to combine a cedar blanket with a candy board. Thank you for the photos that really helped. I am going to make my candy with pollen substitute today and wait for temp to come up before adding it. It is 26 degrees right now. . .burrr

Rich

Looks good, Rusty. I will give it a try and report back. Gotta make four of them!

Thanks,
Rich

Mark Martin

Is there any danger of the cluster eventually moving through the excluder by the end of winter and leaving the queen behind?

Rusty

Mark,

Feeding and caring for brood is what honey bees are all about. They will not abandon the brood which, of course, is below the queen excluder.

Mark Martin

Good point. By the end of winter they would have already started a small patch of brood that the cluster wouldn’t leave. Good thinking!

AramF

Tried it last weekend. Placed newspaper into the oiled pan. Mixed sugar with water in the Kitchen Aid and added on top. Next morning it was hard. Went to the hive, flipped it over and realized that is it brittle. So a section in the corner crumbled all over the place in addition to multiple craps through the middle. So did not follow all of the directions, with expected results.

I am sure the bees don’t care either way, but I think I will probably revert to the hard candy method as rigidity of the block matters to me as far as placing it down on the frames and removing it when I need to examine frames in a hurry.

Rusty

But Aram, the hard candy method goes back to doing the two things I didn’t want to do: cooking and inverting the board. This way is so easy to remove, you just pick it up and remove it. I removed one this morning, set it on the lid and put it back . . . didn’t lose a grain of sugar. You said you didn’t follow all the directions, but I don’t think you followed any of them. You are too funny.

JayB

My first year of beekeeping, I bought the metal queen excluder and nobody went through it! So the next year I made it into a winter feeding board using 1″x1″ scrap wood. I lay down wax paper and cut two access holes and cover them with small cups, then add the sugar mix. After it sets up overnight, I remove the cups and install on my hive. It also absorbs moisture from the cover. I like the wood down the center, and I’m going to add the pollen patty to it. Thanks!

AramF

Eh, sometime I pride myself on telling people what not to do. Happy Thanksgiving.

Jason T

Good afternoon. I think I remember reading on your site, possibly in the comments to one of your posts, that you were switching to the “Mountain Camp” dry sugar style of feeding. Are you still employing this method, are you switching to the no-cook candy board, a little of both, or am I completely mistaken from the get go? If you are making a switch, I would be interested in hearing the reasoning behind the decision to do so. Thank you for your time, and for this wonderful site.

Rusty

Jason,

The Mountain Camp method works great and I still use it sometimes. However, I’m always trying different system so that 1) I can have something to write about (true) and 2) so I can answer questions about different systems (if I haven’t tried them myself, it’s hard to give solid answers). So bear with me here. If you want to use Mountain Camp, I see nothing wrong with it. I never lost a colony while using it.

Peg Davis

Excellent idea and design!! Thanks again Rusty for your ingenuity.

Peg

Steve

Hi Rusty,

Do you like this method over your “bag of sugar and place it on the top brood box” method? When would you start (November?) and when would you stop (March?) … Thanks Rusty…

Rusty

Steve,

It would depend on the situation. Last fall all my hives were short going into winter because of the long drought, so they needed lots of feed. I put candy boards on in November. If the hives have nearly enough to get through the winter, I would instead add a bag of sugar in February or March. What I do depends on what I find. I stop feeding sugar when the first nectar flow starts, not according to the calendar.

Alice

Hi Rusty!

Thank you for your blog — it’s my go-to bee read place as a first year beekeeper. I have a question: I am confused on the difference between wintergreen patties and pollen patties, and which are appropriate to use. And, I suppose, /why/ use wintergreen. It seems people say to use wintergreen during the winter, but I see that many beekeepers make their candyboards/sugar blocks and provide pollen patties. So when do the wintergreens come in? Or do beekeepers only do one or the other?

Thank you in advance for reading my comment. Lots of love.

Rusty

Alice,

You can add wintergreen to pollen patties or not. Your choice. At one time many people thought wintergreen had a measurable effect on varroa mites, but I don’t think the theory has proven to be true. Wintergreen probably won’t hurt anything, but it probably won’t help either. I used to do it but I don’t any more, and I don’t see any difference.

larry

Rusty,
I just finished making candy boards. I used regular cane sugar and found I needed to use a bit more water than your recipe. For 8 pounds of sugar I used 12 tables of warm water. It worked great and was so easy to do. Thank You