Candy board feeders for honey bees

A candy board feeder is nothing more than a very shallow super with a bottom. A solution of sugar syrup is cooked until it reaches the “soft ball” stage, then it is beaten until stiff and poured into the feeder. When the sugar hardens, the feeder can be inverted over the top of the hive.

Bees seem to like these well enough, but they are not my personal favorite. Here is why:

  • They are very heavy.
  • It is difficult (and dangerous) to make that much boiling syrup all at once.
  • The bees often eat just the center of the candy board and leave you with the sticky, heavy, ant-attracting mess the rest of the year.

I find that making sugar cakes—which is the same stuff poured into paper plates—is easier, quicker, and safer.

  • A minute amount of pan spray will cause the cakes to pop right out of the plates. The plates can be reused many times.
  • If I make a lot of these, I can use them as needed. Some hives take a lot, some none. It is much easier to tailor the amount of sugar to the needs of each hive.
  • I use baggie feeder rims for baggie feeders in the spring and sugar cakes in the fall. This way I get double use from one piece of equipment.
  • I can center the cakes over the cluster, making it easy for them to reach all of it.
  • I can use sugar cakes with equal ease in either a Langstroth or a top-bar hive. In a top-bar hive, I don’t need a rim; I just lay them on the top bars.
  • Left over sugar cakes are easy to store and take up little room.

If you still want to use a candy board, you can either affix a rim to a piece of plywood the size of your hive, cut down a pre-existing super and add a bottom, or alter an inner cover. The rim needs to be about 2 inches (5 cm) deep. The syrup will not run through small cracks, and it hardens almost immediately.

A common recipe for one candy board is as follows:

    • Heat 3 cups (0.7 liter) of water to boiling.
    • Slowly add 15 pounds (6.8 kg) of sugar, stirring constantly.
    • Add 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of apple cider vinegar to retard mold growth.
    • Boil until the temperature reaches 234-240°F, also known as the soft-ball stage (112-115°C). [See note below.]
    • Remove from heat.
    • Stir vigorously until the temperature drops to about 200°F (93°C) and then pour into the candy board. Warning: This stuff is hot and very sticky! Be careful.

Variations:

  • Some people like to start with more water, which is fine. It just will take longer to boil away again.
  • Some people like to add pollen substitute to the mixture after it gets done boiling. This, too, is fine. Add about 2 pounds (0.9 kg) of pollen substitute to the recipe above.
  • If you want to add some Honey-B-Healthy or Pro Health, add about two teaspoons after the mixture stops boiling. Beware: it may splatter.

The same variations can be used to make sugar cakes.

[Note: The soft-ball stage (234-240°F) is the standard temperature given in most beekeeping manuals for candy boards. However, sugar candy will migrate at this stage if it gets warm or sits in a moist environment. I prefer the firm-ball stage (244-248°F 0r 118-120°C) although it will still migrate if it gets too warm. The hard-ball stage works best (250-266°F or 121-130°C). You may have to experiment to find what you like. Candies made from pure sugar are very sensitive to temperature and humidity.]

Rusty

Comments

ted mowrey
Reply

Question ,
Have you ever used any heat (i.e. light bulb) under the screened bottom board in the dead of winter?

Ted

Rusty
Reply

The problem with heat is this: If bees feel warm inside, they believe it is warm outside. This can cause them to fly from the hive and subsequently die. Also, the queen should be kept in the dark; the queen naturally shies away from light. Some researchers have found that small hive beetles can be discouraged by using a light bulb in the hive, but light isn’t good for the bees, especially the queen.

This is just what I’ve read, but it certainly is an interesting subject. I’d like to know more about what actually happens when you introduce light into a hive.

Jennifer Davis
Reply

I have had an observation hive for 20 years. It is two frames deep and 3 frames high. There is glass on both the front and back. I keep a 40 watt light (2 inches from the glass)on the hive 24-7, all year, for heat. The bees are totally o.k. with the light. The queen spends as much time under the bulb as she does between the frames. All the bees act as normal as my back yard hives. In fact, these bees are easier to work with, I think because they are used to light and movement.

Note: I just found your site yesterday when I googled “reusing moldy frames in a new hive”, for my back yard hives. I have been glued to this site every spare minute since.
Your articles are to the point, easy to understand, interesting and most informative.
Thank you!
Jennifer

Rusty
Reply

Interesting. I’ve read several times that light is bad for the hive, especially the queen, but obviously you’ve had a different experience. I’d like to know more about the positives and negatives. Maybe bees adjust to light if they are raised with it–just as other creatures get accustomed to odd things in their environment.

BTW, thanks for the compliment! It’s nice to know my work is appreciated.

Jeff
Reply

I agree. I look forward to the new post everyday. Also the fact that you are willing to answer my questions. Thanks for everything and keep up the good work.

Jeff
Reply

Does anyone have plans for an 8 frame observation hive? I’d like to build one in the future.

Tom
Reply

I am getting ready to take your advice on honey plate feeders but what are baggie feeder rims? Sorry I just don’t know so I have to ask before starting.

paul
Reply

Thanks for info on organic sugar vs white. This fall was long and warm, but very little nectar. Some hives feel lighter and I planned to feed sugar, after all I’m taking care of them, if they need sugar they will get it. I would have probably used the organic, but of course now I know not to.

steve
Reply

I’ll follow along. My concern today is sugar boards and you’ve answered my questions. Thanks.

Jim Phillips
Reply

Where can I get Honey-B-Healthy or Pro Health? Thanks

Heather
Reply

Could you post a picture of the finished product? My husband doesn’t understand what heating does.

Rusty
Reply

Heather,

I don’t use candy boards myself so I don’t have a photo. Are you saying that your husband doesn’t understand that the sugar will get hard after being cooked? It’s very much like making lollypops, except the mold (candyboard) is flat and rectangular instead of small and spherical.

Aram
Reply

Just wanted to add a note about heat source. According to some Russian beekeepers and my own observations, bees are very sensitive to heat in winter. They will quickly relocate toward a wall that is being heated, which I think is very useful if you want to move them toward where honey is stored.

The key to heating is to keep the heat source away from the hive entrance. Bees take off not when they are heated, but rather when the temperature at the hive entrance is warm enough to guarantee a safe flight.

So heat them all you want (within reason), as long at it remains cold at the entrance holes.

Danette Wright
Reply

Great website! We are learning so much and having fun at the same time! Thank you! We read about the candy boards and what you put them on in the hives, but how do you feed your bees the candy that you make from the plates during the winter?

Rusty
Reply

Danette,

I pop them out of the plates and place them on the top bars.

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