beekeeping equipment feeding bees wintering

Candy board advice: know what happens in winter

Candy boards are suddenly a hot topic and beekeepers are asking how to make them and where to buy them.

I want to stress that candy boards are for emergency winter feeding. They are not necessary for a normal, healthy hive with plenty of stored honey. Bees are meant to eat honey—not refined sugar—so forego the candy board if you can.

That said, sometimes you need winter feed. For example, maybe the summer produced very little nectar, maybe the colony is young and small, or maybe you caught a swarm so late in the year that it couldn’t store enough food for winter.

Most colonies have some amount of stored honey, so even if winter feed is necessary it is usually not needed until the end of winter. By the end of winter I mean February or March, depending on where you live.

I often hear that candy boards should be in place by December 22, which corresponds roughly to the winter solstice. It is ridiculous to give winter feed based on a calendar; the decision should be based on the condition of the hive. You don’t even need to open it. Lift up the back of the hive. If it’s really heavy, you don’t need extra feed.

If you read my previous post on candy boards, you know I prefer sugar cakes—which are basically the same thing as candy boards except the sugar is formed into disks and simply placed on the bars above the cluster. This is a much cheaper solution than candy boards and, in my opinion, it works better.

Among the many complaints I hear about candy boards—especially commercially prepared ones—are these:

  • The candy oozes out during shipment.
  • The candy liquefies in the hive and the sugar drips down through the Varroa screen where the bees can’t reach it.
  • The candy breaks out of the lid and lands on the top bars.
  • They are expensive to ship.

For a candy board to work properly the sugar must be boiled to the firm-ball stage (244-248°F or 118-120°C) at the minimum. The hard-ball stage (250-266°F or 121-130°C) works even better. Candy cooked only to the soft-ball stage (234-240°F or 112-116°C) behaves like a dense liquid and will migrate easily.

Once placed on the hive, moisture from the bee’s respiration will condense on the cool surfaces within the hive—including the candy. If the candy has high water content to start with, this may cause the candy to liquefy or may cause the candy to drop out of the board and onto the bars. (If you make sugar cakes and place them on the bars in the first place, you save a very expensive step.) And, yes, candy boards are expensive to ship. Sugar and water are cheap, but they are heavy. It’s not a good idea to be shipping sugar and water around the countryside, especially since we don’t need to.

If you still want to use candy boards, I recommend making them yourself and boiling the syrup into a harder candy. Most cookbooks or online cooking resources will tell you how to make candy without burning it (or yourself) and this is what you need to do. Please use extreme caution when working with boiling sugar!

To help keep the sugar in place, some beekeepers shoot staples into the inner side of the empty candy board to give the sugar something to adhere to. These should stick out of the wood part way to form a very rough surface. Once the staples are in place, simply pour the sugar syrup over them and let it harden.

Honey Bee Suite


  • I am a new bee keeper and considering using a candy board to feed a new swarm I caught that hasn’t had time to develop a full hive of honey for the winter. However, I am thinking a of a slightly different approach where as I place the sugar cake & place it on top of the queen excluder between the frames & the inner cover. I made the cakes by pouring the boiled sugar water into cookie sheets & then letting them solidify into 1 large cake. My thoughts are that it will be a compromise between the sugar board & the cake method. Also, I was thinking about collecting ragweed pollen next fall & mixing that into the sugar board when I pour onto the cookie sheets. Please feel free to share your thoughts.

  • Hi Rusty and John,

    Just speaking as the weed person now: if you want to collect pollen in adequate quantities, I’d suggest corn, being sure it’s non-GMO (the grower will know).

    Ragweed makes copious pollen, but it’s wind-pollinated. That means it’s very light and dry, making me think it may not have much protein content. If you have information otherwise, I’d be glad to hear it. You may know that goldenrod gets a bad rap for allergies that are actually caused by ragweed. Goldenrod pollen is heavy, sticky and needs insects coming and going in order to be fertilized. But because it’s showy, and blooms at the same season as ragweed which is inconspicuous, it gets the blame. (Very unfair, yes.)

    As far as collecting goes, I would spray a light, rigid surface (foam core board?) with anything sticky and harmless – lecithin, maybe – and just carry it between the corn rows, shaking the stalks lightly. Then scrape it off with a spatula. There will be a lot of pollen on you, too: just brush it in with the rest.

    It might work for ragweed too… I just suspect that its wind pollination strategy may have evolved because its pollen is not much use to pollinators.

    Aren’t weeds great?

  • It is still warm here, not really warm, my honeybees hate it when it rains. Since this is their first winter in Idaho I am giving them honey to supplement their stores until the freeze and plan to move the hive that is out in the side yard into the shed for the winter. I want to make good sugar cakes for the freezing part of the year as last year was especially hard and a swarm I had swarmed as soon as the sun came out and tried to go inside an old chimney but then swarmed again. I hope they found a good place because obviously they were like gypsies and they were well cared for as an old beekeeper friend was helping me since I was new.

    I am not planning to take any of the honey from the new bees. I got one set of package bees and a nuc set. The nuc seems to be a stronger hive even now but following a heavy rain there are dead bees near the entry. This is why I want to put them in an open shed so they are protected from excess moisture that can harm them, these are good Italian bees they have not stung anyone. I have had them tangled in my hair and when I run my hands through they still do not sting me.

    I think they do not fear me or they know I am the one giving them the honey. Last year wild cats and racoons tried to steal the honey from that swarm. If I catch a raccoon I know someone who wants them but their future will be f. This winter have a racoon trap for cats and coons, my own cat disappeared for three days and came back with sticky honey on him so cats must like honey somewhat. He is no longer allowed out of doors. He is a very old cat anyhow but the honeybees do not need the intrusion of a cat.

  • How far away should I put the two hives that I have from each other in order to avoid any problems? I only have the two hives right now the nuc hive and the package bees. The nuc seems to be so much stronger and livelier but are also very curious and always out on a nice day and the package bees are not as busy. I wonder why? I am still sort of a newbie. I bought my bee boxes from a dear old beekeeper who made them with little gabled roof on top and they are three tall with busy bees. When I peek in my nuc bees are quite active mostly on the second floor. But when it isn’t raining or cold they are happy with the honey from the entrance feeders. I think it is safer to feed them pasteurized honey so no disease is transmitted through the honey. Am I wrong? They seem to like it. My friend and I sprinkled them with antibiotic powder and powdered sugar in May and they seem very healthy now. Terramycin, I think it was a precautionary measure.

  • I had my first hive last year, in three deeps, in central Minnesota. About the middle of Jan. I thought the bees needed something extra, I ordered and installed a candy board $$ the hive died out around the end of Feb.

    I am less bee ignorant now than I was then, I now thinkk that since the candy board substrate was impermeable, the bees got too wet and it killed them.
    There was plenty of honey in the hive in the spring, the hive was stained with a lot of wet brown spots like bee excrement.

    In the spring I shoveled out a large pile of dead bees and installed a package that took off and did great.

    I would have been better off in this case to have left them alone. If they died out, I would at least not have wasted $$ on the candy board. The one I used had the bottom board part made from foil lined foam insulation board and did not breath. I did not have enough ventilation in the hive.

    • I’m so sorry about your colony loss. Its gracious of you to share your story so we can learn though. Great details. Thank you.

  • After using homemade candy boards for the first time. I notice the bees carrying out tiny pieces of granulated sugar along with tiny pieces of parchment used to hold the candy in place. Why would the bees carry off bits of the sugar candy?

  • I have used candy boards for many years. I use them because the bees will eat less of their stored honey during the winter and have less to replace in the brood boxes in the spring which expedites the filling of the supers. Use #4 wire on the bottom of the board, (bees can easily move through it), line it with white tissue paper, mix the sugar to a consistency that can be molded into the feeding board. It will be very viscous, no need to cook the sugar. Place the board on the hive with wire side down and place the inner cover on the sugar board. The heat and water from the cellular respiration of the bees rises, causing a convection current in the hive. The vapor is either absorbed as it hits the cold sugar and condenses or turns to the outside of the box were it cools, sinks and the water vapor condenses on the inside walls of the boxes and runs down to the bottom of the hive. The sugar does not fall onto the top bars and does not run out of the board.

  • I have leftover candy board from the winter (some pulled from hives in the spring and some reserve that was never used). Can I use for syrup or will it store for the next winter? I just put a full honey super on each hive, so they have plenty of resources for now.

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