feeding bees

How to make fondant for bees from table sugar

Making fondant for bees is much like making hard candy. You boil the sugar in as little water as possible and keep a close watch on your candy thermometer. But unlike hard candy, you take the syrup off the heat when it reaches 234°F and then you knead it like bread.

If you are new to this, the first thing to do is go back to my previous posts and read the general guidelines for cooking with sugar. First read “How to make hard candy from table sugar.” For information on candy stages, calibrating your thermometer, and cooking at high elevations, see “Notes on cooking sugar syrup.”

Fondant is softer than hard candy. In fact, it is squeezable and pliable like dough. Many beekeepers believe that fondant is easier for the bees to eat than hard candy. Although I personally do not share that opinion, I do believe it is important for the beekeeper to what he or she feels is best. That said, fondant is more work than hard candy, which is more work than granulated sugar out of the bag. I had a much different opinion of the amount of work when I had fourteen hives than when I had one—and this may happen to you too.

After you’ve boiled your syrup to 234°, you pull the pot off the stove and cool it down to about 200°F. At this point you can try to knead it with gloved hands (maybe—it is still egregiously hot). Better yet, pour it into a stand mixer and beat the syrup slowly with a paddle attachment. Continue beating the mixture until it turns white and has a smooth and silky texture. Divide it into molds and you are done. Once it cools, wrap it and store it in a cool place.

Fondant for bees

Serves: 4-5 hives
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour
Total time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Dietary: Gluten Free, Vegan
Meal type: Main Dish
Misc: Freezable, Pre-preparable, Serve at Hive Temperature
Occasion: Winter

Ingredients

10 lb granulated sugar
1 quart water
1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice
5-8 drops essential oil (optional)

Note

If you are extremely picky, you can wipe down the inside of the pot with a wet pastry brush while the mixture comes to a boil. This will keep any errant sugar crystals from forming more crystals as the mixture cools. I don’t do this because the bees don’t care.

Before you begin to knead the fondant you can add a few drops of essential oil, if desired. I like to add anise oil because the bees seem to find the food faster. You can also use tea tree, spearmint, lemongrass, peppermint, or wintergreen.

Directions

  1. Prepare molds in advance. You can use paper plates, pie pans, or take-out boxes. Spray lightly with oil and place on a flat, heat-proof surface.
  2. Measure the water and the vinegar (or lemon juice) into a large pot and bring to a slow simmer.
  3. Pour in the sugar, stirring until it dissolves completely. Keep stirring until you feel no “grits” in the water. If the sugar won’t dissolve add more water, little by little, until all the crystals disappear.
  4. Once the sugar is completely dissolved, you can gently turn up the heat to medium high and stop stirring. Insert your candy thermometer. (Because the crystals are gone, there is nothing to settle on the bottom and burn; the sugar is in solution.)
  5. Boil the mixture until the thermometer reads 234 degrees F, then remove the pot from the heat. If you wish, you can test the candy at this point. Place a drop of syrup into a glass of cool water. Reach in and get the drop. The drop of candy should flatten and run down between your fingers.
  6. Set the pot aside to cool to about 200 degrees F. You can set the pot in a sink of ice water to speed up the process, but it is not necessary.
  7. When the fondant reaches about 200 degrees F you may add a few drops of essential oils, if desired.
  8. Pour the fondant into a stand mixer with a paddle attachment and slowly beat until the mixture turns light-colored and smooth. Alternatively, you may knead the fondant with your hands, but be careful of the heat.
  9. Divide the mixture into 8 or 10 paper plates and then allow it to cool completely.
  10. Once cool, wrap the fondant in plastic wrap or wax paper. You can store the fondant for several weeks in a cool place, or for long periods in the freezer.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

75 Comments

  • I actually found that I could buy bakers fondant straight from the bakery cheaper than buying the sugar and doing it myself. Just saying people might like to have a chat to their friendly local baker 🙂

  • My method is what I call sugar cakes…no cooking involved. Pour cane sugar into a pan to the desired amount for a single colony. Then pour 2:1 sugar syrup onto the dry sugar, only enough to wet the dry sugar. Allow to dry and become hard, about a couple days. Then place sugar cake on the top of the inner cover. The bees will take as much as they need and the rest can be re-used to make syrup in spring. Early spring brooding is when colonies starve out from nectar-less pollen flows that trigger colonies to start raising massive brood chambers…don’t forget to feed at this critical time if the bees are visible near the inner cover!!!

    • Bill,

      Good advice. I do something similar sometimes. I put granulated sugar into those little trays that grocery store vegetables come in and then spray it with a solution of 2:1 one sugar laced with Honey-B-Healthy and Amino-B-Booster. Once the surface hardens, I put the whole tray in the hive.

  • Great thread and great blog. So, you put the hardened sugar on top of the inner cover, and not below it (i.e., on top of the cluster frames)?

    • Stavros,

      It can go on the inner cover or on the top bars. I prefer to put it on the top bars because there it gets plenty of moisture from bee respiration and also because the bees don’t have to break cluster to get it. It depends on how cold it is where you are. If it is very cold, I want it as close to the bees as possible. If it is warmer, they are perfectly capable of leaving the cluster to get it.

  • Bakers fondant purchased in stores or bakeries contain cornstarch. Cornstarch can’t be used by bees and may cause problems.

  • I forgot to put in the vinegar/lemon juice as this was my first time making it and it won’t be fondant but will be hard time candy. It’s temperature is unknown because my thermometer did not work like it should have so my question is should I just discard this round and start again or do you think they will be able to consume this.

    Thanks for a wonderful website!

    • Ann,

      Don’t worry about it. The lemon juice helps to invert the sugar but many people don’t use it. I myself forget to put it in about half the time. The temperature doesn’t matter either, as long as you don’t burn the sugar. Basically, the hotter it gets, the more water is driven out, but the bees can eat it as a solid or semisolid. The point is to keep them from starving, not to provide a dining experience. You’re good to go.

  • I tried making the fondant using the recipe above cut in half. I used my mixer and paddle on slow for almost an hour. It never did make it to a “dough” consistency. However, I put it in our hives as a dense sugar syrup on a paper plate…

    Where did I make my mistake as far as consistency? I did add quite a bit of extra water to get rid of that “grittiness” on the bottom of the pan. Perhaps that’s where I made my mistake. Any thoughts? Thanks!

    • With sugar, the slightest bit of extra water will cause it to go runny. Put it in an oven or food dryer at low heat and let it dry.

    • Mark,

      If you make the patties just a little thicker than a bee, you can put it between two pieces of wax paper. This keeps it from dying out, but the bees fit easily between the two sheets. Just cut the paper so it’s roughly the same size as the fondant patty.

  • The batch I made yesterday turned out hard. I thought that it would have a more pliable consistency. When I laid it out to cool and cut it, it broke off in chips and large pieces. What is the correct consistency?

    • Irwin,

      Boiling syrup is hard to handle, and just a few degrees can be the difference between soft and hard. If the thermometer is slightly off, it can be enough to make the difference. I used to use two thermometers, and they never read the same.

      As far as the bees go, you can do it either way. I prefer hard candy because it doesn’t drip down between the frames when it gets warm or moist. Other beekeepers prefer it soft and pliable.

      If it’s hard, the bees are able to eat it because moisture from the cluster of bees condenses on the surface, and where that happens the sugar dissolves and the bees can lap it up. At that point, a new surface is exposed and it also receives condensation.

      I’ve used both pliable and rock-hard with no detectable difference. The honey bees gobble it up in either case.

      • I have been trying to understand the virtues and benefits of feeding syrup or fondant to bees. At this point, my understanding is that syrup should not be fed when the weather is cold. At temperatures above 10C (50F) the bees are able to utilize syrup, but below these temperatures, syrup should not be used.

        In reality, though, I want to have a greater understanding regarding the use of sugar in solid form. This would include both soft fondant and hard candy, as well as granulated sugar or sugar which has solidified into lumps after it has absorbed a small amount of water.

        The information and opinions which I have found suggest that these are all usable by the bees, and can be very helpful for bees which need food during cold winter weather. I have noted also that dry granulated sugar may be removed by the bees, and dumped outside of the hive.

        I have seen recipes which indicate the amount of effort which is required to make candy, or the even greater care required to make soft fondant. It seems to me that any recipe which can use a simpler and less time consuming method would be desirable. It is at this point that I wish to ask advice and opinions from people who have made or used “grease patties”. By this I mean granulated sugar which is bound together by a greasy or fatty material as well as by a small amount of water. I have seen references to vegetable shortening made from coconut oil, or even lard, being used as a binder to enable patties to be made from sugar. The goal seems to be to make patties which retain some pliability rather than becoming “rock hard”. I hope that there may be readers of this forum who can share advice.

    • Irwin,

      By the way, I never cook syrup anymore due to the formation of hydroxymethylfurfural. I feed granulated sugar moistened with a little water and allowed to harden.

  • I use take-away meal containers to feed the girls fondant. They are filled to the brim and I leave the lid on, but previously I have drilled several holes at the bottom of each end allowing multi bee access. I find this keeps the fondant relatively moist and the bees form warm ” tunnels” throughout.

  • I was fortunate to be given a pail of bakers fondant recently (son in law’s family own a bakery). There is a SMALL amount of cornstarch in the fondant – it is the last item on the ingredient list for the product. Is this amount of cornstarch likely to be harmful to the bees?

    Is there any clear data from research that shows either harm or non-harm from cornstarch?? I have seen writings arguing both sides of this so I am assuming it is still somewhat controversial.

    Bill

    • Bill,

      It is my opinion that the cornstarch is harmless. We feed bees soy flour as a pollen substitute, and cornstarch is very similar. I’ve used sugar containing cornstarch as long as I’ve been keeping bees with no issue.

  • Thanks Rusty….puts my mind at ease. Had been leaning that way as it was, but needed the reassurance.
    Love the Blog btw…..the info is great for us NewBees

    Bill

  • I’m not a beekeeper but I feed wild bees during fall and winter. I’ve been feeding them hummingbird sugar water, which you said was like nectar to them and was fine, but I don’t want to have to replenish it 4-6 times a day anymore. Can the fondant be used for them? How would I put it out for them to use? Does it need to have a roof on it so rain won’t get to it? Can I pack in cavities in trees?

    • Debra,

      Since you don’t say where you are, I don’t know what kind of winter you have. In areas with cold winters, there are no wild bees around in winter. You can use fondant in the autumn, but it will have to be protected from rain. Also, it will be very attractive to mice, rodents, raccoons, chipmunks, wasps, ants, birds, or just about anything else. All this, of course, depends on where you live.

  • Good morning Rusty,

    So my single brood box is back to full strength (after being decimated by varroa and robbers back in Jul/Aug), but there was no time to get on a second box and have the colony fill it out, so I’m wintering with just one box. Getting ready to make fondant to get them through (will be my first time making fondant and have read your and others’ articles), and saw a mention of a technique that intrigued me – “spackling” fondant into empty comb.

    Because I had to pull my second box due to population loss and I froze all the frames for two weeks, I have a whole box of perfectly good empty comb sitting around. I’m thinking of putting the second box back on top and filling it with 8 frames of fondant-spackled comb. The strategic idea would be that as they eat the frames/comb empty over the winter they’ll have good, cleaned-out drawn frames ready to start filling in spring as soon as they want. Thoughts? Is freshly-made fondant to thick to spackle like this without ruining the comb, or should I attempt to try to just barely thin it out a bit to make it more pliable?
    Thanks!

    • Stosh,

      How you feed your bees is a personal choice. If doing this spackling thing, appeals to you, you should do it. I don’t recommend it for a few reasons. First, I think you may end up damaging the comb, especially if it’s fairly new and delicate. Secondly, if you place the fondant-filled super above the brood box without a queen excluder, you will have brood in it by spring. Your colony will move up to where the food is. Thirdly, it’s too messy and time consuming for me.

      Why not just give them a bag of sugar to chew on? In any case, I understand the desire to make beekeeping as complicated as possible, but complicated usually isn’t any more effective.

      Just my two cents. If you try spackling, let us know how it worked. It’s really more about the beekeeper than the bees.

      • Ha, I hadn’t seen the bag of sugar article yet. If they’ll take it, I’ll try it. I’ve just always read the sugar needs to have an acid to invert it for the bees and that’s why one made fondant (in whatever form); if that’s a myth, I admit I was taken by it, and happy to throw it aside.

        I’m not trying to make things unnecessarily complicated; I just thought the spackling was an interesting solution. So yah, I’m up for setting a bag of sugar up there with some pollen patty. What size bag do you recommend – the standard 4lb baking size, or should I do one or two of the smaller one-pounders?

        As far as your second reason, don’t I want the colony producing brood as soon as they feel they’re ready for it? Or do they need some kind of recuperation period after the winter before I put another brood box and the drawn-comb frames back on? How soon can I start putting drawn comb in that top brood box where I put all the sugar for the winter (or should I put in the comb with/around the sugar and see what they do with it?)? Finally, I’m looking forward to making the moisture quilts… always fun to build something new in the shop, plus I have plenty of wood chips and shavings from my own work… just have to figure out if I want my bees to smell oak or cherry 😉

        Thanks!

        • Stosh,

          A bee’s saliva contains invertase that instantly inverts sucrose to glucose and fructose. Most nectar is composed mainly of sucrose, so this is what bees do every day. The purpose of the acid was to invert the sucrose, but since the bees do it anyway, what’s the point? Also, both heat and acid increase the formation of hydroxymethylfurfural in sugar which is definitely harmful to bees. That’s why many beekeepers have gone to no-cook/no acid methods of bee feeding.

          As for the other point, I just thought you may have wanted to keep brood out of your honey supers. If not, there is no issue. Yes, you want your bees to build up when they are ready.

  • This is my first year keeping a beehive (top bar). My bees were installed in May. They successfully filled the hive about 1/2 to 2/3rds full of comb. Could you tell me about how big of a cluster of bees I should have? I know that sounds lame, but I keep fearing it is too small to make it. This morning it was 24 degrees and the cluster was not even in view of the window as it was clustered so tightly. Nowhere does anyone address a general idea of cluster size. I know it is variable, but a general idea would calm my nerves. I saw the thermal images, but age of hive isn’t mentioned on the photos.

    Thanks.

    • Kimberly,

      As you said, cluster size is variable. The race of bee makes a big difference as do any number of factors, although the age of the colony shouldn’t matter. A one-year colony is usually just as big as a five-year one.

      I’ve seen clusters overwinter that weren’t much bigger than a softball, although that is certainly not ideal.

  • Rusty,

    I have a few gallons of 2:1 syrup that I didn’t get to use (I’m a new beekeeper in Annapolis, MD and I got a little over-zealous).

    Is it possible to make fondant or candy out of the leftover syrup? If so, could you let me know how I might do this?

    Thanks
    Mark

  • Rusty, I’m in central NC. I have candy boards on my hives. Question: Do I still need to feed sugar syrup to stimulate the queen to start/keep laying eggs?

    Thanks for such an informative site.
    Carol

  • Rusty,

    Are store bought marshmallows poisonous for bees? My mother added some to her fondant and she is worried that that is what killed all of them.

    Thanks!

    • Lindsay,

      Marshmallows are often used to plug queen cages, so I doubt they are harmful in small quantities. The workers eat through the marshmallows to release the queen, so it is a small quantity they are consuming. Marshmallows are basically sugar or corn syrup, gelatin, and water with flavorings. Still, I wouldn’t feed them to bees. Stick to sugar to be on the safe side.

  • I just read here that people are using bakers fondant for their bees. I thought it might be prudent to say that there is stuff other than sugar in bakers fondant. The ones made for bees don’t have flour, preservatives or other ingredient useful for bakers but not bees!

  • I made it and it was very easy and fun. 5 pounds of sugar is really cheap at Sam’s Club.

    Thank you Rusty for your website.

    Rhonda
    Edgewater, Md

  • Hi Rusty,

    Does fondant go bad or spoil while in the hive?

    I ask because if it does not, what harm would there be if you simply always included fondant in the hive as “insurance” against inadequate stores prior to closing up for the winter? I will have a couple of top bar hives next year so my thought was just to hang a fondant block after the last bar of honey “just in case”.

    Thanks,
    Kevin

    • Kevin,

      Lots of people do just that. There is no harm in adding a proactive just-in-case supply of fondant for the winter months.

  • Hi Rusty,

    I’m not sure how to best pose this question and I know that there are many, many variables to any response. Never having had bees, I have no idea how much honey bees consume over certain time periods such as a month. I know that depends on colony size, geographic location, weather, and I’m sure time of year, but I can’t locate any sources for this. Yes, there are lots of suggestions of how many pounds or frames of honey you need to start winter with, but I guess the situation I’m referring to is late winter/early spring when you need to check stores to determine if you need to supplement. For example, say you go into the hive on February 1 and see x frames of honey. How does a new beekeeper know if that is enough? Is there any “general” rate of consumption?

    Many thanks!

    Kevin

    • Kevin,

      Since you don’t say where you live or anything about your climate, I can’t speculate. However, in most of North America, you’re not going to be looking at any frames on February 1. I would go by the position of the cluster, high or low, in the hive. If they are near the top, feed them.

  • I thought that if you boil sugar and add acid, you would form an unacceptably high concentration of hydromethylfurfural (HMF), which can be fatal to honey bees. You have to avoid this when making sugar syrup. So how do you avoid build up of HMF in fondant made in this way?

    • Tony,

      You can’t. The question becomes, “What is an unacceptably high concentration.” HMF won’t wipe out a colony overnight, but it may shorten the lives of the bees. For some beekeepers this is acceptable, and for some, it’s not. Remember, beekeepers have been doing this for hundreds of years with pretty good results, so it’s certainly not devastating.

      But as I like to point out, now that we have many assaults on bees that we didn’t always have— and here I include varroa, small-hive beetles, more bee viruses, climate change, pollution— the small things can add up and perhaps push a colony over the edge.

      This is why I never cook sugar and I advocate no-cook feeding. But some people want to continue with fondant, which is their choice.

  • HELP – I made fondant, using 1 part water and 4 parts granulated sugar, plus 1 tsp of vinegar. Problem: it came out shiny and clear, like something out of Breaking Bad without the blue dye.

    Question – can bees eat it if it’s not cloudy?

    • Matt,

      The vinegar inverted the sucrose into glucose and fructose, making it very similar to honey. No harm done. The cloudiness comes from air bubbles trapped in the hardened candy. Also, no problem. Your bees will be delighted.

  • I’ve tried to make this multiple times. I test the sugar solution in cold water and it’s as you describe. I let it cool to 200°F and mix it in my stand mixer on slow for about 5 minutes. It turns into a crystalline mess.

    Sure, it’s white but it isn’t rollable when it hardens. It more like a Kendal mint cake. I’m so frustrated. What am I doing wrong?

    • Graham,

      Maybe the thermometer is off. Try testing it in boiling water to see if water boils at 212 F (assuming you are at sea level). In any case, you can give it to the bees as is, no problem.

  • Here’s what I now do. It’s easy, lasts a long time, and the bees have thrived through the winters. In a large bowl for every 1 pound of sugar mix 1 tablespoon of water. Give a small splash or two of lemon or lime juice. Stir together well until all the sugar looks like slightly damp sand. Then I pour it into an 11×7 glass dish and press it down firmly. Let it air-dry or put it in the oven on the lowest temp for about 30 minutes then turn the oven off and let the residual heat continue to dry it. The result is A HARD block of sugar. (You can put it into whatever form you choose. I just do the glass dish because I make hanging feeder cages with hardware cloth and this fits beautifully). This also does not add moisture to the winter hive. Hope this helps. (If you make extras you can freeze them for use later)

  • Rusty,

    Following up on Kim’s example of no cook candy – how does a one inch block of candy made from four pounds of sugar equate to stored honey? In other words is it the same as four pounds of stored honey or syrup? I have a feeling the answer is yes and it should be obvious to me……

    Kevin

  • Hi Rusty!

    Thank you for your blog – my husband and I have found it immensely helpful as first-year beekeepers! We’re in New England and while our winter has been pretty mild this year, the last week has been a cold snap and our bees moved up the hive fast! They’re now clustered tight right underneath the quilt box.

    We went into winter with 3 deeps with plenty of honey and my Flir pics tell me they’ve stayed pretty close to the middle of the hive the whole time. So, while they might have tons of honey on either side of them there’s nothing above the cluster but wood shavings right now.

    The next couple of days the highs are in the 20s, and while I know you’ve said not to let cold get in the way of feeding bees in an emergency I’m wondering – is this such an emergency? Will they leave the cluster to get food at these temps? Lifting the quilt box to put fondant on top of the frames would definitely break up the cluster. I could also dig through the wood shavings to put fondant on the mesh bottom of their quilt box? Or should I wait a couple of days until highs will be in the mid-30s?

    Finally, if you ever felt like sharing your wisdom on how bees feed in the winter we’d love to hear it – do they bring honey from other parts of the hive to the middle where the cluster is, or do they move the cluster around the hive toward fresh stores?

    • Jenn,

      If the cluster of bees is warm enough, the retriever bees will go get the food and bring it back to the colony, sharing via trophallaxis. They usually go for the food above the cluster because that is the warmest part of the hive outside of the cluster itself. If there is no food above, and they are warm enough, the retrievers will go to the side and get it. Eventually, the entire nest may move to the side, but that takes a long time because the bees can’t leave the brood. What to do here is a judgment call. If you think they will go for the sides, they’ll be fine. If not, they may starve.

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