feeding bees how to wintering

How to make protein-enriched candy boards

I just made my first batch of candy cakes enriched with pollen substitute and I am very happy with the result.

For years I’ve been messing with pollen substitute in different formats. Many times I’ve tried making it into patties. Some of these patties got runny and dripped down between the frames. Some dried up and turned hard as hockey pucks. Some sprouted furry green mold. I’ve tried pressing them between disks of wax paper and rolling them in granulated sugar but nothing seemed to keep them palatable.

Last year, I mixed the substitute with heavy syrup and poured it into plastic zip bags which I split open like baggy feeders. Some of these got eaten and some grew the furry green stuff in the shape of an X, right where I cut the bag.

Then I read that you could mix pollen substitute into the sugar syrup when making candy boards or candy cakes. Thing is, I worried that the high temperature of the syrup would degrade the proteins, so I was reluctant to try it. Finally, I wrote to the makers of MegaBee and asked them about the heat problem.

I was quite impressed with the timely and thorough answer from MegaBee. According to the answer I received, they have sent the enriched hard candy to independent testing labs for analysis and found no significant degradation of the amino acids. They also provided me with an updated recipe for the boards which they say will stand up better to variations in ambient humidity.

Since I’m getting ready for spring build-up, I immediately mixed up a batch. It was easy to do and I actually liked the way it smelled—sort of malty. As soon as it was ready I poured the mixture into paper plates the same way I do when making plain candy cakes. I am eager to see how the bees react to it because it was much easier to handle than any of the messy preparations I made in the past.

If you try this, make sure you work quickly after you pour in the MegaBee because the mix will harden in mere moments. And just a reminder: use extreme caution when making candy. The mixture is very hot and could cause severe burns.



  • Where is the candy placed? On top of the brood super- which means lifting all the supers off then re-stacking them or the last super?

    • Vickie,

      I would never put candy on a hive that has supers in place. Supers are for storing honey and you don’t want the bees to store sugar in them. So the answer to your question is that the candy goes above the brood boxes and there are no supers to worry about. You just tip up the lid and add the sugar cakes or candy board. If the candy is not all gone by spring, you should remove it before adding honey supers.

      If you are leaving a honey super in place all winter for the bees to feed from, you can just put the candy on top of that. As the bees use up their honey stores they will move upward toward the candy. You don’t have to (and shouldn’t) remove any boxes in winter.

  • Feb 1, 2012

    When can I feed pollen substitute or protein-enriched c. boards considering this unusually mild winter in NE Pa?

    Thanks in advance,


    • Jeff,

      Really, considering how warm it’s been all across the country, I’d say you can start any time. I already started here about three weeks ago.

      The thing to remember is this: the availability of food, especially protein, will stimulate brood production. More brood will require even more food. So once you start giving the substitute you can’t stop until you are absolutely sure they are bringing in enough from the outside to sustain themselves. Otherwise, that big population you just built up will die.

      However, assuming you keep feeding them, you can have a rip-roaring spring. There’s nothing like going into bloom time with your bees already built up and chomping at the bit to make honey.

  • I just made up a few of these and they will be going on my hives soon. I think this sounds like a great idea and we will see how it works in practice! Can’t wait to get them on the hive!

  • Not sure what I did wrong, but these killed my two remaining hives. They were hard as a rock when I put them on the top bars. I checked on them a few days later and everything was silent. Popped the top and they had oozed through the top bars half way down the combs all over the cluster. The kicker is that when I went to clean up the dead out the thing was as hard as a rock. Ruined 3-4 combs due to basically covering them and solidifying. I had to chisel the thing off of the top bars.

    Not sure what I did wrong. If I try them again I will keep it in a container of some sort I stead of putting them on top of the top bars.

    • Wow, that sounds like a mess. It’s hard to say why they melted if they were hard when you put them on; I’ve never seen that happen. Still, I don’t think it killed your bees. If the stuff was soft enough to ooze, a healthy colony would have been able to handle it. They were probably on their way out before you added the patties.

      You can leave the patties in a paper plate and put them in the hive that way. I pop them out and just lay them on the top bars and never had a problem. But if that will make you nervous next time, just leave them in the paper plate. No harm done and they can’t ooze anywhere.

      Also, before you make them again, check your candy thermometer to make sure it’s calibrated correctly.

  • Ya, you are probably right. Multiple severe cold snaps in Minnesota did a lot of harm to these hives. In fact a warre had a cluster that literally filled the box except for the very corners of the box. During the last cold snap the bees between the wall and the outer comb and between the next two combs froze. They could not compact down further and froze in place. They were also starving, which didn’t help either, hence my candy attempts. My langs had ample honey but small clusters.

    I still have some left in the garage. Maybe I will try a stress test. Put them in the oven overnight with the light on and see what happens.

    My thermometer is a mercury thermometer. The digital ones were always off. I will have to double check it.

    • My mercury thermometer is always off, so I was hoping a digital would be better. Maybe I’ll scrap that idea. Thanks.

  • I am from South Africa and things seem to work a bit different here. Firstly we are entering summer, early late spring. Am I correct in saying that you don’t give candy to bees in summer, and when there are blossoms, even though you want to boost a colony.

    I cleaned all my brood bottoms about 3 weeks ago, and just placed my supers back, but my colonies tend to be smallish.

    • We don’t feed candy, meaning hard candy, in the summer. We don’t usually feed syrup in the summer when there are blossoms unless the colony is weak and needs boosting. We don’t feed syrup when honey supers are on, but if a colony needs boosting, you can take the supers off and feed syrup. Did I answer your question?

  • Rusty,

    I am curious about the pollen substitute in the hard candy. Specifically, do bees readily consume it with sugar, or do they end up trying to convert it to bee bread? The process of pressing pollen patties and mixing them with honey seems rather impossible with an infinite pollen substitute particles mixed throughout the candy.

    Open feeding pollen substitute dust still allows them to make pollen like pellets and carry them back, but this stuff is bound to sugar, so I assume it would be hard to separate and carry it on their hind feet into a future bee bread cell. Is it consumed without fermentation then?

    • Aram,

      The workers don’t store the sugar/pollen combination in the winter; they consume it. The worker bees need pollen–or a suitable substitute–in their diet in order to produce royal jelly to feed the young. Normally, pollen substitute isn’t fed to bees in autumn or early winter because the colony has plenty either coming in or stored, and the colony isn’t raising much brood. Normally pollen-laced sugar isn’t fed until spring brood rearing starts up again, usually shortly after the winter solstice.

      The bees don’t separate it. Remember, bee bread isn’t fed to larvae directly. Instead the workers consume it and this nourishment allows them to produce royal jelly. It’s a roundabout feeding mechanism. Since the pollen substitute isn’t being preserved for storage, the fermentation process isn’t vital.

  • Hello Rusty, i was looking for info. on bee feeding in (too) mild winter weather and found this post from January 2011. I want to make some but when I translated the temperatuur to celsius it was 129 degrees. Does this high temperature not make the sugar become poisonous to the bees as it would when you would make winter syrup with boiling water?

    • Lindy,

      I’m not aware of sugar becoming poisonous to bees by boiling it. HFCS produces hydroxymethylfurfural when heated, which is harmful, but I’ve never heard that about sugar. Beekeepers have been cooking sugar for decades, sometimes to the hardball stage, 250-265 F (125-133 C). I think it’s okay. The main thing is making sure it doesn’t burn. Burning increases the ash content which could cause honey bee dysentery.

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