feeding bees how to wintering

How to use a quilt with a candy board

This week I want to share some more variations of the moisture quilt that were sent in by readers. Each of them has been customized for local conditions or unique problems. Today’s rendition was sent to me by Herb Lester in Tennessee.

Herb starts by making a candy board with a hole in the center. The hole has two purposes: to provide a way for moist air to escape, and to provide a quick way to check sugar levels and add protein patties if necessary. He places a quart mason jar over the hole in the candy board to keep the sugar from flowing through and removes the jar once the candy has hardened. His candy board holds 20 pounds of hard candy. He writes:

I place the hard candy facing down on the frames next to the bees. I add the candy near the winter solstice, on or near the 21st of December each year. I have found that 20 pounds will provide more than enough food for most hives through the winter. Some will completely eat the hard candy while others do not feed on it at all.

Whatever is left after the winter is removed in the spring. I number and refurbish the units, wrap each unit tightly with a heavy-duty trash bag and store it in a dry area for the next winter. I try to place the  units back on the same hives they came off of the previous winter in hopes of not spreading any problems. During the winter of 2013 this worked very well.


The molten candy is poured into the board with a mason jar covering the hole. Once the candy is hard, the jar is removed. Photo © Herb Lester.

On top of the candy board, Herb places a moisture quilt where the wood chips are enclosed with fabric on both sides:

The winter ventilation unit is placed on top of hard candy unit. I place cloth on both sides of the frame to hold the cedar shavings in place, which makes it easy to keep the shavings for re-use each winter. I number and store them during the summer months. I replace winter quilts with a summer ventilation unit as soon as the temperature at night stays above 50 degrees F.


The moisture quilts have screened ventilation ports and are filled with wood chips. Once filled, Herb staples fabric over the top to contain the wood chips. Photo © Herb Lester.


With the wood chips encased in fabric, it is easy to lift one side and check on feed levels with minimum disruption to the bees. Photo © Herb Lester.


Herb adds small pieces of Bee Pro patties by dropping them down the preformed hole through the candy board. The patties can be added quickly without chilling the bees. Photo © Herb Lester.

Thank you, Herb, for sharing your ideas and photos. Nice job!


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  • I love your blog, Rusty!

    I’m a first year beekeeper in the northeasterrnmost corner of Vermont. I am so thankful for your website and the great information.

    I made quilts for my 3 hives ( a combined design of yours and another of your fans) I made them from medium supers. (3″ of chips/3″ foam insulation)

    It is so bitter cold here this winter. It will be a miracle if they make it. My “large” hive (2 deep supers of brood & bees) died in early January. The apiary that I got the nuc from, gave the deeps to all of us who ordered bees. After they swarmed TWICE, (and I captured both) I put the 2 new swarms in mediums for brood. So far, those in the mediums are still buzzing. I make the trek out to the ‘back knoll’ where they are, and put my ear to the hives, everyday. I really think there is something about imitating nature, and the size of a hollow log- I just think 10 frame deep boxes are too much space. (esp. in cold climates) I think beginner beekeepers would do better with 8 frame medium supers for everything- your thoughts?

    ps. I too, love my bees, but beekeeping can be heart-wrenching.

    • Jody,

      I certainly agree that beekeeping can be heart-wrenching. However, I do not think that deeps are too large for bees. In fact, I think the additional dead air space around the colony helps rather than hinders. Remember, the bees make no attempt to heat the entire space, they are only attempting to heat the colony itself. If you are unsure of how this works read this: Physics for beekeepers: temperature in the hive.” My favorite cold weather set-up is nine-frame deeps with two follower boards, upper insulation, good ventilation, and perhaps a solar collector, like tar paper.

      Because your two smaller hives are doing well and your large one failed doesn’t mean large hives are bad. That is too small a sample size to draw a generalization from. It was probably some other reason, such as a weak or poorly mated queen that caused the colony to die.

      There are dozens of reasons a colony may not make it, but the 10-frame Langstroth has been a very successful set-up for many, many years for millions and millions of colonies. Instead of blaming the size, I would do a careful post-mortem on the dead hive and see if you can postulate some possible answers.

  • Hi,

    I have some candyboard leftover from last winter that I stored in the freezer and now would like to use but am worried. It has become very hard and dry. Will the bees be able to eat it?

    Thank you Rusty for your help.

    • Kathy,

      Your bees will have no problem with hard and dry candy boards. Moisture in the hive and the bee’s own saliva will liquify the sugar on the surface, and as new portions are exposed, they will liquify as well. Candy board candy is no harder or drier than granulated sugar, which bees can also eat. They will do fine with it.

  • Hi Rusty… could you give me some advice on how you would handle this problem? On one of my hives that I have a screen bottomed moisture quilt, the cluster is right up at the top against the underside of the screen. So I cannot see if they have consumed the sugar cake I placed in there awhile ago.

    So I quickly tilted one end of the quilt box up and the cluster was mostly hanging from the quilt and right away a handful of bees came out. I slammed it down so quick I didn’t even notice if there was any sugar cake left.

    What’s the best way to get the bees to stop clinging and chaining down from the quilt and down in between the frames so that I can add a sugar cake? Smoke?

    Thank you

    • Frank,

      Mine do that too, but it doesn’t bother me. I just lift the moisture quilt as little as possible and slide the sugar cake in. The bees will part as it comes toward them. I don’t try to force them down because I don’t want to disturb them any more than necessary. As far as seeing the sugar, I look at it this way: If they are up on top like that, they probably need sugar. Just add more. If there are leftovers in the spring, you can save them for the following year.

  • I am planning to make quilts for my lang hives this year (had Warre hives for several years). But I like to keep a top entrance for my bees, in part because the bottoms often become blocked by snow and I’m sometimes not around. I’m planning to tack 1/4″ lattice stripping around the top box except for leaving a gap in the front for an entrance – anyone have a better idea? Also, I’m assuming you have to remove the quilt when “mountain camp” feeding in the spring. Thanks.

    • Victor,

      1. You can use an Imirie shim with a 3/4″ x 3/8″ opening under the quilt and they work great. But your idea should work just as well.

      2. No, I do not remove the quilt for mountain camp feeding. My mountain camp feeders are above the top brood box and below the quilt. That way, some of the moisture from the hive moistens the sugar and the rest is caught by the quilt.

      3. You could always drill an upper entrance in your mountain camp feeder, and that way you wouldn’t need both a feeder and the lattice stripping.

  • Please someone, we have so many wild bees here that I am feeding sugar water. It rained so of course there are less, but they still come for their sugar water.

    My question, can I make the bee candy and put it out during the winter for them even though I don’t have a hive and don’t know where their hive is. I am just trying to help the wild bees along. I am not a beekeeper but I love the bees. Thank you! Janet

    • Janet,

      It depends on far south you are and which bees you’re taking about. In areas with winter freezes, native bees are not very active in the wintertime. Most species hibernate during that period, although honey bees may still be out from time to time because they do not hibernate. One thing you don’t want to do is lure them out and then have them get trapped in cold or rainy weather. But like I say, it depends on your location and how warm it is.

      • Thanks Rusty, I am in Northern California Shasta County. There is a major drought here, winters are usually very wet, but California is temperate next to other states except in higher elevations.

  • Hi Rusty,

    This is my first winter as a beekeeper. I’m strongly considering a quilt box and candy board for my lone hive in central NC (zone 7a, more ice and wet than snow, generally).

    I’m wondering what happens as the bees eat the candy and create space between the screened bottom of the quilt box and the top of the frames in the top super – wouldn’t they be driven to waste resources building a lot of burr comb to fill that space? And I suspect that if I keep them warm, dry, and well fed all winter, that might affect how early they consider swarming in the spring – any other considerations/consequences to overwintering strong hives?


    • Rachel,

      You bring up at least two issues here. But first, I’ve never seen bees build burr comb in winter. Comb building of any type is a spring and summer activity, not a winter activity. The only time I’ve ever gotten burr comb in the space below the quilt is when I inadvertently left it in place too long in the spring. If that happens, it take 30 seconds to fix with your hive tool.

      The second issue, is this: “If I keep them warm, dry, and well fed all winter, that might affect how early they consider swarming?” Well yes, absolutely. But you want your colonies healthy and well fed. The urge to swarm in spring means your hives overwintered well. This is want you want. It’s not a bad thing—it’s what you are striving for. You want your populations to be large and boisterous by the time the first spring nectar flow begins.

      How you handle that urge to swarm is up to you: you can split your hive or take a series of measures to contain the swarm, all of which is referred to as “beekeeping.” The last thing on earth you want to do is keep your hive weak to prevent swarming. That might work, but then there’s no point in keeping bees.

      • Thanks! I didn’t mean to imply that I’d rather keep them disadvantaged through less-than-adequate overwintering, just that I need to keep in mind that the calendar I was taught in bee school might be a bit behind in early spring. Or to say it another way – with good overwintering strategies, my bees may be ready for the earliest part of spring, so I need to be ready then too.

  • Hi Rusty:

    I debated the idea of using a candy board but was wondering how that would affect the ventilation flow. If the board is solidly filled with candy woudn’t that negate the process? I thought the idea was to allow the heat to rise from the bees but is seems as if the candy board would collect condensation.

  • Hi Rusty,

    I am a loyal follower of your site, my first resource for the many questions I have had during the past year, my first year of beekeeping! Thank you for a great site!

    Last fall, my husband and I installed both a quilt board and a candy board in our 6 hives (we live in Northwest Wisconsin with long cold winters). We went into the winter with our hives short on winter stores due to late swarming. We started with 2 hives and now have six. It was a year of learning for us. We have been quilt checking our hives, about every 4 weeks, throughout the winter. What we found, in each hive, the cluster of bees moved up between the candy board and the quilt box. Since the clusters appear large to us ( new beekeepers), it has been difficult to add additional candy. We have added, but we worry about killing the queen. We are now moving into the end of February and the bees should be beginning to brood up. So, will the cluster move from their cozy winter home (between the quilt and candy board) back down into the brood chamber and begin raising brood? If they don’t how do we remove the quilt box and candy board to encourage brood building?

    I would appreciate any insight you can provide.


    • Nancy,

      That is most likely the top part of the cluster you are seeing; the queen will stay down on the combs along with the brood and the nurse bees. If you just slide your feed in slowly, the bees will move out of the way.

      Once the nectar flow begins the foragers will be outside foraging, the nurse bees will be caring for the brood in the combs, and the candy board will empty out. If they start building comb in there, just pull the candy board out on a warm day, and tilt it against the hive body. In a while, the bees will find their way back inside. Or, if the candy board is empty of sugar, you can turn it upside down and shake the bees into the hive, or if it is warm, shake the bees onto the ground in front of the hive.

      Don’t worry about brood rearing; I’m sure it is well underway by now.

  • Hi, I am concerned about hive beetles getting in any of my insulation packed areas. Hive does get good sun, but the beetles are still a presence. any problem with overwintering beetles. thx V

    • Victoria,

      I don’t know that the beetles would go into the insulated areas (no food), but if they did, it would be a perfect opportunity to dump them and then put in clean insulation. But I don’t think they will make it that easy for you. Your alternative is not to use insulation, but that has drawbacks as well, depending on where you live.

  • Hi there.

    As a 1-year nuby, I thank you for every post and I record most of them. I live on central Vancouver Island, BC.


  • Hi Rusty,

    I am a 1st-year beekeeper and so appreciate you sharing knowledge and experiences. My question is do I put the inner cover over the sugar shim or the quilt box if using both?

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