Table of contents
For several years I’ve been looking for a way to combine a moisture quilt with a candy board. I wrote a post about this a while back, but the board in that example contained cooked candy. I wanted a no-cook candy board for several reasons.
The first reason is that boiling sugar syrup is both dangerous and boring, a bad combination for me because when I’m bored I don’t pay attention. Not paying attention when you’re working with molten sugar at 240 degrees F is not smart.
The other issue is that cooked sugar forms high levels of hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF). This is especially true when you invert it with an acid such as cream of tartar or lemon juice.
The entire “invert-the-sugar-for-the-bees” argument is kind of ridiculous anyway because honey bees do it instantaneously, thanks to the enzymes in their saliva. Many kinds of nectar have high levels of sucrose, and honey bees just invert it without knowing it. Our “help” is not needed.
The candy board frame
A candy board meant to go below a moisture quilt could not be solid, obviously, because moist air from the colony could not be collected by the quilt if that air never reaches the quilt. Secondly, the no-cook candy board could not be flipped over because “upside down” doesn’t work well with uncooked sugar. It would all fall out.
Debbe Krape in Delaware sent me some no-cook ideas that she collected, and then directed me to the West Central Ohio Beekeepers, where some of the ideas originated. I went to work altering the plans to make them work with my system. The following is what resulted.
The candy boards are made from baggie feeder rims or mountain camp rims that are about three inches deep (these are often called ekes). And you will need a plastic queen excluder, the kind that many people don’t like. A friend told me about the excluder idea, and it seemed to be the perfect answer. Remember, the excluders are not meant to exclude queens, but simply to hold the sugar in place.
Once I assembled the feeder rims, I nailed the plastic excluder onto the bottom of the rim. I used what I thought was a reasonable number of nails along all four sides. Actually, I started this project using screws, but I didn’t have enough of the type I needed. If I later discover the nails pull out from the weight of the sugar, I will go back to screws. But so far, so good.
Drill no holes in the frame
Note that I did not put an entrance hole in the candy board frame. Every candy board design I saw had a hole somewhere, either for an upper entrance or ventilation or both. Most recommended tiny holes that I thought wouldn’t do much good, and most had to be shielded from the candy that might block them.
Since my no-cook candy board will have ventilation through the center, and my quilt has ventilation ports, airflow should not be a problem. In case the bees want an upper entrance, I simply placed an Imirie shim below the candy board. This shim has the added benefit of providing some extra space between the candy board and the brood frames. Even if the candy board sags in the middle, the bees will have plenty of room.
Once complete, I spread a layer of plastic wrap on the table, placed the empty candy board on the wrap, and then positioned a piece of 2×4 lumber in the center of the candy board. (No, I didn’t measure the length of the piece. It was just a random scrap I found under the saw table.)
After the candy hardens, I remove the wood. The empty space provides the place where the air will flow from the colony up into the moisture quilt. Some of the moisture will condense on the underside of the candy board, which is a good thing because moisture on the surface of the hard candy allows the bees to consume it with ease.
Mixing the pollen supplement
The next thing I did was prepare the pollen supplement. I decided to add the pollen supplement (as others have recommended) so that as spring approaches the bees will have an ample supply for brood rearing. Here, where we have so much spring rain, it is often hard for the bees to get out and forage for early pollen.
It was important to me to have a free choice patty—free choice meaning the bees can eat it if they want to, but they are not forced to eat it. If the pollen is mixed uniformly into the candy, the bees are more or less compelled to eat it even if they don’t want to.
I made each pollen patty from 100 grams of Mann Lake Bee-Pro pollen substitute, 200 grams of baker’s sugar, and 105 ml of water. I like baker’s sugar (also known as bar sugar) because the fine particle size allows it to dissolve quickly. Baker’s sugar in small quantities can be expensive, but in a 50-pound bag, I pay only 2 cents per pound more than regular sugar, which is totally worth it.
At first, the mix looks dry and crumbly, but I just knead it like bread for a minute and it makes a silken patty with the consistency of bread dough. You can make them in advance and they stay moist if wrapped in a piece of plastic wrap.
Mixing sugar for the no-cook candy board
I decided on ten pounds of sugar per candy board based on talking to beekeepers in similar areas. I’ve heard seven pounds isn’t enough, 15 pounds is too much, so I arbitrarily decided on 10. I think most of my colonies should get by on their own honey stores anyway, but the candy board is an insurance policy of sorts and not designed to replace all their food. The feeder rims I used are plenty deep, and I think they could hold 25 pounds, depending on what you need in your area.
I placed ten pounds of baker’s sugar in a pot and added 10 tablespoons of water. Some folks recommend much more water, but one tablespoon per pound worked perfectly when I used the baker’s sugar. I don’t know if it would act differently with regular sugar, but you can experiment. Start with a small amount and add more if necessary, but remember the more water you add, the longer it will take to harden.
After adding the water, I just reached into the pot and worked the mixture by hand. I thought it would be a dry mess, but the small amount of water was amazing. It reminded me of the texture needed to build a sand castle that will hold together without slumping. It also reminded me of dry snow, the kind that barely works for a snowball.
Once mixed, I spread a layer of sugar on the bottom of the candy board. Then I divided the pollen patty in half and put one piece on either side of the wood. Next, I spread the rest of the candy on top. And finally, I tamped it all down until firm.
By the next morning, the thing was hard as a rock. I removed the wood from the center and placed the candy board on a hive. Just above the brood box, I added the Imirie shim with the opening in front, then the candy board, then the quilt, then the lid.
The plastic excluders nobody likes
I always hear that honey bees will not go through plastic queen excluders, so after a few minutes, I lifted the quilt for a quick peek. The central area was crawling with bees that hadn’t seemed to notice the excluder. I think it must be a psychological barrier more than anything. If you have to go through an excluder to do work, that’s one thing; but going through to feast is something else. Go figure.
So that’s where I am on the project. I have no results to report and no findings to share. But I do feel better having backup food on the hives, especially since our hot and dry summer produced very little nectar. I will keep you posted.
A reminder about the timing of pollen supplements
Colonies start to build up for spring after the winter solstice, which is approximately December 21. Since you don’t want to initiate spring build-up too early, don’t add pollen substitute to your no-cook candy boards unless they are placed on your hives after the solstice.
If you want to give your colony some extra nutrition earlier than that, you can use winter patties instead. These have a much lower protein content, about 2.5 percent, which doesn’t needlessly stimulate brood production.
Honey Bee Suite
I’ve been using a similar method for a few years and it works well for me. Instead of a queen excluder, I screen in the bottom with chicken wire. Yours is a better/tighter fit, and I need to lay tissue paper down on the bottom before I put the sugar in or else it seeps out the bottom too quickly.
I found that 8# of sugar fits nicely into a bread mixer bowl. I let the mixer to the kneading and it worked out great! Will do this again next time. It looks like I need to make some quilt boxes now to put on top of the candy boards. Thanks for sharing this information Rusty.
Thanks, Rusty, for sharing your genius. I’d heard of “lazy man’s candy” made of a dampened bag of sugar (still in the bag) left to harden and placed on top of the crown board, but it didn’t seem very accessible to the bees. I love your solution. It will greatly simplify making candy boards for the few hives we have that need them. Thanks again!
This looks really interesting. I always love your approach because whether it works or not you have applied scientific and logical thought to your design.
Of course it will work, unless I suppose if the moisture builds up in the sugar mix to the point where it breaks up and falls through the excluder.
I wonder too whether the moisture in the sugar will form a chilled ceiling, but I guess you’ll find out. It would be very interesting to put a cheap moisture and temperature sensor on the top of the frames before and after to see the effect.
Very timely post and instructive photos. I am so cheap I do the same thing but use the gutter guard that you buy at Lowes it comes in rolls 20′ long by 6″ wide and it is less than $4. I just make a wooden frame 3/4″ for it. Hate to re purpose my queen excluders as I use them for so much in the spring. In my climate a 4# bag of sugar is plenty.
Rusty, on another related topic what do you think of using these year round when you are going to feed nucs etc. (not with honey supers on). If the bees otherwise have access to water is there any reason not to i.e. perhaps digestive problems? Sugar water in feeders is such a pain. It seems feeding sugar this way (it has water in it) is easier and less disruptive of the hive.
I will look at the gutter guard, sounds like an interesting idea.
As for year-round feeding of sugar, I find that honey bees simply stop eating hard sugar when there is nectar to be found. Many other people have noticed bees carrying particles of sugar out of the hive and dumping it like garbage as soon as the weather gets warm. Long story short, I think it doesn’t work.
Part of the reason may be that the hive is dryer in spring and summer. The hive needs to be dry so the honey can be cured. But hard sugar requires moisture to be deposited on its surface in order for the bees to eat it. A winter hive is full of moisture from respiration which makes the sugar palatable. In the warmer months, that is probably not the case.
Thanks for your reply and further information. I had not known or thought about the moisture issue for the bees processing the sugar in warmer weather. I will give it some further thought. Thanks again.
Rusty this is a great idea. I like the addition of protein patties since the invertase that the bees use for inverting the sugar is a protein that must be metabolized from a protein source.
Good thought . . . something I hadn’t considered.
I’ve used your suggestion for the past three years, I’ve been keeping bees for about 7 years, at first I had two or three hives and each year I lost all my hives. One year I reached 11 hives and that winter I lost 10 hives, then last year I re-built to 17 hives and I fed them with the sugar boards, and that year I lost one hive. This year I’m up to 30 hives and I’ve made sugar boards for all, only thing I did different was I also put about two tablespoons of Honeybee healthy in each board, I place pollen patties more closer to spring ( late February).
One thing I did find is don’t place them on a weak hive that is low on food to early, it will start a robbing frenzy, so I wait until the cold settles in for the season ( Northern Ohio).
Thanks for the post, I will share it on my Facebook pages and groups.
I use the same kind of candy board here in Marengo, Wi. with the Q excluder…I have been asked if the Q will get separated from the cluster during the winter…My personal experience is no they didn’t last year anyway….Any thoughts on this…..
No, the workers will not abandon the queen and the brood. They will simply transport the food from the feeder down to those who need it.
Thanks for this informative post. I’ve also been reading lots about HMF and different winter feeding formulas that avoid the issue. I’m starting to think I haven’t paid enough attention and just defaulted to fondant without measuring the results. The research I’ve read indicates that plain sucrose, in some no-cook form, achieves the best winter survival rates. Of course, that will challenge the thinking of some beekeepers, but maybe that’s exactly what needs to happen because beekeeping these days is different. Going into winter with high viral loads and compromised populations, may require that we pay more attention to providing food sources that won’t compound the problem.
I have been scowering all sorts of books publications and the net for ideas on how to combine a cedar blanket with a candy board. Thank you for the photos that really helped. I am going to make my candy with pollen substitute today and wait for temp to come up before adding it. It is 26 degrees right now. . .burrr
Looks good, Rusty. I will give it a try and report back. Gotta make four of them!
Is there any danger of the cluster eventually moving through the excluder by the end of winter and leaving the queen behind?
Feeding and caring for brood is what honey bees are all about. They will not abandon the brood which, of course, is below the queen excluder.
Good point. By the end of winter they would have already started a small patch of brood that the cluster wouldn’t leave. Good thinking!
Tried it last weekend. Placed newspaper into the oiled pan. Mixed sugar with water in the Kitchen Aid and added on top. Next morning it was hard. Went to the hive, flipped it over and realized that is it brittle. So a section in the corner crumbled all over the place in addition to multiple craps through the middle. So did not follow all of the directions, with expected results.
I am sure the bees don’t care either way, but I think I will probably revert to the hard candy method as rigidity of the block matters to me as far as placing it down on the frames and removing it when I need to examine frames in a hurry.
But Aram, the hard candy method goes back to doing the two things I didn’t want to do: cooking and inverting the board. This way is so easy to remove, you just pick it up and remove it. I removed one this morning, set it on the lid and put it back . . . didn’t lose a grain of sugar. You said you didn’t follow all the directions, but I don’t think you followed any of them. You are too funny.
Rusty, I’m pretty bad at following instructions, too. Case in point, I had a warmish afternoon coming up and planned to put in sugar – just bricks, not a complete board. But I kept forgetting to prep for the preceding 3 or 4 days, so in the morning I attempted to make bricks with even less water so that they would dry out quickly enough to handle by the afternoon. Hey, I make bread a lot, and I can knead just about anything together, “I’m sure this will work fine. . .”
Within a couple of hours I had the same problems as Aram – “craps” thru the middle and lots of brittle crumbles. Fortunately for my bees, I changed my mind about the timing, softened the “craps” in water, then added more sugar to get a sandcastle consistency. Made my planned couple of bricks, plus several muffin cups in parchment papers. Overnight they solidified just as you describe, and the bricks were easy to quickly slip in place (the sugar muffins are in storage for later). Maybe next year I’ll get more organized but this should get us thru this winter.
My first year of beekeeping, I bought the metal queen excluder and nobody went through it! So the next year I made it into a winter feeding board using 1″x1″ scrap wood. I lay down wax paper and cut two access holes and cover them with small cups, then add the sugar mix. After it sets up overnight, I remove the cups and install on my hive. It also absorbs moisture from the cover. I like the wood down the center, and I’m going to add the pollen patty to it. Thanks!
Hi Rusty, I have a tbh so I have made the sugar bricks really thin and placed on wax paper and slide under comb. Guess there’s no other option in tbh. ?
Having said that and reading comments, my entrance holes on my tbh are end entrances, 1″ holes, and I have another hole near to the top. Given what you’ve said about air flow, I’m wondering if I should close the bottom or top hole since I’ll have sugar cake lying on bottom of hive under comb. Once I put insulation under my cover, I’ve not had condensation in the hive.
The design of top-bar hives varies tremendously. I have a gable roof over the bars which gives me plenty of space for feed. Generally, sugar bricks under the combs will not be effective. In order for the bees to eat hard candy, moisture from respiration needs to condense on the bricks of sugar. This causes a thin layer of the brick to dissolve and provide edible food. Warm air, as from respiration, rises. So stuff beneath the combs is not in the right place. In addition, bees tend to move up, not down, in an overwintering hive because the lower portion is the colder portion. Bees don’t want to go there.
Eh, sometime I pride myself on telling people what not to do. Happy Thanksgiving.
Good afternoon. I think I remember reading on your site, possibly in the comments to one of your posts, that you were switching to the “Mountain Camp” dry sugar style of feeding. Are you still employing this method, are you switching to the no-cook candy board, a little of both, or am I completely mistaken from the get go? If you are making a switch, I would be interested in hearing the reasoning behind the decision to do so. Thank you for your time, and for this wonderful site.
The Mountain Camp method works great and I still use it sometimes. However, I’m always trying different system so that 1) I can have something to write about (true) and 2) so I can answer questions about different systems (if I haven’t tried them myself, it’s hard to give solid answers). So bear with me here. If you want to use Mountain Camp, I see nothing wrong with it. I never lost a colony while using it.
Excellent idea and design!! Thanks again Rusty for your ingenuity.
Do you like this method over your “bag of sugar and place it on the top brood box” method? When would you start (November?) and when would you stop (March?) … Thanks Rusty…
It would depend on the situation. Last fall all my hives were short going into winter because of the long drought, so they needed lots of feed. I put candy boards on in November. If the hives have nearly enough to get through the winter, I would instead add a bag of sugar in February or March. What I do depends on what I find. I stop feeding sugar when the first nectar flow starts, not according to the calendar.
Thank you for your blog — it’s my go-to bee read place as a first year beekeeper. I have a question: I am confused on the difference between wintergreen patties and pollen patties, and which are appropriate to use. And, I suppose, /why/ use wintergreen. It seems people say to use wintergreen during the winter, but I see that many beekeepers make their candyboards/sugar blocks and provide pollen patties. So when do the wintergreens come in? Or do beekeepers only do one or the other?
Thank you in advance for reading my comment. Lots of love.
You can add wintergreen to pollen patties or not. Your choice. At one time many people thought wintergreen had a measurable effect on varroa mites, but I don’t think the theory has proven to be true. Wintergreen probably won’t hurt anything, but it probably won’t help either. I used to do it but I don’t any more, and I don’t see any difference.
I just finished making candy boards. I used regular cane sugar and found I needed to use a bit more water than your recipe. For 8 pounds of sugar I used 12 tables of warm water. It worked great and was so easy to do. Thank You
This looks great. I’m wondering, though, if the winter cluster is in the middle can’t they still starve with this layout? Also, what would your adversion be to putting down tissue paper then just adding the dry sugar? Seems like it’d be super quick? I’m in northern michigan and just took on ten more hives that I pick up tomorrow. They’ll make 16. Being a 2nd year beekeeper with 0 experience or exposure to beekeeping in the past and taking on this this responsibilty at this time of year and then reading about how this is the toughest time to survive for bees in my region….. I’m a bit freaked out and am scrambling for a feeding method that’s quick to install and prepare and is long lasting. I just dont want them to be presented with this huge feast but not be able to get to it. I fear they’re starving. The dude I’m getting them from has lost two more since Monday. I need to feed them right away. I have bee candy at the ready but looking for what to do after that, I’m sure they’ll go through it pretty quickly. (Unfortunately, it’s sort of our thing to take on more than we’re prepared to handle, most times it helps us learn quicker… there’s no choice!!!)
Thanks… you’re the bomb.
I do not have an aversion to tissue paper and dry sugar, but my major overwintering problem is moisture, so I try to provide a clear pathway for the water vapor to reach the moisture quilt. Tissue paper and sugar may block that pathway. I’ve never had bees starve in this configuration, at least not yet.
That said, if I needed to feed that many bees in a big hurry, I would go buy those four-pound bags of sugar they sell at the grocery stores, lay one across the top bars directly over the cluster, slit the bag open across the top with a knife, surround it with a shallow super, and add the lid. Done. I could do 16 hives in an hour.
That sounds perfect, quick and easy. I’m going to do it. Thank you for the quick reply.
Hi Rusty. I just placed candy boards on my hives a couple of days ago. I’m in north central Texas. Today and yesterday I noticed crumbs of the candy board at the entrance of both hives. It’s not scattered but piled up like they’re removing it. Normal? What do you make of it?
Honey bees will often carry out sugar granules as if they were trash. It’s totally normal. This will stop when the outside temperature is cold enough that water vapor from the cluster begins to condense on the surface of the candy. This is what dissolves the candy enough for them to eat it. This “carting away” is the reason that many beekeepers wait until cold weather before installing the boards, usually near the winter solstice.
Honey bees will often carry out sugar granules as if they were trash. It’s totally normal. This will stop when the outside temperature is cold enough that water vapor from the cluster begins to condense on the surface of the candy. This is what dissolves the candy enough for them to eat it. This “carting away” is the reason that many beekeepers wait until cold weather before installing the boards, usually near the winter solstice.
With the entrance just below the feeder, it seems like a draft would move across the bottom of the sugar – right where you want it to be warm and moist, and the bees feeding. Would it be better if the entrance were above the feeder so there is no draft across the bottom of the feeder? I suppose you’d then need to use something other than the queen excluder so that the drones could get through it?
You can put your upper entrance wherever you like, but as long as the colony is alive, air will flow from the bottom of the hive to the top because warm air rises. Warm air from the cluster will move up, keeping the candy board warm and moist, which is what you want. Some of the warm air will leave thru the entrance but cold air will not be coming in. Air can’t flow in because it’s flowing out. If you take an IR camera and look at that upper entrance you can see the heat escaping.
You don’t need to worry about drones because there are no drones in the winter. By the time drones appear, you won’t have a candy board in place anymore. However, even if there were drones, they don’t eat from a candy board. Instead, they beg food from the workers.
Is there any danger of the bees going through the excluder and leaving the queen behind to freeze to death?
No. The worker bees are extremely protective of their queen and will not abandon her. They know instinctively that the continued existence of the colony depends on her. In any case, the bees basically stay clustered in the broodnest throughout the winter. The “retriever bees” go out, collect the food, and bring it down to the cluster where it is shared via trophyllaxis. You can see this with an infrared camera. The large cluster is connected to the food by a narrow path which the retrievers are using.
I really appreciate the science you include backing up these ideas, such as the HMF issue with cooking sugar. I’m a new beekeeper and haven’t found the need to heat any sugar to get it to dissolve. Maybe that’s just due to the food mixer 🙂 I’ve tried to mention these ideas to other beeks in my local association but people can be stubborn with keeping to methods used for years with no ‘obvious’ undesirable results.
I believe in the comments you said you put this no-cook-candy-board on in November. Was that a special case due to the lack of forage that year due to the drought? Only your other posts say the recommended is after the solstice, I’m wondering the impact the pollen patties would be having if you put them on in November, or will the bees just use them when they want to in spring because as you said it is a ‘free choice patty’. Also you mentioned in the same comment you would normally put on a bag of sugar in February/March if they had enough to get through winter. Has that changed with this new method of no-cook-sugar/candy-boards with ‘free choice’ patties, only February is a while past the solstice.
Also (I appreciate your patience!) have you experienced any robbing/pests/ant infestations with having an upper entrance so close to the candy board?
I continue to experiment with timing. I still think the best time to add a candy board with pollen is after the solstice. Last year was a bad year and I was forced to put them on early. I could have left out the pollen, but I didn’t. They did fine. Actually, they did really well and bounded into spring with no problem. I still check in February to see if they need more sugar. Sometimes the boards are empty by then. Once the winter hits, I don’t see ants or other pests around the hive; that’s mostly a warm-weather problem.
Could robbers get through the imirie shim opening and steal the candy?
If it’s cold enough to require a candy board, it’s too cold for robbers to fly.
Thanks so much Rusty…just saw your post now!
Where do you buy your 50 lb bags of baker’s sugar at a discount price? I am anxious to employ this technique this winter here in NE Ohio.
Cash ‘n Carry, a restaurant supply store.
I buy it at cash and carry
Great instructions. How has your experience been with this? Do you consider this to be a strategy that you’ll continue to use, or do you think there are better options? I’m feeling a little overwhelmed with the options for winter feeding, so updates on your impressions would be very appreciated!
I’ve used these for two winters now with excellent results. Other people have written the same. I plan to use them again this year for any colonies that need feeding.
Has anyone made a candy board out of a medium frame and insert it into the colony near the cluster?
I’m sure it’s been done. A little tricky getting it to stay in there, especially once they start eating it.
As first-year keepers, we are planning to make these for our five hives. We’re located in south King County, WA, so really appreciate having near local advice about timing and techniques! I’m finding it tricky figuring out if hives have “enough” honey (and syrup) stored for the winter. We did a careful accounting yesterday, inspecting all the frames to see how much is in there and it’s hard to know as newbies, how to assess partial frames, honey in the corners around brood, etc. It’s possible I’m overthinking this!
All that said, is there a downside to just feeding candy boards anyway? If they don’t need it, we’re out the money for the sugar I guess (though, can’t we store it or use it later, so maybe not wasted) but if they do and we don’t provide then they’re toast.
Of course you can use candy boards in addition to their regular food supply. I usually throw any leftovers in a 5-gallon bucket and use it for sugar syrup or for candy boards the following year.
However, you probably won’t have leftovers. Every time I’ve fed hard candy, I notice they eat it before they eat their own honey.
Thanks for all the info for overwintering. I’m a newbee, have a long hive, using Vivaldi feeders. These are the feeder frames that have a 3″ hole in the center where a plastic tray is placed so you can feed sugar syrup. I plan to remove the feeders soon, and I wanted to use the granulated sugar pile on newspaper method of feeding and invert the Vivaldi board frame over the sugar, then place the quilt box above that, then the outer cover. Have you heard of anyone else doing this? I’m worried that the 3″ hole may not let enough air flow through, but wanted to try it because the Vivaldi board would support the cloth bottom of the quilt box as well as provide room for the sugar pile. I also read that you don’t want anything solid between the brood food and the quilt box. I made the quilt box with your original instructions before reading that you switched to hardware screen, but also I don’t necessarily want to buy another frame, or try to make one (not a good carpenter yet). Also, should I be putting the pile of sugar in this month or wait?
I don’t think the 3-inch hole is nearly enough to make the quilt work properly. I’m afraid you will get condensation on the bottom of the Vivaldi board, even though you have extra insulation above. But I’ve never tried it and I could be wrong. Personally, I don’t want anything between my brood box and my quilt box, although I’ve resigned myself to the candy board being there in the years when I use one. However, the hole in the middle of my candy board is about 14 inches by 4 inches, way bigger than a 3-inch circle, and it keeps getting bigger as the bees eat from it.
But you can always try it and see what happens, and then let us know if it worked. Who knows? I might work just fine.
Rusty, I’ve got my feeders built per your specs.
I am thinking of putting the upper entrance above the candy board for a couple reasons. Please correct me if I’m wrong.
I want most of the moist air to contact the sugar before it is exhausted out. I have insulation above the sugar board, and under the telescoping outer cover.
If I place the upper entrance in the bottom of the insulation frame, the tele-cover will protect the upper entrance from direct breezes and blowing snow.
Worth a try?
I don’t see a problem. And since you are in a colder climate, protecting the upper entrance from weather is a consideration.
I use an Imirie shim and prefer it below the candy board because the candy sags a bit in the center. The shim not only provides an entrance but gives me some extra space for the sag. I suppose it doesn’t matter if the candy board lays against the top bars, but I like the space.
I have the same configuration for wintering the hives as you do, with the difference that the rim with the candy board has also a round one inch hole. So there is the Irmie shim with entrance, on top is the candy shim with the one inch hole, on top of that is the insulation box with a total of 8 holes (they are 1/2″ holes but all four sides of my insulation box have holes). I am planning on leaving the entrance reducer on the bottom of the hives with the large opening on. Do you think there would be too much of a draft considering all the opening I have?
Without knowing your climate, I have no idea.
Can’t thank you enough for your tutelage and great How To articles in my first year! I’m in central New Hampshire U.S. We’ve had two hard frosts, nighttime temps in the 20s, and tomorrow night it will be 12 degrees F. Most local mentors are advising me to place my candy board in January. I have a southern package of Italians in four mediums with two full mediums of capped honey (approx. 80 lbs out of the 120+ I’m told I’ll need). Hive is heavy enough that I can’t tip the back. My instincts are telling me to place my shim and candy board under the quilt box now. What would you do? Also, do I understand correctly that the shim and candy go above the top-most box of capped honey? Some of your posts indicate candy on top of brood chamber. I’m letting my girls keep all they collected. Finally, have you seen those new injection molded frames? I was wondering the value of potentially packing them with candy, as I have no surplus drawn comb. Thank you!
It seems to me that two full mediums (assuming they are ten-frame) would weight about 60 pounds a piece, or let’s say about 120 pounds. And there’s probably more in the brood boxes, so it sounds like you are in good shape.
That said, it never hurts to add a candy board for insurance. You can add it any time. Now or later doesn’t matter at all.
The shim and candy board go on top of the highest box. So that may mean directly above the brood boxes (if you don’t have honey supers) or directly above the honey supers if you do have them.
No, I’m not familiar with the injection molded frames. I did a quick search, but didn’t find them.
Here are the injection-molded frames (i.e. Permacomb) I mentioned. I’ll be curious to hear how they work out for folks.
Hi Rusty, I’m getting ready to add extra insulation to the hives and want to drop more candy into the mountain rim feeder while I’m at it. I’m thinking of a combination of small blocks: a little bit more of the pollen patties, some plain sugar blocks, and some plain sugar blocks with some honey bee healthy added. I hope the later works and may provide them with an extra boost. Also, I read in the comments: “One thing I did find is don’t place them on a weak hive that is low on food too early, it will start a robbing frenzy, so I wait until the cold settles in for the season (Northern Ohio).” I think I made that mistake.
As you recall, I had the “freak wind” accident and I do think my bees were weakened. I’d already placed the mountain feeders because of cold 20 nights. However, our days were still in the 50s, and it does appear that one of the weakened hives got attacked by wasps. So, next year, I’m going to wait until wasps are gone before I place the mountain sugar rims.
Any thoughts, Rusty? Thank you. Elena from cold country east WA state.
I try not to use anything with an odor (such as Honey-B-Healthy or essential oils) while honey bees or yellowjackets are still flying in the fall. I think it’s best to use plain syrup or sugar until the temperatures drop way down.
I am so enthusiastic about the uncooked candy board setup using the plastic queen excluder as the bottom of an eke which is placed above the top brood box. Being near the lake limits my bees forage and they did not create a honey super although they have lots of honey within the brood boxes. I created a candy board setup for each of them an am convinced it will bring them through the winter. In March the hives have been invited to a proven site where hives of bees create honey supers.
I’ve been wondering how your waterfront bees were doing. I remember we had a discussion about all the foraging opportunities a big body of water displaces.
I love the no-cook candy boards. They are easy to make, the bees love them, and any leftover candy can be reused or dissolved into syrup for spring. This will be my third winter using them, and they give me peace of mind. Even if the bees don’t need them, at least the food is available.
A modification on your feeding plan that wouldn’t require building anything is what I do. (Using a 4# bag of sugar) I take sheet cake pans and press the damp sugar into them. I use a rolling pin to compact the sugar firmly. I let them harden for 4-5 days. Lay a sheet of newspaper on top and gently turn the pans over onto the newspaper. I use the newspaper only for carrying the sugar boards out to the hives. (The brick should not break unless you didn’t let it harden long enough or didn’t compress the sugar well enough.)
Place the sugar board directly on top of the frames. I have a shim board that’s about an inch tall that provides room for the sugar to be placed below the inner cover. The shim also has a 1/2 inch upper entrance opening. I leave the shim on year round. Is serves as upper entrance in the summer and ventilation in the winter. (We don’t need moisture quilts in our area, Northeast Kansas)
Even easier, you place a bag of sugar on the top bars. Slice the top with a knife. Surround it with a box and add a lid. Done.
No pressing, wetting, waiting. No newspaper, no pans, no rolling pins…just a bag of sugar and a knife.
In a few days, the brick will be hard as a rock. By spring, nothing is left. Even the bag is gone.
See “The minimalist guide to winter feeding.”
Thank you for your site and blog. I have learned so much already from your patient generosity of sharing your experience and knowledge. I am new, took over 3 hives from a retiring beekeeper a couple months ago. Our temps were dropping into the 20s overnight, so I went ahead and made no-cook candy boards and placed them two days ago under their new quilt boxes (which work great!). I do not know if they have enough stores to make it through the winter (1 deep, 1 shallow each). Today it was warm enough for the bees to fly (crazy Ohio weather) and I saw them coming out of the hive with sugar crystals and returning with none. Do bees reject candy boards? Do I leave them on? Cold weather is headed back in a day or two. The previous beek never winter fed the bees; he just took his losses, so maybe they don’t know what to do with it?
Quite a good observation. Yes, sometimes honey bees will dispose of the crystals as if it were garbage, which is why candy boards are usually given in the winter instead of the late fall. Once it’s too cold to fly, they won’t cart them out. When their honey is gone, they will eat the sugar that dissolves on the surface. The problem is the unusually warm days we have been getting in the winter. Don’t worry about it too much. You may find they cart out crystals for a while and then stop when the boards harden, which they will do. It’s just a bee thing. If they run out of honey you will be glad you used the boards.
Hi, just wanted to thank you for posting this project/recipe. I have a small colony, an August swarm…she’s a good queen and I concluded the bees were so few they wouldn’t have added much to my other two strong hives, so I decided to try and keep them going. I’ve had a pantry super but in the cold they aren’t going up so this seems a good way for them to access food wherever they are. When I slid it on this afternoon I was pleasantly surprised by the number of bees. Fingers crossed!
This recipe may be my bees lifesaver. I just checked my hive weight and when I lifted my top bar hive it was too light. Luckily I remembered this post and I have extra bars. I took one & attached hardware cloth that I shaped to fit the slanted sides. I then put soften pollen patties on the edges to make a frame. Next I made your recipe to fill the middle. It’s not pretty but I’m hopeful it helps the girls make it to spring.
Thanks for all your wonderful ideas.
Thanks so much for your great advice. Your blog and website is a favorite of mine. Quick question. I currently have your no cook candyboards on my two hives. I used plastic queen excluders as recommended. I was wondering if the winter bees would have a problem getting through the queen excluder. They do look bigger than the summer variety. Is there a chance they too would be excluded or get stuck in the new excluder trying to get to the sugar?
I have never seen or heard of a problem. I’ve been using this system for years.
I have learned a lesson the hard way. I’d like to share some advice here that can hopefully spare other new beekeepers the pain I’m going through right now. I placed an Imrie shim beneath my candy board. However, no one warned me that this upper entrance would admit mice to the hive. I am devastated to have lost my colony. Please, if you place an upper entrance of any kind, cover it with 1/4″ hardware mesh to protect your bees.
Thanks for your post on no-cook-candy-board. This is my first year, just starting. I will be using this for next winter. Thanks.
Rusty – This is my first year using candy boards and I’m using your design though I’m only now just adding them to my hives. The Bee Pro patties came out fine but the sugar blocks are extremely hard, like rock the entire way through. Will the bees have trouble if the blocks are too hard? I used about 1/4 more water than you suggested, and also tamped them down with quite a bit of force. Should I add some less dense blocks or is the hardness of sugar not an issue. I didn’t fill the 2″ space completely so still have room to add some less compressed blocks. Thank you.
A source of moisture is needed for bees to eat hard sugar, but there is plenty of moisture in the hive for this. The moisture from bee respiration condenses on cool surfaces just like dew. Since the candy is above the bees, the warm moisture from their breath lands on it and condenses. The surface layers of sugar dissolve and the bees lick up the syrup. Then the next layer becomes exposed and the same thing happens. It works amazingly well.
Hi Rusty. Just recently found your blog and am devouring it at a voracious pace. I noted your comment on inverting sugar syrup with acid (cream of tartar, lemon juice, cider vinegar, etc). While unnecessary for the sake of the bees, adding acid can help to prevent crystallization of syrup. It is used in cooking for just this purpose.
Is there a reason that you don’t use purchased pollen patties and instead make your own?
I followed your sugar/water recipe for baker sugar (10# sugar and 10 tablespoons water) with regular granulated sugar. The top & bottom formed a very hard crust but the interior, while it showed a fair amount of hardening was far from solid. This leads me to believe next year I will experiment making just one with 12 tablespoons of water, evaluate it, experiment some more if necessary and make the remaining candy boards.
I used metal queen excluders and detected no sagging. I did not fasten them to the wooden feeder frame as the packed & hardened sugar held them in place while carefully carrying them and placing them on the hives. The weight of the candy board frames, 10# of sugar and the quilt boxes help hold them on the hives. I also added ratchet straps to hold the hives together as I will be absent most of the winter and don’t want any fatal surprises when I return.
Thanks for all you do and write about. As I am in Gig Harbor, WA, I especially value your advice as our climates are virtually the same.
Mine seem to get hard no matter what I do. Not at first, but as time goes by. I’ve stopped measuring, and just add water until it feels right. I love these candy boards, though. They work so well they feel like magic.
I don’t have access to hardware cloth (w/big square holes, only screen door type cloth) can I use aluminum screen door type for the bottom of the board?
How will the bees get through the tiny holes?
What is the quilt everyone keeps talking about?
Also, do you insulate the under part of the top cover?
See How to make a moisture quilt for a Langstroth hive. The quilt is the insulator that goes under the top cover.
I did use the plastic queen excluders but they didn’t work as the bees will not leave the queen. This year I am using half-inch hardware cloth so that the queen can get into the candy board with worker bees.
In general, a queen will not leave the brood nest and go into a candy board. The retriever bees go into the candy board and bring food back to feed the queen and any other bees that are still in the cluster. This is why beekeepers have been using queen excluders to hold candy for years with excellent results.
Hi Rusty, your shared insight and experience is PRICELESS and very much appreciated!!! You are my go-to for all things bees and i know they are even more thankful than i am, which is saying you’ve sure saved a LOT of bees with your shared knowledge!! 😀 Anyway, have a couple questions about the candy board…. FYI i am in NW MT where the temps are already dipping…..snow expected tomorrow, teens the next day, etc….. in case that makes a difference :} It is Zone 5 here…..
1. does it matter how deep your candy board is as in can a person have TOO MUCH candy, (too thick) in the hive? I made my candy boards out of 3 inch (or was it 4 ;\ boards and put a metal queen excluder on the bottom and will then put my candy and pollen in there but am concerned what happens when the candy is 3+ inches deep?
2. in attaching the queen excluders on bottoms of feeder boards, i have a slightly uneven surface and can see small gaps. is this a problem? i’ve tried insulation tape to “absorb” the gaps but it doesnt work well at all. Am i better off just letting the bees fill the gap with propolis if they choose or will it be too cold for them to do so? I used a rope/twine cord stapled there last year but it was a disaster…… any suggestions??
THANK YOU SO MUCH RUSTY!!!! 😀 –sarah
You can make the candy boards as thick as you like. It doesn’t make any difference.
I use the plastic excluders because they lay flat. I don’t think the gaps will allow lots of air flow, but if it worries you, you could wrap them with duct tape.
Why the need for the quilt? Wouldn’t the sugar board absorb most of the moisture already? Or is the quilt there to capture the moisture that makes it through the cleared area which will grow if the bees eat up the sugar?
Also, would laying newspaper on the top frames with loose sugar yield the same result as the no cook board since the sugar would ultimately get moistened from below?
The candy disappears, but the quilt does not. Newspaper blocks the quilt from doing it’s job. The quilt is designed to dry out, but the newspaper won’t. I’ve overwintered 100% of my colonies numerous times using this system, so I have no reason to change it. But do whatever you want. I’m only telling you want I do.
I understand now. Thank you so much for answering all my questions.
Hi Rusty. I am a first year beekeeper in West Virginia. Don’t have a lot of knowledge yet but I am learning. Can I use metal queen excluders in place of the plastic. I already have the metal ones. I have feeding shims on my hives but they do not have the entrance hole. Do I need to add one? I am part of a collective here and was told for ventilation to use popsicle sticks but I am curious about moisture quilts and would like to try it on a couple of my hives. Do you have links to plans for the moisture quilts.
I think you can use the metal ones, although I haven’t tried them. The sugar hardens nicely across the plastic ones and they lay flat, which is why I chose them. You do not need an upper entrance; they are an option. The instructions for moisture quilts are here: How to make a moisture quilt for a Langstroth hive.
Thanks so much for the info and insight Rusty! Now one more question. Do you thnk it would be ok to put a diluted essential oil mixture in/on the candy board mix to help prevent Nosema, etc? Im following the Barnyard Bee’s recipe for the concentrate: 4 tsp Tea Tree Oil, 4 tsp Wintergreen Oil, and 2 tsp Spearmint oil very well mixed into a quart of 1:1 or 2:1 syrup…. that they then say to use 1 TBL of the concentrate in 1 gallon of regular syrup…… would it be ok to incorporate that into the candy board mix or do you have a better suggestion for using essential oils to help prevent Nosema, etc? Thanks so much!! :} You make me and my bees soooo happy 😀
I think the essential oil mixture will do no harm in the candy board, but I don’t think it will help with Nosema, either.
Hi Rusty or anyone else that has used this no cook candy board,
I was really worried about honey reserves in the hive so I made this no cook candy board. Your instructions were spot on, THANKS AGAIN. I also made your moisture quilt, also great! Last week it was sunny and calm so I decided to check on them to see if any bees were eating the sugar. When I lifted the moisture quilt to my surprise it looked like a large part of the cluster was above the candy board queen excluder and large part was most likely below it. It was hard to tell if they consumed some or any of the sugar.
Should I be worried?
Does this mean they really need the sugar or could it be that the cluster is so large that it simply extends into the empty center of the candy board. Before adding the board I did have what looked like a very large population of bees. I took a picture of the cluster but I don’t think I can add to this post. Thoughts?
It sounds to me like the system is working perfectly. If the bees don’t need sugar, they usually stay down in the brood boxes. But if they need it, large numbers of retriever bees will go up into the sugar board, take what they need, and ferry the food down to the queen and the brood nest. That is how it is designed to work. Sometimes my sugar boards are completely hidden under a mass of bees. I’m not sure which aspect you are worried about, but you can relax.
If you want to send a photo to go with this, email it do me. email@example.com
I put “candy boards” of the no-cook sort on all my hives around 1 Oct, each containing about 10 pounds. Today, while the weather and temp was good for doing it, I got a jump on the winter solstice OA vaporization chore. Took a peek under the hood to see how the candy boards were faring and … “Yikes!”. It’s been a warm fall so far and the bees have been hammering them. I’ve sent a photo of a representative one. The extreme case is a large, 3 box hive with maybe a pound left. Looks like a winter to be extra vigilant on monitoring their food so as not to lose any to simple starvation!
Yes, it’s been way too warm. I’ve been seeing bees flying almost every day. After looking at your photo, I decided I better check my hives. Too scary.
Do you or any of your Langley BC readers know where to purchase bakers sugar?
Do you have a bakery nearby? They may be able to tell you where they get it. Down here I get it at Cash ‘n Carry, which is a restaurant supply store. You must have some kind of equivalent up there.
Dave, try here.
C&H Professional BAKER’S SUGAR Ultrafine 4lb (5 Pack) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00IEXP2CG/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_i_TxGvCbNR1Z1KY
First year overwintering in northwestern Wisconsin and was wondering about winter bees. I want to use the queen excluder for the candy board as that is what I have on hand but aren’t winter bees bigger and won’t that cause an issue with them trying to get thru the excluder when they have to get to more sugar? Thank you.
Winter bees are not bigger, they are the same size. I can only speak from experience, but I’ve used these candy board feeders every winter, and every bit of sugar is always used up. The only way they can get to it is to go through the excluder, and they do. Also, hundreds of other beekeepers have told me how well these have worked. But here’s my advice: if you don’t like the idea, don’t do it. There are other ways.
Wow, I didn’t expect that kind of response. Way to make a newbie feel welcome. I absolutely want to use this idea I was just misinformed about winter bees. If its to bothersome I can take my questions and interest in your page elsewhere. Have a good day.
I’m sorry you found my advice offensive, but it’s at the core of what I believe about beekeeping. I don’t believe in telling a beekeeper how to to things because, believe it or not, beekeeping is very personal. Oftentimes someone will have a gut feeling that they don’t want to do something a certain way or they don’t like a piece of equipment, and when that happens, I believe they shouldn’t do it.
As I explain in other parts of this site, my job is not to tell a beekeeper “you should do it this way.” My job is to offer alternatives, to describe ways that some people found helpful, and when I know the science behind something, I try to explain it. But that’s it. The most primary tenet of beekeeping is that every colony is different, and local weather, climate, and floristic conditions change everything. Because of all the differences, things that work well in one place do not work well in another. It’s only a very naive beekeeper who believes “his” way is the only way, or that his way will work everywhere.
I wasn’t trying to offend you but to explain that if something like a queen excluder makes you uncomfortable, you shouldn’t use it. I believe that. Often you will hear three or four different pieces of advice, and one may feel really right and another may feel really wrong. Follow your gut; that’s all I’m saying. I, for example, am still uncomfortable with oxalic acid vaporization, so I don’t use it. Does that mean it is bad or wrong or ineffective? Of course, not. It only means that I don’t like it. End of story.
In this example, I didn’t use plastic excluders for years because of all the “bad press” I heard about them. Then one day I decided I was being conclusory and so I tried using them for these no-cook candy boards. That first year and every year afterwards, my overwintering improved by leaps and bounds. Still, in the prior years no one could have convinced me to try them. That’s okay. We all have to find our own way.
Perhaps my wording was not delicate, and I apologize for that. But it doesn’t change my advice. If you have a bad feeling about excluders, don’t use them. And if you don’t feel comfortable with this website, don’t use it either. Follow your gut. I don’t know how else to explain it.
Couldn’t agree more. I did it for the first time last winter. Worked perfectly. This, in conjunction with Rusty’s moisture quilt (see link below), the bees will stay dry and fed all winter long. The winter bees had no problem getting through. Thanks again to Rusty for showing us this.
Thank you sincerely for the great website and all the advice. I am a first-year beekeeper in Seattle and have newbie questions about candy boards and winter feeding.
Do you go through one candy board per hive per winter? Or do you check throughout the winter and sometimes replace candy boards?
If winter feeding is a simple 5# bag of sugar with a slit in it, how long does one bag last in a Western Washington winter?
At my beginner bee class last spring, the instructor advised not to give pollen patties after September in order to not encourage egg laying going into the winter. Do you agree with that? Do you put pollen patties in your candy boards because you put them in around the solstice, knowing that the queen is going to start laying again?
I’ll just take these one at a time.
1. You need to check on your candy boards frequently. Generally, the bees go through it slowly until after the solstice, and then consumption increases quickly. If they are dependent on it because they are short of honey, letting it go empty can result in a dead colony. You can replace the candy board with a new one, or just slide in some candy cakes, which is usually what I do.
2. How much sugar a colony will eat depends on lots of things such as the size of the colony, how much honey they have in the hive to start with, how cold the winter is, whether the colony is exposed to wind, etc. So it’s really impossible to say. I leave lots of honey on my hives plus I start with a 10 lb. candy board. I almost always have to supplement it come spring, with about ten more pounds. This depends quite a bit on whether we get an early spring or not.
3. Question three is hard to answer and is more complicated than just looking at the calendar. Generally, with a big healthy colony, your instructor’s advice is okay. But sometimes, especially if you think the colony is too small, you may want to feed pollen early so the colony can grow. The biggest danger with having the colony get too big is they eat a lot. So too big can be tricky too.
Your last conjecture is correct. I put the boards on around Christmas (usually) and pollen at that time is usually appropriate. If a colony is small, I give them a board with pollen much earlier.
Thanks for your answers to my questions!
I have three hives in my backyard and two of them seem to be strong and healthy with plenty of honey going into the winter. My third has lost quite a few bees in the last month relative to the other two (probably varroa related as you write elsewhere). Your comments made me realize that while all year I have been taking care of the hives the same way during each inspection, they are different colonies with different needs. I can tackle winter feeding for the weaker colony sooner and differently than with the ones which I feel more confident about.
Thanks so much again for your help.
Thank you for putting together and maintaining this very informative website.
In the final stages of getting hives ready for winter and have a few questions regarding no-cook candy board feeder and wrapping hives.
I’ve used a moisture quilt in previous years and they really seem to make a difference. Already have those on. This will be the first year adding in a candy board. In the process of making those now and my question is: Any reason why hardware cloth with appropriate spacing (big enough to give bees access and small enough to provide adequate support for the candy board) could not be used in place of the queen excluder?
Question on wrapping hives is: Do you have any experience and/or opinion on using Tyvek in place of black felt? Being white Tyvek would not provide any additional heat gain on a sunny day but seems like it would provide better wind protection and better breath-ability of excess water vapor.
I can’t think of any reason hardware cloth wouldn’t work for a candy board, other than the support issue.
The primary reason for using black felt is for heat absorption, as you pointed out. You don’t mention where you live, but I think wrapping can be overkill unless you live in a really cold place. You know best what your climate is like.
Thank you for the quick follow up.
We are in zone 5a in north-central part of Ohio. So will get cold (-10 to -15) but usually not for an extended period of time. Bigger issue is with windy conditions that can steadily pull heat from the hive boxes.
Hives are placed with some natural wind breaks but wrapping (with either Tyvek or black felt) seems like a small price in terms of time and money that could make the difference between getting to spring or not. Now thinking of switching wrapping plans from Tyvek to black felt since advantage of adding some heat gain on sunny days may trump small difference in wind resistance.
Using hardware cloth with very small spacing (basically what you would find in a screen window) for the moisture quilts. Planning on using a heavier gauge hardware cloth with 1/4″ or so spacing for the no-cook candy board feeders. And pinned with plenty of heavy duty staples.
It is the middle of February here in Ontario, Canada, and my one hive is pretty light on stores. I did put some hard sugar I made in a cookie sheet on to of a queen separator about a week ago during a mild day. Then I remembered your candy board idea! So I’m going to make one today and put it on this week so I don’t have to keep bothering them The next few months with sugar samples. The temps are all over the map here this winter, so I was going to put it on when they are around freezing in the next few days. The other day it was slightly above freezing and the bees didn’t like the top removed so some flew out and of course died, so I used some smoke to simmer them down. Should I use smoke in the winter? When I put the candy board on? And it will be the end of April before there is pollen to be had here, so the candy board should do until then? Thank you for all your information on here, I find it practical and very helpful!
You can use smoke in the winter. I don’t find it necessary, but if you think it will help, go ahead. A candy board placed now should easily take you through to the end of April, but I would check after a month just to see that everything is okay.
Listen up folks. This candy board in addition to the moisture quilt works wonders. Second year in a row my bees have come through winter with plenty of food and booming populations. This year I noticed they ate through the entire pollen patty most likely because the warm winter allowed the queen to lay more than usual which required more pollen than was available out in nature. Do both the candy board and the quilt, can’t hurt, but definitely works to control condensation and more importantly gives them food whenever they need it. Thanks again to Rusty for sharing this method!!!
Thanks, John. It continues to work for me, too. I love this method, plus it’s easy.
I sometimes get confused by the various different feeding methods (i.e. fondant, candy, sugar bricks, etc.) and their specific uses, but I am experimenting with your no-cook recipe this weekend as the wildfire smoke does not allow for any outdoor activities.
Is the no-cook recipe meant to be only used for emergency winter feeding?
Can the no-cook sugar be placed in the hive once you close up for winter or might temperatures get too warm resulting in the candy slumping through the excluder only to fall to the floor?
Could it be used in the fall as a substitute for 2:1 syrup? Will bees store this sugar as they would syrup?
Finally, could fondant be used as an alternative to liquid feed in the fall? Will bees store fondant?
Most of the different ways of feeding are just beekeeper preferences. I developed a system I’m comfortable with and other beekeepers do the same. I sometimes think it’s more about the keepers than the bees.
I stopped heating/cooking anything once I learned how much hydroxymethylfurfural ends up in the feed. It’s not enough to kill a colony, but it may shorten the lives of some bees. So I figure, added to other colony stresses in winter, it just isn’t worth it.
The major difference in the types of feed is how much water you drive out. Lots of water makes syrup. Drive out some and you get slurry. Drive out more and you get fondant. Drive out more and you get bricks. That’s really the only difference.
But with the no-cook candy board, you basically end up with a brick by adding very little water to begin with, and then letting it dry.
So yes, you can use a candy board for regular winter feed, which is what I do. I always try to leave enough honey on for them to make it through the winter, then I add the candy board “just in case.” Usually, they end up eating all of it, but not always.
If I’m going to put the candy board on before the solstice, I don’t add the pollen patty for the reasons stated in the post: it can prematurely boost the bee population. I can always just place a pollen patty on top of the sugar later in the year.
No, the candy won’t ever slump to the floor if you followed the directions. It gets hard as a rock, and heat just makes it harder.
If you are going to feed in the fall, syrup is a good idea. The candy board works best when the bees are clustered for the winter because then water from their respiration condenses on the underside of the candy and dissolves a thin film that they can eat.
I suppose bees store fondant, although the whole process seems unnecessary. You buy sugar, add water, then cook to drive out the water. Then the bees add water so they can eat it. Then, if they store it, they need to drive that water back out again. Seems kinda silly.
Regarding your response to Melissa Johnson’s September 14 question as well as a response to an earlier question of mine on top bar ventilation – do you have a slight separation between your top bars so that moisture can rise above and condense on a sugar brick? If the bars are packed closely together I wonder how the moisture would rise otherwise?
Lastly, you mentioned that you have holes drilled in your gable roof for ventilation purposes. I unfortunately can’t do that as I have a flat roof design where the roof rests directly on top of the bars. Would it be detrimental to the colony if I drilled a hole on each of the end boards for ventilation purposes?
Yes, I have a separation between my top bars. I took two bars out (of about 23) and then spaced the rest.
Ventilation holes should be as high as possible if you are trying to expel moist air. The moist air from respiration is warm, making it rise, so place them accordingly.
Regarding tbh top bar separation, how much separation? Enough for bee space? Every time I go in my top bar, they have propolised the top bars together like Ft. Knox. I’m not questioning the process, just an observation.
I haven’t liked the sugar bricks previously, because when I checked on them the sugar had dissolved (in bottom of hive) and I had a wet, cold syrupy mess. Guess that’s because I laid them on floor in hive?
I have a flat lid as well, but my lid sits on top of the legs, so that leaves about 1 1/2″ -2″ space between lid and top bars.
Yes, bee space. Generally, bees will not eat sugar that’s on the floor like that. You need to put it directly above the winter cluster.
Thanks for the breakdown of the different sugar feeds – most helpful and understandable!
Is fondant necessarily made by boiling sugar? In other words, can it be called fondant without heating the sugar and, if not, does all fondant then carry the risk of having HMF?
You need to drive the water out to get fondant. How would you do that without heat?
What are your thoughts about inverting this candy board so that the queen excluder is on the top? If the non-cooked candy didn’t fall out, doing this would serve both to support the quilt box above, and woulld eliminate the 2-3″ space that would otherwise be between the excluder and the quilt box, which the bees might feel the need to “fill”.
First, the no-cook candy would definitely fall out. The whole purpose of the excluder is to support the candy and allow the workers to pass through it. The workers often congregate in great numbers up there, so they need every bit of that 2-3 inch space.
OK, thanks for the info!
I noted you mentioning a couple of times that the dry sugar absorbs moisture, is dissolved, and then is consumed. I think it is a common misconception that the bees chew up the sugar cake; I’ve always felt the process is as you described. Moisture is absorbed, and syrup forms both on the surface and deeper in the cake, flowing out thru gaps between sugar crystals. The appearance of a partially consumed cake/brick confirms this, as we see fissures extending into the depth of the cake (like a glacier melting). There’s probably little functional importance to the observation, other than if one is in a very dry climate it may help to jumpstart consumption of the sugar cake by misting with water before insertion. I just think it’s an interesting distinction, and I’ve raised the question on a few forums and had no one give a good opinion.
Another common fallacy repeated often each winter is that bees won’t consume sugar cake if stores are adequate. They will begin consuming it anytime it’s warm enough to break cluster, and seem to prefer it over their own honey. Last winter in Portland OR the temps were very mild. I was checking hives every week or so and replenishing sugar as consumed. Come spring, most were still HEAVY with honey. In fact, it was a problem, as so many of my frames were filled with “funny honey” from fall feeding that I lacked empty drawn comb to put into supers when the flow started.
Lastly, like you, I like to have a little protein available to ensure the queen can continue to lay as needed through the winter. I would caution folks not to go overboard with it, as I’ve done in the past. Too much available pollen/sub can lead to booming population growth far too early, and thus to swarming conditions when the weather is still cold/wet, unfavorable for working the hive, and drone numbers are not yet conducive to mating new queens. Tough opening a hive and finding swarm cells when the weather report says 40sF and rain for the next 2 weeks.
Apologies for droning on. I love your work.
Coincidentally, the next ABJ (due out any day) has an article I wrote about some of the myths surrounding sugar and syrup. You describe the entire surface melting process very well. Also, ever since I began beekeeping, I’ve noticed the bees will eat sugar cakes in preference to honey. And yes, they will leave honey in place in order to go up and get the sugar. It makes it hard to know how much honey they actually have. And finally, yes, I find early pollen feeding to be detrimental to colony development. I like to wait until after the winter solstice to give any protein supplement. These are all excellent observations.
Just starting out w three hives in the PNW. Humidity, rather than cold temp is our main problem in the winter. I plan to use a no-cook candy board under a vivaldi board with the moisture blanket in IT. The 2×4 should allow moisture to vent directly up through the three 2″ holes in the vivaldi. Has anyone else tried this?
I just read through all of the comments and I am grateful for all of the info.
I do just have a few questions.
1. Where are you getting these super short boxes? Would a shallow super be okay to use? (W/O frames of course) and then hardware cloth or the excluder. There would obviously be airspace above the candy board even if I made a double batch.
2. Can I also use a shallow super to make the quilt box? Again with hardware cloth, burlap, and shavings as you’ve instructed.
I am in northern Vermont (zone 4, ~50 miles from the Canadian border). Temps are in the mid-fifties daytime and mid-forties nighttime, but it has gotten even lower. I’ll be giving 2:1 syrup for a bit longer and I’m building a pallet fence for wind (I’m in the middle of an open field and the wind is fierce) so my last question…
3. Can I put the candy board on before the solstice? We could have deep snow by then, and I want to avoid opening up if that is the case.
I appreciate your informed perspective! Thank you
Yes, you can use shallow supers for both candy boards and quilt boxes. I just don’t like the hive to get that tall and drafty, so I try to keep the space down. But it should work fine with the shallows. It’s just a preference.
You can buy ekes here: https://www.mannlakeltd.com/10-frame-baggie-feeder. Or you can take a deeper box and slice it into smaller boxes.
You can put the candy board on any time. If I put it on really early, I wait on the pollen supplement and that later, after the solstice.
Thanks for your reply and info.
I did get those ekes from Mann Lake and I’m building the frames now.
I have a couple of hive top feeders that I no longer use because of the drowning bee issues, so I pail feed in the hives during fall. Can I use those hive top feeders as quilt boxes?
I saw a video on this but wanted to get your take. The center is open lengthwise and the two sides would get filled with the shavings. I would place the inner cover above.
The opening for moisture rising out of the hive would be just above the opening in the candy board. My concern would be drips coming down through that opening.
I’m thankful for your advice!
It might work; you can try it and find out.
It might work; you can try it and find out.
Should the inner lid that’s in place during the summer be used with this? And do I have the order correct? Brood box, candy board, quilt box, lid. If an Imirie shim is used, is it placed between the candy board and the quilt box? Thanks!
The inner cover is optional. Your order is correct, except I put the Imirie shim directly above the brood box, then the candy board, then the quilt.
Gail, if you use the inner cover then it’s the one that’ll get wet from condensation and then possibly get a little moldy. Better to leave it out and let the top cover get moldy since it’s not facing the bees during the year the way the bottom of the inner cover is. Make sense?
I have used both, and they both work great! One spring I did see my queen on the inner cover when I was using the 1/2 hardware cloth! She was wondering!
This will be my 5th winter using these candy boards along with Rusty’s moisture quilt. They are the best. They keep the bees dry, fed, and provide a nice thermal break from the cold top cover. I haven’t lost a winter colony yet. Thanks again Rusty !!!
I’m glad to hear they are working for you. Me too. They greatly reduced my winter loses and continue to do so.