Candy Boards - A Versatile Tool for Winter Survival

Mid to late fall is a critical time in the beekeeper’s year.  One of the most manageable factors in colony survival through winter is the availability and accessibility of food.  Did your bees make sufficient honey for their over-winter needs?  Did you leave enough stores on the colony during extraction?  Was the fall flow abundant or did you feed syrup early enough to make up any deficiency? 

So it’s almost December and your colony feels light.  It’s too late to feed syrup, at least here in west central Ohio.  The time for feeding syrup was back in August, September and early October.  Adding extra moisture into the hive while average highs are below 50 degrees will likely do more harm than good.  What’s a conscientious beekeeper to do?

Several WCOBA members are experimenting with sugar candy boards this winter.  Candy boards have been growing in popularity the last few years and like most great ideas we suspect some of our veteran beekeepers have used these in earlier eras.  Candy boards are a great way to get some extra calories on the hive that can be consumed in even the harshest parts of winter.  The candy sits above the cluster where it is easier to move up to feed when temps make it near impossible for lateral cluster moves.  Hard sugar candy boards serve yet another valuable role during winter.  As the cluster exhausts warm moisture during honey consumption, the moisture gets absorbed by the hard, dry sugar.  This warm moist air in return makes the candy a bit softer for the bees to consume.  These benefits make the candy board an excellent and inexpensive resource, or insurance policy, for winter survival.

When it comes to making candy boards, there are multiple construction and recipe guides available around the internet.  We’ve highlighted one of the approaches used by some of our member beekeepers this fall.  A frame is built using 1.5 or 2 inch pine trim glued and nailed to fit the outer dimensions of your supers, 8 or 10 frame as appropriate.  One-half inch or three-eighths inch hardware cloth is stapled to the inside of this frame to form a mesh frame bottom.  A five-eighths inch or three-quarters inch hole is then drilled to provide an upper entrance and ventilation path.

Several WCOBA members are experimenting with no-cook candy recipes this winter.  They are less time consuming, less messy and don’t create any risks to bee health from overheating.  We’ve provided a video link to one of our reference sources for these boards.  This video shows Garry Reeves from the Southeastern Indiana Beekeepers Association walking their club through the construction and preparation of candy boards.  Through experience we modified the recipe to use 13 or 14 pounds of sugar, 3 cups of water, and 1 tablespoon of white vinegar.  Mix all together in a very large pan or bowl and be sure to have the boards sitting on cardboard or newspaper to minimize cleanup and frustrated spouses.   We buried a pollen patty near the top of the candy to provide a readily available protein source in late winter to stimulate brood rearing if outside temperatures limit our ability to open the hive.

We’ll be sure to share the experiences of our members next spring.  If you are using candy boards or other effective winter feeding solutions, like WCOBA on Facebook and share your photos and stories with our members and friends.

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