Although we leave our bees with quite a bit of honey in their stores, they will still need some food to get them through the long winter. This is how to make candy board for overwintering bees, a simple process that will really benefit them.
It’s fall here in Alaska but to most, it would seem that winter is already here! There is a light layer of snow on the ground and the temperature is sitting just around freezing. Our bees are being prepared for being tucked away for the winter soon but we still have some other preparations to make first.
They can manage these lower temperatures and a little bit of snow thanks to some insulation and sugar water that we provide for them. But it won’t be long before it’s far too cold and snowy for them and they will be kept in our Bee Barn for several months.
Making candy boards for our colonies is an important task for their winter survival so I’ll tell you all about them and how to make candy boards for bees.
What is Candy Board?
Candy board is a type of food for bees. It’s a hard block of sugar that goes into the beehive. The bees are able to crawl on it and chew through it. It will last them all winter and they usually don’t eat the whole board.
The vinegar and Honey B Healthy (a mixture of essential oils) will provide important nutrition for them as well as preventing mold and mildew on the sugar.
Why Use Candy Board?
There are several reasons why beekeepers use candy boards to feed their hives during the winter:
- Mousture Control-The candy board will help absorb any moisture that is forming in the hive, which is very bad for the bees. We also keep a couple of moisture absorbing buckets in the bee barn to help prevent moisture build-up.
- Freezing Temperatures-In Alaska, you can be sure that it will be well below freezing for several months during the winter. Sugar water, which is what we feed our bees during the early weeks of spring and in the fall, will freeze during the winter. This is not an issue when using candy board.
- Hands Off-One candy board will last the hive an entire winter up here, they usually don’t even finish it all. It’s important not to disturb the hives while they are in a dormant state during the winter. Knowing that the candy board will last many months means we don’t have to lift the lids and disturb the bees.
Where Does the Candy Board Go?
The candy board goes into a candy board frame. These can be purchased or easily built yourself using just a few materials. The candy board frame will then be placed on top of the bottom brood box and then the lid will go on top of it. The bees can climb up from the brood box and onto the candy board for food.
The candy board frame is the same length and width as the hive boxes. We use 10-frame Langstroth hives so we use those dimensions when building our candy board frames, 19 7/8″ long by 16 1/4″ wide. The depth can be 1 3/4″ to 2 1/2″, depending on preference. Either depth holds plenty of candy board.
Four 3/4″ thick strips of wood are screwed together at the corners to form the frame.
1/2″ metal wire mesh forms the bottom of the frame, making it easy for the bees to climb up and access their food. We stapled it on and then tacked on 1/2″ strips of wood for the final layer.
A piece of parchment paper is cut to fit the bottom of the candy board with a small hole (about 2″ by 2″) cut out. The bees are able to chew through the paper but the hole gives them an easy entrance to start with.
Making Candy Board for Overwintering Bees
Start with a large plastic storage tub, they’re nice and big for easy mixing. Depending on how many candy boards you need to make, you can adjust the recipe easily as needed.
Into the tub pour a 50 pound bag of granulated sugar, 1/2 gallon of white vinegar or water, and 4 ounces of Honey B Healthy. These measurements will make enough for three candy boards but you can decrease or increase as needed. We made three separate tubs with this recipe and filled ten candy boards total.
Start mixing! By hand is best. Be sure to dig all the way to the bottom to get all of the sugar incorporated.
The goal is to be able to pack the mixture into a “snowball”. You don’t want it to be too wet and gooey. If it’s too dry, add more water a little at a time and continue to mix thoroughly.
Filling the Candy Board Frames
Once the sugar mixture is the right consistency, not too crumbly and dry and not too wet, start putting handfuls into the candy board frame. Spread it out as evenly as possible and pack it in as best you can. A rubber mallet can help with this.
We fill ours almost even with the tops of the sides but a little less. Fill it in, press it down, and smooth it out.
In the spot where you cut out the hole in the parchment paper, leave a space with no sugar mixture. Use your hands to pack in the sides.
This will be the opening where the bees can easily climb up and access the candy board.
Once the candy boards are completed, stack them and set them in a dry place to harden for a few days. We usually wait until we put our bees away for the winter to put the candy board on the hives. Remember, it gets sandwiched between the lid and brood box.
However, this fall has been especially cold! We are already having days below freezing and rarely getting back up to 40 degrees. So, we had to put the candy boards on already and remove the sugar water top feeders. It just depends on the weather each year as to what we will do.
Making candy board for overwintering bees is a fun project that the whole family can accomplish together! The bees will benefit from having a steady source of food throughout the long winter. And the candy board frames can be reused every year.
A lot of hard work goes into overwintering bees in Alaska but it’s the least we can do for our precious bees.
Candy Board for Winter Bee Food
- Candy board frames
- Large tub
- Parchment paper
- 50 lbs granulated sugar
- 1/2 gal white vinegar
- 4 oz Honey B Healthy
- Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit inside the candy board frame. Cut a square out on one end, about 2 by 2 inches.
- In a large storage tub, pour the bag of sugar. Add vinegar and Honey B Healthy.
- Begin to stir with your hands, mixing until completely combined. This will take several minutes. Make sure to get all along the bottom and in the corners. All of the sugar should be mixed in.
- Once the mixture can be formed into a "snowball", it is ready. If the mixture is still crumbly and dry, add a small amount of water and continue mixing.
- Begin to pack the sugar mixture onto the frames, pressing hard and smoothing over the top. Leave a hole over where the cut-out in the parchment paper is, as in the photo above.
- Continue to pack the sugar mixture down firmly and smooth the top until the board is full almost to the top. This recipe should make three boards, depending on the depth of the boards you're using.
- Allow the finished boards to sit in a dry place for a few days to continue hardening.
- These will go into the hives on top of the brood box and under the lid for the bees to feed on throughout the winter.