Making a winter candy board to overwinter honey bees

Submitted by J. Morgan

SIBA talks a LOT about candy boards. So much, that we learn more each year and have slight revisions based on the knowledge gleaned over years of using them. The first video embedded below is an updated video on making candy boards. It covers more of the specifics on making the candy board and also makes some corrections, specifically in the area of NOT adding pollen to your candy board early on. Plan to come back in Jan/Feb to add your pollen so we don't stimulate brood-rearing too soon. The second video below was made back in 2010 and talks a lot about making the candy board frame itself before getting into making the board. Both are worth the watch!

We think a candy board is a kind of like a cheap insurance policy. The benefits of a candy board, made correctly adds many benefits to help the beehive over the winter. The candy board is simply a hardened sugar mixture that lives in a 2-3 inch frame body and has hardware cloth on the bottom to hold the "candy" up.

Let's consider some benefits:

  1. If the bees deplete all the honey stores, they hit the candy board and this may help feed them for the remainder of the winter, or at least until you look in the hive again.
  2. Condensation is a big concern in the hive. Cold air outside and warm bees inside make moisture. This moisture can collect on the top of the hive. The candy board will absorb most, if not all the moisture into the sugar and likely keep it from dropping back down on to the cluster. Wet bees will die.
  3. There is also a hole that passes up through the candy board and a 5/8 inch hole is drilled through the front. See the pictures and the video. This allows warm humid air from inside the hive to exit out this hole to prevent condensation in the hive.

To us, these benefits alone merit putting a candy board on the top of each hive. Take a minute to watch the video to see how you can make your own candy board. Here's the recipe.

  • 15-16 lb. of sugar
  • ~3 cups water
  • 1 tsp. plain white vinegar (optional)
  • 1 tsp. Honey B Healthy (optional)

If you choose to use the vinegar (as a mold inhibitor) and HBH, add to the water and stir before adding to sugar.

Pour sugar into a very large container and gradually add about half the water, stirring to wet the sugar well. Continue adding and mixing water until all the sugar is cakey, but not runny.

Put newspaper or waxed paper under your candy board, and fill with sugar. Screen the sugar off level with the top of the board. Allow to harden overnight.

Put the candy board on later in the season... when it's mostly cold and the bees don't want to break cluster. This may make the board last into the cold times when they need it most. Adding too early, you'll find the bees will eat the sugar on any given warmer day. The idea is to have this available for them closer to spring when it's possible they are running low on natural honey stores.

To add the board to your hive, remove the inner cover from the hive, and replace with candy board, screen side down. Replace the outer cover. You can easily raise the outer cover on warmer days during the winter and slip in additional sugar bricks if you need them.

26 Responses

  1. […] To us, these benefits alone merit putting a candy board on the top of each hive. Watch the video to see how you can make your own candy board. Click here for the ingredients and recipe/directions. […]
    • How do you keep robbers ie, Yellow jackets from robbing candy board
    • Jason
      Without having more context, should I assume the candy board is curently on the hive and there is an open vet hole in the frame? Yellow jackets couldn't make it through the hive and up to the candy board so I'll assume perhaps an open vent hole. I close those up using #8 hardware cloth over the hole until the weather turns cold. When it turns cold, uncover, and the bees can use that entrance as an upper exit over the cold months (during days warm enough for cleansing flights) and then close it back up in the spring until you take it off.
  2. Did you make them ahead of time ? If so how and where did you store them? Thank you.
    • Jason
      You surely can store them... ideally, the water is evaporated out of them ahead of time and it hardens. You can store them anywhere it's cool and dry... and ants can't find them! I store them in my cool basement on a shelf.
    • Thanks for the great content in all your posts Jason. I just completed making my first candy boards from the knowledge and encouragement you and others provided in the videos.
    • Jason
      Awesome Jeff, and thanks for the kind words! Happy Holidays and please share anything new that you learn while using the boards!
  3. Where in the hive do you place the board? I have three boxes on my hives with the top one having an excluder.
    • Jason
      Greg, this would go on the very top above the cluster. Definitely REMOVE your excluder as that's a sure way to kill the queen if the cluster moves up and through it over the winter. The candy board sits on top to provide additional food in the event they run out of honey.
    • Take the queen excluder off. If your bees go up there to eat, they leave the queen to freeze below the excluder.
  4. What size screen is used for that candy board frame?
    • Jason
      1/2" or 3/8" are ok - Do not use 1/4"
  5. Great informations thank you!! We just got our bees this spring. This is our first winter. I love your big copper bowl, that you used to mix up your sugar for your candy board. Where did you get it? Maybe I can find one too. Also do you wrap a cover around your bee hive in the winter? And how do you make sure that the bees have water to drink over the winter if it freeze solid? Thank you, Maria
    • Jason
      Hi Maria, The bowl is a copper confectioners kettle. I inherited it from my father. My hives that get direct wind, I do wrap with tar paper. You could use hay bales for windbreaks too. If you look up "wind breaks" on this site, you can find more info on those. As for water during winter, remember, if it's too cold, bees can't get out. They do make condensation in the hive. When the weather warms enough for the bees to come out, they can usually find melting snow and ice. I don't specifically put water in the hive over thew winter.
  6. Thanks for all the great content you provide Jason. I just completed making my first candy boards based on the knowledge and encouragement you and others provided in the videos.
  7. Can you just put the outer cover over the candy board or do you have to use an inner cover also?
    • Jason
      You do not have to use an inner cover. You can if you need a place to store it but the idea of the candy board is to wick moisture and provide food late in the winter.
  8. […] The Bee Candy Recipe  […]
  9. […] […]
  10. Great video! What are your thoughts on adding pollen substitute and amino acids to the candy board? Thank you!
    • Jason
      We used to add some pollen to the candy board, but over the years determined it was better to leave out and add in later in the winter, closer to spring when it's time for the queen to start laying again. The reason is that you do not want to stimulate the queen to start laying prematurely. Doing so could cause her to lay more eggs than the bees can cover during a potential late cold snap.
  11. Do you always drill a hole into the board? IF so, what size?
    • Jason
      It's recommended for both an upper entrance, and to allow condensation to escape (if for some reason there is more than the dry candy could absorb). I cover this hole with #8 hardware cloth in the spring... but let them use it over the winter in the event the bottom entranced is blocked with snow, or a carpet of dead bees. I make the hole 3/8 inch.
  12. I am in NW Indiana. When would I place the candy boards on the hives?
    • Jason
      I wait until the weather gets colder. We don't want them eating it until they need it (ideally later in the winter when natural stores are depleting.
  13. Hi, first year beekeepers! Do you need to remove the wax paper before placing the candy board on top of the frames? I tore the paper off near the ventilation hole and had a small block of wood there that I removed.
    • Jason
      Ideally it would not be waxed paper, but parchment, newspaper, tissue paper, etc. Wax would not let moisture through and allow the sugar to absord excess moisture. If it;s wax, and you can remove it, I'd recommend it. But if you used other paper, it's not necessary. The bees chew through it easily. The main issue with waxed is as I stated above.
  14. I put screen over my vent hole. I’d it ok to leave that screen on all winter? I didn’t really want them (or neighboring bees) to go in through that hole. But it will still provide ventilation. I am in Colorado - 6500’ elevation southeast 45 minutes from Denver. Thanks for your videos. This was super helpful content.
    • Jason
      Hi Holly, you can keep it covered if you are concerned, but I tend to leave those holes open over the cold months as we don't have a problem with robbing during that time and I like to have a top entrance in the hive so bees can get out on warmer days in the event the bottom entrance is blocked. Now maybe your winter months don't get as cold and so that is a decision you will need to make. I do cover it in the spring when the weather warms.

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