Sugar Candy Board Assessment For Feeding Bees In Winter
I have been getting a lot of questions and compliments on the post I wrote last year about how to make a no cook candy board for bees. Therefore I would also like to share my assessment of how well the board worked and what I liked and did not like about it. I think the candy board in general works great and will be using it again this year on hives that need it. However, here are two changes I plan to make to this year’s version – first I will use less sugar, second I will not use the paper that comes with the wax foundation. To find out why read my analysis below.
Last December, my Italian honeybee hive Crocus was heavy on bees and brood yet very light on stores. Here in Massachusetts, the bees need 10-12 deep frames filled with honey in order to have enough stores to survive the winter without starving. My hive had 8 at best. Worried they were going to starve, I decided to supplement their stores with a sugar candy board that I made from hardware cloth and a few scraps of wood. You can find the instructions on how to make one here.
Winter 2011 ended up being very mild and warm and the bees were able to get out and fly all winter long. Check out this video of the bees orienting in mid January – highly unusual.
The girls were even bringing in off white pollen in January which is abnormal for that time of year. Despite the mild winter, many hives in my area still died from starvation. Crocus survived and I think the candy board may have had something to do with it.
In the spring of 2012, I did a thorough inspection of the hive and took plenty of pictures. You can see all the picture and read that post here. The picture below shows what remained of the candy board. The bees had tunneled through the sugar in the board and had eaten the entire pollen patty. They were also clustering inside tunnels they had made inside the candy inside of the board.
After I took the board off, I was curious how much sugar they had actually eaten, keeping in mind it was an abnormally warm winter and not a good indicator for an average winter here. I put 16 lbs of sugar in the board in December 2011. The frame of the board alone weighed 2.2 lbs for a total weight of about 18.2 lbs (plus extra for the pollen patty which I did not weigh). When I removed the board from the hive it weighed 14.8 lbs. As the bees chewed through the sugar on the board some of it fell through the hive and landed on the bottom board. I also collected this and weighed it. The bottom board sugar weighed .4 lbs. (Summary: Estimated pre-weight 18.2 lbs. The board total weight after removal was 14.8 lbs. The bottom board contents weighed .4 lbs. The board alone weighed 2.2 lbs.)
The sugar left over in the board weighed 11.8 lbs after it was removed. Add that to the bottom board contents of .4 lbs and you get 12.2 lbs of sugar left. 16 lbs of sugar were added in December 2011 (16-12.2 = 3.8) This means the bees ate only 3.8 lbs of sugar all winter long. The 16 lbs of sugar I used was clearly more than they needed, but since the winter was abnormally warm it did not give a good indicator of how much sugar should be in the board for an average winter. Keep in mind this sugar was not wasted, as it was raw sugar that was solidified, I was able to break it up into pieces and dissolve it to make sugar syrup in the spring.
Another thing I noticed, as the girls were eating the sugar from the board some of it would fall into the hive. This left some of the frames with bits of sugar all over the cells in the spring. This was nothing to worry about as the bees promptly cleaned it up.
Despite the warm winter, 16 lbs of sugar seems like too much for my area. That large amount of sugar does however make a large thick block that has a significant insulating factor, although I have no idea what the actual R-value is. This year I plan to use 8 lbs-12 lbs of sugar for the hives that need candy boards and see how that works for them. If one particular hive is extremely low on stores then I may I may keep it at 16 lbs for that hive.
The candy board also worked great to prevent condensation from hitting the bees. Wet cold bees in the wintertime are dead bees. But any condensation that builds up in the hive gets trapped in the candy board liquefying the sugar temporarily for the bees to eat. Next to emergency feeding, I think this is a great benefit of using this board. I also like that you can put it on in November or December and forget about it until the spring. No need to check every month to see how the bees are doing and if they need more fondant. I also liked that the board added insulation to the hive.
Another change to the candy board I plan to do for 2012 is to not use the paper that comes with the wax foundation. While this worked great last year and is fine to do, in the spring when I was mixing the leftover sugar from the candy board with water to make it into syrup, the syrup was filled with little bits of paper that the bees had chewed through, but were now mixed into the sugar in the board. I had to strain the syrup through coffee filters before putting it into the jars. This made for a long and complicated syrup making process. You can read about it here.
Instead this year I am going to lay out a sheet of plastic on the floor, put the boards on the plastic before filling them with sugar, then pour the sugar in the boards and let them dry on the plastic. When I remove the boards from the plastic they will be solid enough to keep their form, yet I do not have to worry about bits of paper in my sugar syrup next spring.
Have you used this type of candy board for feeding bees? What did you think of it? How did it work for you? Would you make any changes?
Other Posts You May Enjoy:
- Making A Candy Board For Winter Feeding
- Installing The Candy Board For Winter Feeding
- The Bees Are Enjoying Their New Candy Board
- Spring Candy Board Inspection
- Making Sugar Syrup From The Candy Board
This post was shared on the Barn Hop.