Candy Board - click on images to enlarge
I lost my first hive most likely to starvation and a little insurance was in order. I decided on a candyboard December thru spring and and I tried a typical cooked hard candy sugar with a soy flour and Brewers Yeast brick embedded into it. The photo on the right is one of two boards I made up. One was completely consumed and the one the right was removed in April. Both hives either consumed or tossed out the soy/yeast bricks. I did not see any soy residue, so I assume they consumed it. This particular configuration requires some wood spacers between the candy board and top frames to prevent sagging onto the top of the frames. This has worked well and I have not lost any hives to starvation since I begin using them.
However, I did notice that the bees had trouble breaking up the really hard candy areas, eating around the hard sugar to get to the softer more pliable sugar. I tried several ways of preparing the sugar, adding enough water to make a rough fondant and cooking at various tempatures from soft boil to hard crack. Interestingly enough the bees preferred the water based fondant or the hard crack sugar and not the 230-240 degree cook I see so much of.
Then I tried one more thing, sugar dampened with just corn syrup in a mixer.
Not only did the bees like this better, it solved a couple other winter issues also.
- The bees like this softer fluffy texture and consume it more readily
- The mixture contains a lot of air which acts as an hive top insulator
- I'm not inducing any water into the hive
- It absorbs hive moisture, preventing condensation, and aids the sugar in converting to a usable syrup
Next thing I did was re-engineer the board. The 45 degree corners and tucking the #4 hardware cloth inside the frame needed to be simpler. The easier way was to square cut the side 1x2's to length, tack or screw them together, cut a piece of #4 hardware cloth to size, staple the cloth and run a bead of Gorilla Glue around the perimeter, then tack a 3/8 inch x 3/4 strip over the hardware cloth to give some bee space between the frames and candy board. I used Gorilla Glue because it foams up and expands filling the areas around the hardware cloth, making it air tight. Use a cross piece in the middle side to side, stapling the hardware cloth to the cross piece to prevent things from sagging onto the tops of the frames. This is simple construction and does not require any special tools to build. I also drill a hole in the front the size of cork to provide ventilation. If it gets extremely cold, I can put the proverbial cork in it till it warms up. I use a whisky bottle cork because it has a plastic cap on it making it easy to insert and remove. They also make good smoker plugs. In retrospect, you can buy assembled candy boards for about $15, so unless you just into building things, buying is probably the better option.
For insulation purposes, sugar needs air entrained into it. What I found, is just enough corn syrup to hold the mixture together is ideal. Too much, you have a mess, too little the sugar has no body and falls thru the hardware cloth. I used about 3 pints of corn syrup to 50 pounds of sugar. You could use paper to line the bottom of the board but a hungry bee will appreciate it if you didn't make it any harder than it needs to be to get to the sugar.
My purpose is to insulate, absorb water, and make it easy to consume. If the bees go thru the board's contents, mix some up in a cake pan and replace the sugar as a brick. Because this contains a lot of air, it can be cut and molded to size without much effort. Once you have your board or brick made up, set these aside to firm up, generally a day or two. It will turn into a somewhat stiff but pliable product thats easy to handle. One caveat, ask the cook if you can use the mixer first! Stirring 50 pounds of sugar and corn syrup is a little hard on it. On the flip side, this beats cooking 50 pounds of sugar into candy any day. You could probably do this by hand, but a good mixer will put more air into it.
The finished product looks like this. In spring when brood rearing begins, I will place brood builder paddies on top of any remaining sugar if any is left. I wait till early spring to put patties in because hive beetles love them from what I've seen and I'm tired of feeding beetles this year.
Lastly, ensure that you have opening from thru the bottom of the sugar to the vent hole in the front of the board to ensure you can vent the hive. I have one hive that thinks this is too much ventilation and sealed up the hole.
Some late notes - I have one active hive that busted up the sugar that had pulled in a lot of moisture, much of it fell into the bottom of the hive which wasn't very useful since I use screened bottoms. It got warm again and the bees are foraging the sugar lying on the ground with a few dozen flies. If it was colder, this sugar would have gone to waste. I replaced the sugar with a brick with the mixuture tamped down a little tighter and poured a shallow hard crack layer ( place this side down ) to give it some support and maybe stop the sugar from breaking up and falling thru the hive. I'm waiting to see how that goes.
I also made up a brick of sugar molded in a cake pan then the exterior carmelized with a butane torch. It creates a hard outside shell that doesn't break up as easy and is easy to handle.
After trying various ways, I have decided that tamping it down works better than leaving it too loose; the bees just break it up and it falls thru if it's too loose. As far as either pouring a hard crack layer or carmelizing a layer with a torch on the bottom, that seems to work pretty well in stopping most of the fall thru.
After several years of using these boards, I've settled into a standard configuration. I still use the same boards, but I have stopped using corn syrup to bind the sugar, the bees tear it apart too easy and much of it goes to waste. Now I use sugar mixed with water to the point it becomes tacky and form it in bread pans, using the resulting bricks as needed. While I put the boards on early, I don't put the sugar bricks in until January or as needed if stores are down. If you put them in too early, the bees just break them up and the bulk of the sugar will go to waste.
Come Jan-Feb when they start brooding up, I throw in a Mann Lake Pro-Pattie and refill sugar and patties as necessary untill pollen and nectar start coming in.