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Feeding Candy (Fondant) to Honey Bees

This page is credited in full to Dave Cushman who created it. His voice is expressed in black colour text and any additions or comments in blue belong to myself. Credit: Dave Cushman’s website.

Feeding Candy (Fondant) to Honey Bees

E.B. Wedmore described the making of candy in great detail, I have paraphrased his words and metricated his quantities.

For every kilo of white granulated sugar (sucrose) add 300 ml of boiling water and stir vigorously until all crystals have completely dissolved, then boil the liquid, again stirring continuously, until a temperature of 117 C is reached (when measured 25 mm below the liquid surface using a sugar thermometer). Allow to cool, without stirring, to 45 C and then re-commence stirring until the liquid appears milky, ladle or pour into suitable containers.

Wedmore also mentions the possible addition of cream of tartar (potassium hydrogen tartrate), vinegar or fruit acids (lemon or orange) to partially invert the sucrose by breaking it down into fructose and glucose, whilst this gives a softer, more creamy texture, the bees accept it less readily and the potassium content in the cream of tartar is now considered detrimental.

The aluminium foil containers that are used for “take away” meals make ideal containers for candy.

These “bricks” of candy are utilised by placing face down over the feed hole of a crown board with the rim of the foil container acting as a rim of one bee space.

In Wedmore’s time it was common to cast the fondant in moulds and the resulting blocks were placed in a wooden lattice frame of the same external dimensions as a brood frame, this special frame was placed on the fringes of the nest.

Timing of candy feeding is usually during late winter or early spring when feeding liquid syrup or honey would stimulate the bees to raise brood more early than it was deemed prudent.

I personally, stopped using candy for such early feeding about 1993 and now use liquid feed delivered in frame feeders.

You can buy fondant ready made up, from bakery wholesalers, who call it ‘confectionary fondant’ (they use it for icing cakes). It comes in fairly large blocks, but can be cut to the required size using a ‘cheese wire’. The blocks can be placed in a polythene bags and sealed to prevent evaporation of the moisture. To use the blocks you can fit them into purpose built frames or troughs or slash the side of the wrapped block, quite deeply, with a knife which will give the bees adequate access.

Bakery fondant is produced by mechanically mixing glucose, fructose and powdered sucrose without using additional heat. However you must specify that it needs to be additive and flavouring free.

Queen Candy

is made and used differently. It is made by mixing icing sugar (powdered sugar) with honey until it is the consistency of putty or plastocene (modeling clay). It is important to know the honey is free from disease before making up such candy. It is also important that the powdered sugar does not contain anti-caking agents… A coffee bean grinder or a liquidiser attachment for a food processor will produce powdered sugar from granulated sugar… Be careful here! Sugar powder is a finely divided solid that can be very inflammable, even explosive, when mixed with air.

There are two basic reasons for using queen candy.

Feeding queens and attendants in a traveling cage.
As a medium for releasing queens in the introduction phase of requeening. (The bees surrounding the cage eat away the candy to release the queen.)
I gave up using candy as a release agent for queens in 1996 and now use marshmallow, which has less tendency to go too hard for the bees to nibble it. If the bees do ignore it, then it shrinks and falls out of its own accord. Even the use of marshmallow has now been replaced by the Albert Knight/Steve Taber/John Dews Method, which I find totally reliable.

Using candy in mating nucs… The use of liquid feed in small polystyrene (or wooden) types of mating nuc has the disadvantage of slopping about when the boxes are handled, but by far the biggest reason that I do not use syrup or honey in these small devices is the likelihood of bees drowning and contaminating the feed.

To prepare candy for this purpose I use plastic ice cream containers as a mould and pour the cooling liquid candy so that a slab with depth of about 33 mm will be left when the candy has solidified. The slab is trimmed to size so that it will sit within the space that one mating frame would occupy. This large piece is used ‘as is’ in the rearmost position in the hive. The squarish shaped bars of candy that result from the trimming of the slab are used by placing haphazardly in the polystyrene feeder buckets that are part of the normal mating hive kit. You need to get the consistency of the candy solid enough to avoid slumping (as I found out the first time I tried it!), this may appear hard to human touch, but the bees cope OK with it.

I buy mine from a local baker who is more than happy to assist. I feeded it under upturned syrup feeders or in empty supers.


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