Bee Candy – How to Make Fondant for Late Winter Feeding

sunrise over st. louis river
Sunrise over St. Louis River – Dec 5, 2010

With winter having peaked, most northern beekeepers will have wanted to check on their bees by mid-Fedbruary (we were impatient and opportunistic; we checked our hives in late January during an unusually warm two-day period). Here in northern Minnesota, we will likely have at least a month more of below freezing daytime temperatures. This means the bees in the hives will need to remain hunkered down in the hives until we get a little warm and the willows start to flower. Even with temperatures slightly more seasonable for us humans, this last stretch of winter is often the time when there a good chance of die-out in your hives.

Die-out toward the end of winter is high because the bees may not have enough food to make that last stretch through the freezing cold to make it to when plants and trees start to flower. In our northern clime, it is not unheard of to give your bees a little helping hand during this last stretch with a bit of what is called fondant or just “bee candy”. It sounds fancy but it is really simple to make. I made around 15 pounds of the stuff this winter; materials needed for this include:

  • Sugar – we generally have a 50 lb sack laying around, but a 10 lb bag should work for a small batch
  • Water – tap or well water works
  • Large pot – large stew or soup pot worked for us
  • Candy thermometer
  • Stir spoon – wooden, metal or plastic
  • Heat source – kitchen stove

1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 (for our metric friends, it does not look as neat: 1 – 1 – 1 – 2 – 5)

  • One part water to five parts sugar (by volume)
  • Boil (and stir) this 1:5 mixture until it reaches 234 degrees F (112 degrees C)

Once you hit 234 degrees F (112 degrees C), you can do one of two things. We took old hive frames and poured this hot liquid onto the foundation. This made a very handy, and easily placed multi-pound block of candy. Otherwise, let the mix cool until no longer a liquid but not yet hard; spread onto wax or parchment paper, and then let cool.

How to use this new, delightful bee-treat? If using the empty-frame method, simply replace an empty frame in the hive with each frame of fondant. For the wax/parchment paper way, you can either put a slab across the tops of the frames, or gently spread out the middle frames and slide in between.

Final note: use these instructions at your own risk. If you have questions or are in doubt about something – ask the internet. Boiling-sugary-stuffs are very sticky. It will stick to skin and burn. Wear protective clothing – long sleeves, etc (pants and shoes are helpful, too).


HopsCam ’09 – Time-lapsed Plant Growth

Time-lapsed Strawberry, Hops, and Beans Growing

A bit of information behind the making of this…

A video camera attached to a laptop via a firewire cable was used for the captures. The laptop was running Debian Linux, and several Ruby scripts were written to run capture software, process the capture still photo, verify it was not too dark, then name the photo in some useful manner. This was process was automatically completed over 4000 times.

Time out of mind…

Kathleen and Bunch of Onions; circa 1982

Alex said, “Did you used to plant Blue Hubbard squash? I seem to remember some knobbly, large squashes in the garden when i was young.”
Really? Sometimes I fear I can barely remember my name ..and what day it is passes me by easily.
We chat abit more about gardens and ordering seeds and soil and he says, “Why don’t you go out in the garage and look at the journal you used to keep. I think it’s still there.”
He’s right. It is still there and the first entry is marked, May 29, 1982. A lifetime ago.
I have kept meticulous records. Amazingly precise. Amazing considering that I had two very small children and a house in the process of being dismantled and
reconstructed. But I had been brought up to know the pleasure and need of eating and growing your own produce.I knew the smell and taste of carrots fresh out of the ground, washed under the hose and eaten leisurely was superior to any found in a grocery store. And the same could be said for just about any other fruit or vegetable. My mother had turned over our backyard to a huge garden that was a riot of any vegetable she could squeeze in.
I brought my diary in to the house, poured a cup of tea and sat down at the kitchen table to read it. I had titled it “Garden Plots” hoping i’m sure that someday someone would see it and mistake my recordings for the musings of a true artist, a true writer.
May 29, 1982. Meg was almost 4 and Alex was about 1 1/2. In fact, Alex was little enough that i recall perching him in the rigid frame baby backpack and digging my garden with him peering over my shoulder. Yes, I did. I dug the whole garden from scratch-cleared the grass out, and “double “dug it- which was the Mother Earth approved technique, also known as French Intensive gardening. And then I planted it. And planted it. And drew it all out in my journal.And notated and annotated every single seed type or plant that went in the ground. I reported on the weather conditions, the soil conditions, and , of course, how it all turned out in the fall.
And i did plant Blue Hubbard squash and they weighed between 10 and 14 pounds each! But the Sweet Mamas out shone them all.. they were firm and sweet and grew in only 50 days which was a wonderful thing asour growing season being so short.
I have done the math also on how long ago that was. Long enough ago to almost have forgotten. Had I not received a phone call from Alex propelling me back, back to a slim young mother with a bandana on her hair and a baby on her back. And another standing by asking, What’s this one, momma?” And me saying, “your grandmother used to plant raspberry bushes just like this when I was little. .Wait till the berries come and you taste them.” And the berries did come.
And those children did grow up. And it was 30 years ago.

Economics of Keeping Bees on a Small Scale

nature's nectar llc - packages of bees - 2010
Nature’s Nectar LLC – Packages of Bees – April 10, 2010

As previously mentioned, we gathered requirements, purchased equipment, assembled equipment once it arrived, priced and sourced bees, ordered bees, and the list seems to go on from there. The bees have been ordered; six packages of Carniolans and two packages with Russian queens and Italian workers (the idea being the Italian workers will eventually be replaced with Russian workers). Brood boxes have arrived and have been assembled and stained with a nice mandarin orange color. All of these capital costs (business-speak for total cost required to bring a project into an operable and functional state) add up; as of this writing, each hive is having an average cost of about $208.00 (€ 153; £129). This amount will rise as we still need to purchase honey supers, bulk cane sugar for initial feeding, pollen patties, and as winter approaches, homasote board and insulation wrap and, possibly, more cane sugar. We are also relatively certain there will be other, small costs along the way.

break-even honey production
Break-Even Honey Production

In the chart, we used an average cost of $275 (€ 202; £171) per hive for a break-even point. There are a few assumptions – cost recovery is only over one season and not amortized over several years; carry-over costs from last year (I had expenses from the purchase of the hives, safety equipment as well honey processing equipment) are also not included. There is also the assumption that honey is the only product produced, which is not entirely correct. We produce beeswax soaps, as well.

The chart shows that if we decided to sell each pound of honey for only $1.00, we would need to produce 275 pounds of honey per hive. Pretty unreasonable. Last season, we sold honey for $8.00 per pound and there was still demand for it after we sold out. At $8.00 per pound, our break even point for honey production goes to a little over 34 pounds of honey per hive. Eight of our ten hives will be new this season, and this means the bees will be diverting energy toward drawing out honeycomb wax; this takes away from the storing of honey (you cannot have honey stores until the honeycomb is built). As long as we can average a little over 34 pounds of honey per hive, we will be golden (much like honey).

We run an incredibly small operation; where commercial beekeeping operations have thousands of hives at multiple locations and, often, migrate throughout the southern US during the winter months, we will be running ten hives at just two locations and will not be driving them around the South during the winter. We are trying to do something that is economically self-sustaining, has a small environmental footprint, and is something that I am very interested in and passionate about.