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).