Winter Feeding: Fondant

In a earlier post, I describe how I use a one gallon paint can from Lowe’s as a top feeder and set it on the hive on Jan. 16th. I didn’t check the hive until February 6th and the can was empty. I see a lot of what looks like diarrhea on the front of the hive and read up on feeding syrup in winter. As it turns out, it is not the best idea, even if you use a 2:1 ratio which is much thicker. The water in the syrup is not good for them during the winter which is probably why I saw so much diarrhea on the hive.

I had read about candy boards for Langstroth hives using fondant, so I did some research. As it turns out, fondant is the best type of feed for bees in winter and/or emergency feeding situations. Using Cream of Tarter, one is able to make invert sugar which are smaller crystals that produce a smooth texture to the sugar. Here is a basic fondant receipe:

Basic Fondant Recipe

2 cups sugar
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar or 1 Tablespoon glucose syrup
1 cup water (reduce to 1/2 cup if using glucose)

Over medium heat, bring sugar, water, and cream of tartar to the boil. Stir until sugar is dissolved.

Cover and let boil for 2-3 minutes. Uncover and boil until mixture reaches the 238 degrees (soft ball stage) on your candy thermometer.

Remove from heat and pour syrup on a marble slab or cookie sheet that has been sprinkled with cold water. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes.

Use a metal scraper or palette knife to begin working the mixture over and over onto itself. This is called “spading.”

The mixture will begin to thicken and whiten. Eventually, you will be able to work it with your hands by kneading. Continue working it until it is white, creamy, and too stiff to knead. (If it crumbles too much, just sprinkle a bit of water on it and knead it in.

Don’t worry. Unlike pastry, you can’t over-knead the fondant.

Cover with a damp cloth and refrigerate in an airtight container for at least 12 hours or until needed. It is actually better if you let it rest for a couple of days before using. This allows it to mellow and ripen.

I found this recipe to work very well. Although I only brought the mixture up to 238 which really is ‘soft ball’ as they say. It was a bit too soft. Next time, I will heat is up to about 245-250 for a ‘medium ball’ which will be a bit harder. You don’t want the fondant that is too hard though. After scraping and scraping, the fondant will turn white and become thicker than frosting. Upon cooling, I poured the fondant into a 6×6 in mold which consisted of a box lined with tin foil. It works very well. I then mixed some Mega Bee Diet pollen supplement into the fondant and made a couple of pollen patties as well.

On February 6th, it was just warm enough that the bees were making some cleansing flights. So I quickly removed the roof, the quilt, and added a short box the same size as the quilt box. This allows for some space above the top bars, to keep the bees from heating too much space. I very lightly smoked the top bars and placed the fondant directly over the frames that had bees. I did the same with the pollen patties.

Today was a bit above 40F so I took a quick peek and sure enough, the bees were eating the fondant. There is no diarrhea to speak of either.

My bees basically ran out of food in mid-January which is why I had to resort to emergency feeding. If at all possible, you should leave them alone and allow for enough stores, but my hive didn’t have enough time to build up their reserves for winter and I didn’t take any of their honey.

If you must feed your hive, fondant is the way to go.

About wasatchwarre

Iconoclast... liberal Utahn who likes guns, lived in Japan for 5 years, works in HR, and dreams of homesteading some day.
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