Making Nuc Candyboards for Over-wintering

This winter is the first time we have ever had nucs going into the winter. Maybe some of my gentle readers are not familiar with a “nuc”. It is a shortened term for a nucleus of a bee hive, meaning it has a queen and some frames with honeycomb and bees, but it is still young and small in size. Because of its age and size, the nuc didn’t have enough time to store the quantity of honey it takes to make it through the winter (honey is the carbs of the bee world, they need it to have energy to stay alive). We humans think of winter as just lasting through February, but to bees it is a little longer due to waiting for the first nectar plants to bloom (maple trees being some of the first). Those rainy days of March and April keep the bees inside too…they hate the rain, so if they can’t harvest their food, they need some reserves at that time as well, even if it isn’t technically winter anymore.

There are probably many recipes for making nuc candyboards out there and I am not here to say that the recipe that we use is the best, but I got the recipe from a trusted bee mentor, Danny Slabaugh, member of the Michiana Beekeepers Association. Plus I don’t like to reinvent the wheel that someone smarter than me invented already 🙂 Danny is the beekeeper that I bought my nucs from when I first started keeping bees in Spring 2008. I went back to buy nucs in 2009 and 2010 as well…did I go back the two hour drive just because of his bees, well, his bees are healthy and non-medicated…but I’ll share a secret with you. I went back to his place, because he packs the nucs and goes through his apiary (beeyard) with me while I am going around with him asking loads of questions that he patiently answers. I got an education from him each time I spent that time with him. He uses candyboards to get his summer-split nucs through the winter and he lives close to the Michigan state line; I thought these candyboards would probably work for me down here in central Indiana.

Here is Danny Slabaugh’s candyboard recipe (it was in a word document that we reformatted):

I enjoy the art of beekeeping as it is always work in process. I make a tray for a standard size hive candy board with the rim made of ¾’X1.875”boards.
I drill a 2″ hole in the center of a 5.5″ 2X4 placed in the middle of a tray.


Danny Slabaugh's Picture and Candyboard

Start with a container that will hold 16 quarts of liquid or more and a good strong stirring device.
The heat source needs to have twice the BTU that a cook stove burner top would produce.
Bring one quart of water to full boil
Add ¼ cup of white vinegar
Slowly add three five pound bags of white sugar. stirring all the time.
This will boil down to soft fudgelike candy after 30-40 minutes and needs to reach 242 degrees.
Add optional ingredients
stirring all the time.
1 cup dry powder HFCS
This will allow you to add five more pounds of dry sugar.
Stir to soft ball. 242 degrees.
Turn off heat and stir in 1 cup of honey
stirring all the time.
Last whip in one oz of Honey –B- Healthy
Pour into a mold and cool off.

Here’s a link to Danny Slabaugh’s recipe on Mel Disselkoen’s website with some more details and pictures.  We found this after making the recipe and this link has more details:

When we made the candyboards, we used the honey bee healthy and the honey, since we didn’t want to use the HFCS (I guess we didn’t understand the necessity to be able to add more sugar).  We constructed two types of trays to use for the candy board molds. The frame on the left fits on top of a 10-frame hive whereas the frame on the right is designed for a 5-frame hive:


Empty Candy Board Frames

The trays are designed to be placed upside-down on top of the hive once the candy in the frame is hardened. This allows the bees to easily access the candy without moving far from the bee cluster. We also drilled a 3/4″ hole in front center of the tray (not shown in photo) and then covered the hole with hardware cloth. This hole provides an easy method for checking the amount of candy consumed by the bees without having to open the hive. The hole will also provide additional ventilation and could be used as a top-entrance in the summer once the candy is completely consumed.

To heat the sugar, we used an outdoor propane burner that was originally part of a turkey frying system we got at The Home Depot. We used an old pressure-canner for the pan which worked wonderfully since it is so thick and virtually eliminated the tendency for the sugar to scald during heating. We also constructed a long wooden paddle so we could stir the sugar without bending over the pan, but this was more of a convenience than a necessity. We found that the recipe above results in enough candy for a single 10-frame tray or two 5-frame trays.

It seemed that the candy boards were completely hardened in less than 24-hours.  We placed the small candy boards on each of our nucs a few weeks ago and had the opportunity to check the hive during an unseasonably warm day.  The bees had already discovered the board and had started eating away at the candy.  We just completed construction of a series of full-size candy board frames that we are going to place on a few of our large hives that did not have time to store up enough honey before the foraging season ended. This should provide plenty of carbohydrates for the bees until spring and has provided us with a peace-of-mind that we haven’t had the past couple of winters. Stay warm out there, bees!