How I make sugar candy for my bees.
When it is time to make bee candy; I find that I have to, yet again, search to find my favorite recipe and the modifications I want for that recipe. This post will make that process easier for me. Maybe it will help you as well!
STEP BY STEP
- 1. I use 4 pound bags of sugar. For every 4 pounds, I use 2 cups of water. I like to do 16 pounds at a time, so, that requires 8 cups of water. I find that to do larger amounts makes handling the pouring by myself difficult because of the weight and heat. This is fine for the 17 hives we have now. One batch won’t be enough to feed all the hives all winter. I make new batches throughout the winter and take the opportunity to peek into the top of the hive. I get a sense of what is going on in there and can feed more if needed. We have plenty of winter days in the 40’s and it is no problem to peek into the top. As we add more hives to our apiary, we may find we need to make larger batches.
- 2. I use a turkey fryer because its large size contains a good deal of the mess while mixing. Also, I don’t mind beating up the pot with my paint mixer. I make my candy inside the house. Others like to do this outside using a propane burner. Doing the process outside helps with the mess and may make it easier to do larger batches. It is a good idea to use gloves and long sleeves to protect yourself from the hot syrup.
- 3. I add 1/2 teaspoon of white vinegar per four pounds of sugar. That is 2 teaspoons for 16 pounds of sugar. I see that some other recipes use more and others use none. I’m going to directly quote from BambooHollow.com as it gives a great explanation about the why of the vinegar:
- “The vinegar acts as the acidic catalysts to foster the inversion of sucrose to fructose and glucose. Vinegar also helps keep the cooled fondant’s crystals small so the bees find it easier to ingest and eat.
- 4. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently so it doesn’t burn on the bottom. Often, you will see recipes telling you to “stir constantly.” That’s not really necessary but you, definitely, don’t want to get involved, too deeply, in another task. I recommend staying in the kitchen.
- 5. While I’m waiting for the mixture to boil, I line trays with paper and put them on heatproof surfaces such as racks or cutting boards. I find freezer paper works best for removing the candy from the pans after cooling. If you use another paper such as parchment, it may stick a little. That is not a big problem, the bees will remove it. Some people pour the candy directly onto boards that they will fit onto their hives.
- 6. The sugar water will, eventually, come to a boil.
- 7. Once it is boiling, put the lid on the pot and continue to boil for 5 minutes.
- 8. Make sure that you have a candy thermometer available. There are other ways to test for the soft ball stage but an accurate thermometer makes things simple.
- 9. After boiling for the five minutes, remove the lid. Continue to boil and put the candy thermometer in. There is no need to stir but you will need to monitor the temperature. You will need to get the temperature up to 236 degrees Fahrenheit. It may surprise you that it takes so long. It will seem to get stuck at 230-232 degrees for a bit. You need to wait for it to go up to 236 or soft ball stage. This is a phase shift. Wait for it. Some recipes say go to 234 degrees or 235 degrees. 236 degrees Fahrenheit is safe.
- 10. I measure out pollen substitute if that is to be added. Generally, I’ll add about 1/2 pound of pollen substitute for the 16 pounds of sugar. I will double that as the bees start to brood up for spring. You can buy pollen substitute from suppliers of beekeeping equipment. You can, also, make your own pollen substitute with soy flour, brewer’s yeast, and non-fat dry milk. Some of the pollen substitute recipes, also, add ingredients such as salt and vitamin C.
- 11. I have heard that lemongrass oil makes the candy attractive to the bees. I haven’t verified that but it sure does smell good and, certainly, does not repel the bees. Lemongrass oil is, definitely, optional.
- 12. Once your temperature has reached 236 degrees Fahrenheit, shut off the heat. I put the pot into a sink of cold water to cool. You want it to cool to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
- 13. At 200 degrees Fahrenheit, I put the pot on a heat proof surface at floor level and add the pollen substitute and a couple of drops of lemongrass oil.
- 14. I set up a paint mixer and drill. The candy gets, vigorously, stirred for 3-4 minutes so that the mixture is full of bubbles.
- 15. Quickly, pour the mixture into your lined pans or containers before it starts to harden. Have a scraper at hand to get the last of it out of the pot. It can be difficult to manage with one person. Two people make this process easier.
- 16. Once it firms up sufficiently, score the candy into the size blocks you want to use.
- 17. Once completely cooled, break the blocks up and put them into your hives. I use shims (2-1/2″ and up) with 1/4″ hardware cloth stapled on as a bottom to hold candy, directly, above the frames. I have the shim placed below the cover of the hives. It holds the candy and allows the bees to move around the candy. Several smaller blocks of candy rather than just one large block provides more surface area for the bees. I just have to lift the inner cover and place the candy blocks in as needed. If the bees don’t need it, I can store the candy in the freezer.
Today, when I peeked into the hives; I saw that the bees were eating the candy hungrily, so, I was able to distribute all of the candy that I made.
The CCBA January Newsletter includes another recipe for larger batches.