There are many articles floating around regarding the use of sugar fondant as a food substitute for our bees. There are as many opinions on the use of fondant as there are regions and provinces which can become very confusing. In the interests of clarity this article is aimed at the hobby beekeeper with say 1 – 10 hives and keeping their bees in a similar climate to that experienced here on the South Shore Nova Scotia.
What is it
Fondant is a soft inverted sugar paste made by heating refined sugar with a catalyst like lemon juice to break down its long chain carbohydrates into simpler sugars (Fructose and glucose) that can be easily used by the bees. This is in effect the same process used by the bees to convert nectar to honey.
Why Feed Fondant
Because the fondant has been broken down into simple sugars it can be eaten by the bees straight off the block. It’s easy to handle, store and will not over ripen if not used immediately
When to Feed
I would recommend feeding fondant at periods when the temperatures are too cold for feeding syrup, certainly in early spring when the colonies winter stores are running low, especially if it is a late spring. Many a beekeeper has lost a Colony that has come through the winter only to stave in the first
Fondant placed in bag with a cut in the base and placed over feeding hole
few weeks of spring for the want of a block of fondant. I tend to not feed syrup in early spring as this can over stimulate the colony in to full brood production at a time when the natural forage may not be able to support the increase.
Where to get it
Many beekeepers will use commercially produced bakers fondant which is quite acceptable as long as it has had no additives added like vanilla , starch or cream of tartar. I telephoned my supplier of Bakers’ Fondant to establish the technical specifications and method of production. They tell me that the fondant consists of: sugar 74.5% ± 0.5%, glucose solids 14.5% ± 0.5%, water 11.0% ± 0.5%. The ingredients are heated just to boiling point (approx 221ºF) and are then stirred in a creamer until cool. This produces a soft, fine-grain sugar paste.
If you only have a few hives try making your own fondant its quite simple. Try my fondant recipe, but be careful when handling hot sugar it burns.
How to feed it to your bees
There are many ways to make the fondant available to the bees and so these are the ones that have worked for me.
Firstly if feeding to protect against winter or Spring starvation I would wait until we get the first daytime air temperatures above 10° and then with the help of a friend I would very quickly open the hive, place the fondant and close up as soon as possible to minimise heat lose from the colony.
The fondant can be placed as follows.
Fondant placed under container and over feeding hole
- Directly on top of the frames so that the bees can get to it easily and with minimum effort. This method could well save your bees if they are already weakened from a lack of food. You will need to use a deep crown board (eke) to accommodate the fondant on the frames.
- This method is similar to the above but using a queen excluder to help prevent the fondant sliding between the frames as it softens due to the warmth and moisture given off by the bees.
- The fondant can be placed in a upturned plastic container to prevent it drying out or a plastic bag with a slit cut in to it which is then placed over the feeding hole of the crown/ cover board. As long as the bees are in good condition they will enter through the hole and eat away the fondant from inside. this is a good method because there is less disturbance to the bees and you can easily add more fondant if needed.
Note of warning
Do not use unrefined sugar its great for us but not for bees.
Studies show that feeding bees fondant for long periods can cause a form of bee dysentery which will weaken the colony.