Mountain Camp Sugar Feeding
This article has been previously published, but contains seasonally relevant information…
If you have any suspicion whatsoever that your bees might be low on food – or even if they have food but the cluster might not be able to get to it. You can insure that your bees don’t starve by “mountain camp” feeding. It is very easy, doesn’t require any special equipment, and doesn’t require digging around in the hive – you can even do it when it is pretty cold. There is no reason to let your bees starve.
If you don’t wet the sugar a bit the bees will often carry it out of the hive as if it were refuse – or when they eat through the paper it will trickle down into the hive and make a mess. Using a spray bottle of plain water wet down the paper, add a layer of sugar about 1/2 – 1″ thick, wet it down, continue adding sugar in layers and wetting them until you have added all the sugar you want to apply. If you are worried about adding so much moisture to the hive – don’t the sugar will quickly absorb all of it as it hardens up. It will not hurt anything. 4-5 pounds of sugar is not too much to use. Be sure to leave space for the bees to go around the paper. Add an empty super or a feed shim to make room for everything. An empty super may seem too roomy, but it works fine – I have been doing this for 5 years now, and a medium super does the job with no problems.
It will now be easy to tell just by peaking under the cover if your bees have used up the sugar yet. If you feed like this and the cluster is at the top of the hive – which they often are by now – they Will Not Starve unless you let them.
A common spring occurrence is that colonies will have a good amount of open brood in them during a late cold snap. The hive will cluster on the brood to keep it warm, and the bees and open brood will consume all of the food stores withing reach of the cluster. Within just a few days of cold weather under these conditions a hive can starve to death with honey stored less than 3 inches from the cluster. If the cluster is at the top, and you apply mt camp sugar this will not happen unless you let them run out of sugar.
An additional benefit of feeding like this is that the sugar absorbs moisture and helps to prevent condensation from dripping on the bees and freezing them.
As the food is used up you can either add a layer of paper on top of the old feed and just give them more granulated sugar or you can give them chunks of home made bee candy.
By the time you are ready to remove any remaining feed the sugar will be set up into a solid chunk that can easily be removed. You can make syrup out of the scraps and nothing goes to waste.
There are two drawbacks to this system that I know of: Sometimes during long spells of bad weather or if the bees have nosema a few of them may defecate on top of the sugar feed – they normally would not do that inside of the hive unless conditions were really bad. This can’t be a good thing as far as hygiene goes, but I have never lost a hive due to nosema as far as I can tell despite routinely using mt camp sugar feed. On the other hand the signs of nosema are very clearly apparent when you see them on top of the white sugar, and that could give you the notice that you need to take timely action if you plan to treat for such things.
The other drawback to feeding like this is that you can’t add supers until you remove the feed – you can actually, but it won’t do much good if the weather turns cold and there is a box of empty comb between the emergency feed and the cluster of bees. Of course you don’t need to add supers until there is nectar coming in anyway, but I thought I should mention that it can cause a conflict in certain weather/hive conditions.
I always feed like this in the winter, because I think that the benefits outweigh any downsides that there may be, however this does not mean that you can or should rob excessive honey, or fail to feed syrup in the fall if they need it. But if your hives are light this will save your bacon.