Honey Bees Discard Dry Sugar Sometimes (UPDATED)

The tricky bit with feeding honey bees dry sugar in the winter is that they will sometimes discard it from the hive like they would with any other kind of debris.

Discard dry sugar. (Dec. 19, 2015.)

Discarded dry sugar? Maybe. Maybe not. (Dec. 19, 2015.)

It can take up to week for dry sugar to harden from naturally occurring moisture inside the hive after it’s been added. If it’s warm enough for the bees to move around during that week, there’s a good chance they’ll start hauling the sugar out of the hive, or at least drop it down to the bottom of the hive. I’ve seen it many times. It’s an extra little mess to clean out of the hives in the spring, but that’s fine with me. I’d rather deal with that than starved out bees.

Something similar to a no-cook candy board would probably prevent this because the sugar is a semi-solid block that isn’t going anywhere. Spraying down the newspaper and the sugar while adding the dry sugar might help harden the sugar faster too. Not that adding moisture to a hive is usually a good thing, but I use moisture quilts that quickly wick away any excess moisture, so it’s not much of a concern for me.

DECEMBER 20, 2015 (UPDATE): I think I jumped the gun in writing this post. I still suspect the bees will clear out the dry sugar like they would with any debris. But the photo I posted may not be evidence of that. Let’s clarify this situation…
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Dry Sugar With a Hole In It

I’ve been feeding my bees in the winter for a while now by pouring dry sugar on newspaper over the top bars. Some people refer to this style of feeding as the Mountain Camp Method. I like it because it’s the quickest and easiest method for feeding bees in my particular winter climate.

2 kg of dry sugar over the top bars.

Bees eating dry sugar via the Mountain Camp Method.

Although I’ve never had any problems with it, there is some room for improvement. Some people only put newspaper over the back two-thirds of the top bars so that the front is left open for better airflow. That’s an excellent tweak to the method and it works. There’s no urgent need to change it. However, in my experience, the cluster usually breaks through the top bars in the middle and spreads out from there. Most of the moisture — or humid air from the bees’ respiration — flows up from the middle as well. My little tweak is to create a hole in the middle of the sugar for better ventilation and to give the bees easier access to the sugar.

Dry sugar over newspaper with a hole in the middle. (Dec. 12, 2015.)

Dry sugar over newspaper with a hole in the middle. These bees have about 40kg of honey stores. The sugar is a precaution. (Dec. 12, 2015.)


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A Real Life Demonstration of Feeding Honey Bees Dry Sugar

I usually pour dry sugar over newspaper into my Langstroth honey bee hives so the bees have something to eat just in case they run out of honey during the winter. Some people refer to it as the Mountain Camp Method, but I’m pretty sure beekeepers have been pouring dry sugar into their hives long before Mr Camp came along and popularized it. I’ll call it Dry Sugar Feeding for now on. In any case, it may not be the best method for feeding bees over the winter, but it works well for me and that’s what matters most. I like it because it’s the easiest method I’ve ever tried and it may be better for the bees than hard candy or candy boards. Do a little research on Hydroxymethylfurfural and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

2 kg of dry sugar over the top bars.

2 kg of dry sugar over the top bars.

When I first fed my bees dry sugar, I waited until January or February when the bees, if they were low on honey, would cover most of the top bars in the hive. But waiting that long is a pain in the butt for all kinds of reasons, so now I put the sugar in long before the bees really need it — just like I did today. Here’s an 11-minute video recorded a few hours ago that demonstrates the dry sugar method in all its glory. I also explain near the end how moisture quilts work.

P.S.: I’m not a big fan of feeding the bees pollen patties early in the winter because most of the time they don’t need it and it’s not always good to give the bees solids when they can’t get outside for cleansing flights. I try to reserve pollen patties for small colonies that could use a little boost in brood production. The colony in the video that I refer to as being about the size of a human head will get a pollen patty in a week or two. A small cluster like that, which is likely to get smaller before it gets bigger, won’t be able to stay warm much longer. The colony could be in trouble if I can’t get the queen laying soon.

Another postscript (written in part as a response to the first comment): If I had to do this again, I would place something round in the middle of the newspaper, a small bowl or a jar perhaps. Then after I poured the sugar on, I’d remove the bowl or jar so that a round sugar-free area of newspaper was left behind. Then I’d cut a hole in the exposed newspaper so that when the cluster came up, the bees would go through the hole without having to chew through the newspaper to get at the sugar. The hole would also allow moisture from the cluster to rise directly up to the moisture quilt. (If I have a chance, I’ll record a follow-up video.)

JANUARY 12, 2016: I eventually cleared a hole in the dry sugar. Check out Bees Not Eating Dry Sugar to see what happened after that.

Pre-Winter Raw Sugar Feeding

I used to add dry sugar to my hives in January or February following what some call The Mountain Camp Method, but this year I decided to add sugar around the same time I wrapped my hives, in late November. Why not? I have several reasons for adding the sugar early — the main reason is I don’t want to see another colony starve to death — but ultimately it doesn’t hurt to put the sugar on early and it saves me the trouble of having to do it in the middle of winter with snow all around. So yeah, why not? Here’s a video that shows how I did it.

This is probably the last time I’ll post a video about the Mountain Camp Method. There’s not much else to see.

I also mention in the video (at the 58sec mark) how one of my hives was full of exceptionally nasty bees until I moved the colony far away from my other colonies and just like that they settled down to become the nicest bunch of bees around. This is just speculation, but for now on whenever I come across an especially defensive colony, I’ll try moving it way off by itself, far from any other colonies, before I resort to requeening.

ADDENDUM (Jan. 16/14): It’s come to my attention that covering the entire top bars with sugar isn’t a good idea because then you can’t see down into the frames to see how the bees are doing. I knew that last year but forgot about it this year. So don’t do what I did. Cover only the back two-thirds or so of the top bars.

Dry Sugar Feeding: Day 62

We gave our four hives some dry sugar 62 days ago. Here’s some riveting footage that shows how that’s working out for us (so far so good).

The only thing we’ll do differently next year is lay sugar over either the front or back half of the frames. That way the bees can access the sugar without any trouble and there’s still plenty of room to add a full-sized pollen patty. As seen in the video, adding pollen patties is tricky with all that sugar in the way. And we won’t spray the newspaper next time either.

Previous posts in this continuing saga: Dry Sugar Feeding, Dry Sugar Feeding Update and Dry Sugar Check Up and Pollen Patties.

Dead Bees and High & Low Clusters

More dead bees are showing up on the bottom of the foundationless hive, enough to nearly clog the entire bottom entrance. (I first noticed the dead bees on December 22nd.) Most of the them appear to be drones.

Are drones fed like the queen, or can they access and eat honey on their own? I don’t remember. If they rely on the workers to be fed, then my guess is they’re deliberately being starved out of the hive. I’m surprised so many are still around.

I’ve also noticed that the bees in the foundationless hive are clustering heavily in the bottom box. This is what the edge of the cluster looked like a few days ago during the Dry Sugar Feeding (I fed them even though I don’t think they’re running low on honey):

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Dry Sugar Feeding

We decided to give each of our honey bee colonies about 4 pounds of sugar yesterday because the bees have been clustering at the top of the hives for the past few weeks and are possibly running low on honey stores. We fed them dry sugar following what in some circles is referred to as the Mountain Camp method: Place a piece of newspaper over the top bars, pour dry sugar on top and shelter the whole thing inside a shallow super or an eke. Here’s a brief video that shows how we did it:

We sprayed the newspaper lightly to make it easier for the bees to chew through it. The dry sugar will harden on its own by absorbing moisture from the bees’ respiration, but we also sprayed it a bit to get the process started.

I’m not convinced the bees are running low on honey. All the hives seemed to have plenty of honey the last time we checked them in the fall. Maybe the bees are clustering high in the hives because it’s easier to stay warm up there. Whatever the case may be, the dry sugar feeding was the quickest, simplest precaution we could take. And it sure beats having to mix up a batch of hard candy for them.
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