THE FOLLOWING HAS BEEN UPDATED SINCE ORIGINALLY POSTED.

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. (Update: Both the sugar and the newspaper will absorb plenty of moisture without having to be sprayed.)

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.

For anyone on dial-up who can’t play videos, here are two photos:

Bees clustering high in the hive. (Dec. 31/11.)

We used our prototype ventilation rim with the holes taped over to make room for the sugar. The video shows us pulling up one of our insulated inner covers. Two of the hives have only a piece of hard insulation over the inner cover but it makes no difference. Four pounds of sugar on a piece of newspaper over the top bars looks like this:

2.1kg of dry sugar on newspaper.

Then we put the insulated inner cover back on, duct taped the hive wrap back in place and that was it. The bees were exposed to the 2°C air (36°F) for about two minutes tops.

See comments and this post for updates.

P.S.: Make sure to remove the sugar before spring. See Big Time Burr Comb for more info.

ADDENDUM (Nov. 25/13): I can’t see myself ever switching to another method of winter feeding because I just don’t see how it could be easier. Yes, the dry sugar method involves exposing the bees to potentially brood-chilling air, but I pre-cut the newspaper so it easily fits over the top bars and I have the raw sugar on standby in an easy-to-pour container (and I don’t spray down the newspaper or sugar anymore — that was a mistake). I can open a hive, load it up with 4 or 5 pounds of raw sugar and have it sealed up in less than a minute. That’s good enough for me. I also don’t wait until January or February anymore. I put the sugar in the hives around the same time I wrap and insulate the hives for winter.

UPDATE (Jan. 15/14): One extra improvement for this method: Don’t cover the entire top bars with newspaper. Leave a wide strip near the front of the hive. Otherwise you can’t see down into the frames and see how the bees are doing. You could also just put the sugar over a large circle of newspaper in the middle of the top bars because most likely that’s where the cluster will rise anyway.

UPDATE (April 16/14): I don’t use hard insulation (or insulated inner covers) to insulate my hives anymore. I switched to moisture quilts because they keep the hives well ventilated and bone dry. The hard insulation method is the easiest, but for my local soaking wet environment (in Logy Bay), I need to keep my hives as dry as I can.

13 Responses to “Dry Sugar Feeding”

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  1. Jeff says:

    Hey Phil,

    I have some colonies that are high up in the top too. Even though they had good stores going into winter and candy boards added to the top.

    I think they are on top now because I added honeybee healthy to the candy boards.

    If we get a break in March I will take a look again to see if I need any feed to get them through winter.

    I’m curious to see how your small cluster is going to fair. Major differnece in size between colonies.

    Cheers

    • Phillip says:

      That small cluster is the foundationless hive that has a nice collection of dead drones on the bottom board. But at least they have a lot of honey on top. I noticed all the hives have plenty of honey in the top brood box. The added sugar is just a precaution.

      Carniolans do well through the winter in a small cluster, so that foundationless hive might be fine. If it survives the winter, I’m curious to see how quick is comes back to life in the spring. That queen will be two years old in the spring, which means she’s the first one in line to be replaced when I requeen.

  2. Jeff says:

    I’ll take her, don’t squish her. I’ll put her in a nuc and graft some eggs. I’m looking for bees with smaller clusters for my stock. Those colonies will have a better chance of making it through winter and build really fast in the spring.

    • Phillip says:

      I wasn’t planning on squishing her. I was going to do the nuc thing too. But you can have her if you want. I know the Italians produce more honey, but I’d rather have a breed like Carniolans that are better adapted to cold climates like NL.

      I wish I could secure the land behind my house so I could set up more hives and experiment in my backyard. It’s only the lack of secure land that’s holding me back. It’s annoying.

  3. Jeff says:

    First off I will have some capped queen cells for you this year.

    Second, an electric fence goes a long way. Keep the charger in the shed. I have some tech cable you could bury where you want to set up camp and set the Fencing up around the new colonies with cleareance an signs warning the bees are there and a few good tie straps just in case some one gets brave and jumps the fence. Just make a loop 6′ high so no one can jump or climb over it.

    If you tie the electric fencing in with some buried tech cable they are not going to try to dig it up. I highly doubt they will carry insulated cable cutters to get through the fence.

    Then if you have some tie straps as a backup just to make sure if they tip a colonly over they will survive.

    just thoughts

    • Phillip says:

      All that sounds like something I probably can’t afford. I’m not getting rich working freelance in film and tv. But it’s something I’ll definitely consider as soon as I can find a more normal job (I’m looking).

  4. Jeff says:

    I’d say for about $150 you can get a plug in type electric fence to address your problems and the mats to go along with it.

    Not much is required. Like I said I think I have some tech cable to suite you. Assuming you have some sort of power to your shed.

    • Phillip says:

      Thanks for the info. I’ll consider it, but I’ll probably just expand my hives to another property for now and see how that works. At least until we move out of the city.

  5. Uğur says:

    Merhaba Phillip bey.Türkiyeden selamlar.Bende sizin gibi bir arı sevdalısıyım.
    Blogunuz oldukça ilgimi çekti.Paylaştığınız bilgiler harika.Benim sormak istediğim ;arılara kuru şeker ile besleme yaptığımızda, arılar kışın uçma isteği duymuyormu.Kışın seker ile beslemeyi bütün kovanlara mı uyguluyorsunuz?
    Şimdiden teşekkür ederim.Bu arada unutmadan yeni yılınız kutlu olsun.

  6. Phillip says:

    Can anyone translate Turkish? This is the best I can get out of Google:

    Greetings from Turkey. I like you sevdalısıyım a bee.
    I’m intrigued by your blog is pretty. The information you share is great. I want to ask: When we feed bees with sugar, dry, winter flying bees duymuyormu request. Do you enforce all the hives in the winter feeding with sugar?
    Thank you in advance. By the way Happy New Year.

    I’ll try to respond (in Turkish) as soon as I have a more accurate translation.

    • Phillip says:

      I can’t find a more accurate translation, so here’s my best response:

      We feed all our hives sugar at some point in the winter. This is only our second winter of beekeeping, but so far, yes, we feed them sugar.

      I can’t accurately translate the rest of the comment, so that’s all I can tell you. If you have any further questions about dry sugar feeding, here’s a Turkish translation of a page that may help you. Kuru şeker beslenme ile ilgili herhangi bir sorunuz varsa, burada, size yardımcı olabilecek bir sayfa bir Türkçe çevirisi:

      http://tinyurl.com/7en4f3m

  7. Phillip says:

    I just fed some raw sugar to my hidden hive in the city. No wind. -1°C. That’s the warmest day we’ve had for weeks, so I took it. I love this method of feeding. I don’t see how it could be quicker and easier. I’d say it took me less than a minute, and now the bees should have enough sugar to make it into the spring.

    It looked as if the bees were getting hungry. They were covering most of the top bars. I have a feeling I may not have given them enough honey before winter (I didn’t feed them sugar syrup).

    I plan to check on my six hives out in the country next weekend. I wouldn’t be surprised to find one or two starved colonies. I also wouldn’t be surprised to find some of them vandalized. I haven’t seen them since before Xmas and I don’t think anyone on the farm is keeping an on them.

  8. Phillip says:

    Something I love about this method of feeding: I loaded up my hives with a boatload of sugar in November (before winter weather made it too difficult). It’s April 16th now, the last of the snow is melting, and most of my colonies are still chowing down on the sugar I gave them November. That’s what I call low-maintenance. It sure beats messing around with fondant and candy cakes.

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