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.