Problems with the “Mountain Camp” Method of Dry Sugar Feeding

Despite following the Mountain Camp method of dry sugar feeding in the winter more or less since I started beekeeping, I don’t do it anymore. I’ve switched to easy-to-make and easy-to-add sugar cakes.

Bottom side of a sugar cake eaten away by the bees. (April 17, 2016.)

Bottom side of a sugar cake eaten away by the bees. (April 17, 2016.)

I don’t use dry sugar anymore because the bees tend to remove it from the hive if they’re not hungry enough to eat it. Spraying the sugar down with water so it hardens helps to prevent this, but if the weather is still warm enough so that the bees are flying around, they’ll do what active bees like to do: clean house. Whatever grains of sugar are not hardened together will often get tossed out of the hive. I used to add dry sugar sometime in November after the temperatures took a serious dip — when the bees were clustered below the top bars, not actively flying around in house-cleaning mode. Overall, the discarded sugar wasn’t a huge problem. If the bees were hungry, they ate the sugar regardless of the weather. But still, sometimes it seemed like a waste of sugar.
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Roofing Felt Hive Wrap Attached with Thumb Tacks

I may not wrap all of my hives this year, but I’ve decided to wrap at least the ones that don’t get much sunshine.

Hive wrapped with roofing felt. (Nov. 06, 2016.)

Hive wrapped with roofing felt, nice and tight. (Nov. 06, 2016.)

The black wrap will perhaps warm them up a degree or two on really cold (but sunny) days so they can move more easily onto honey frames.

Roofing felt attached with quiet-as-can-be thumb tacks. (Nov. 06, 2016.)

Roofing felt attached with quiet-as-can-be thumb tacks. (Nov. 06, 2016.)

My feelings about wrapping my hives continues to evolve. I began in 2010 by wrapping my hives in roofing felt just like this, except now I use thumb tacks instead of staples because they’re easy to push into the hive and don’t disturb the bees like the bang of a staple gun. (Both this and using push pins to attach shrew-proofing mesh was recommended to me by one of the 6 regular readers of Mud Songs. You know who you are. Thanks.) Over the years, though, mostly due to laziness and the fact that my beehives were an inconvenient distance from where I lived, I got out of the habit of wrapping them and it didn’t seem to make any difference to my over-winter survival rates. Generally, colonies that went into winter in good shape, came out in good shape whether they were wrapped or not.

But last winter, not having wrapped any of my hives, I wasn’t too impressed with how they came out of the winter. None of them died, but neither where they strong. Having hives mostly full of old and stressed queens may explain some of it, but I also noticed in hindsight most of my hives get very little direct sunlight in the winter, much less sunlight than any of my hives in the past. So just to be safe, I’m wrapping the hives that get the least of amount of sunlight. We’ll see what happens.
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How I Prepare My Beehives For Winter

The following was originally posted on December 7th, 2015, but was edited and updated on October 27th, 2016, to reflect my current practices, such as they are, and could be updated without noticed at any time in the future.

Something weird happened. I got several emails from people asking me what I do to prepare my hives for winter.

One of my bee hives after a  snow storm in 2013.

One of my bee hives after a snow storm in 2013. The bees survived.

I’m no expert, but here’s what I do, and what I do could change entirely by this time next week.

The typical winter configuration for a world renowned and stupendous Mud Songs bee hive. (Nov. 04, 2015.)

The typical winter configuration for a world renowned and stupendous Mud Songs bee hive. (November 4th, 2015.)

So the big question is: “How do you prepare your hives for winter?”
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Moisture Quilt in a Nutshell

Here’s a quick video that demonstrates the installation and use of a moisture quilt for winter insulation and ventilation.

All of my moisture quilts are built differently because I’ve never put much planning into building them (I have zero woodworking skills). Some are converted ventilation rims that require a rim underneath, like the one in this video. Others have built in rims as part of the design. Some fit perfectly and create a tight seal on the bottom. Some don’t. And it doesn’t seem to matter either way because they all do a great job at wicking moisture out of the hives and keeping my bees dry all winter.

Moisture quilts, in my experience, aren’t necessary in local climates that aren’t particularly damp and foggy and wet. Smaller colonies that don’t produce much condensation from the bees’ respiration don’t always need extra ventilation or insulation either. A piece of hard insulation over the inner cover often does the trick. Moisture quilts can be a bit scary, too, when it seems like half the colony on warm days attaches itself to the bottom screen of the quilt. But for me the pros outweigh the cons. If dampness is a problem inside any of my hives, I know a moisture quilt will fix it.

Empty moisture quilts are excellent ventilation aids in the summer too.