Feeding Honey Bees In The Winter With No-Cook Sugar Bricks

These days I use sugar bricks to feed my bees in the winter and here’s a quick 2-minute video that demonstrates how I do it.

This is a condensed version of a 4-part video series (not unlike the original Star Wars trilogy) that I posted last winter.
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Dry Sugar With a Hole In It

July 2019 Introduction: I don’t add dry sugar to my hives like this anymore. I use sugar bricks instead. However, I’d probably follow this method if I couldn’t use sugar bricks.

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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The First Time I Had a Shrew in a Beehive But Didn’t Know It

It’s June 2019 as I rewrite this post from December 2013. 2013 was when shrews first got into my hives, but I didn’t know it at the time. I would see all these signs of shrews again during the winter of 2015 when shrews destroyed or catastrophically wrecked havoc on six of my eight colonies.

The conditions seemed perfect for shrews in the winter of 2015. I heard about commercial beekeepers in Prince Edward Island and in New Brunswick who lost up to 80% of their colonies due to shrew predation. Snow was so high at times that it seems the shews were able to skitter across the deep snow and hop into beehives through the top entrances that didn’t have mouse guards on them. (Who puts mouse guards over the top entrances? Nobody.) Once inside the hives, the shrews would pluck one bee at a time from the edge of the cluster, suck the guts out of the bee’s body and then go back for more, all day long, day after day until the cluster was so small and the bees were so stressed that they were goners before the snow melted. It was a pretty damn devastating situation all around.

A shrew tunnel in the snow. (Next to an earplug for scale.)

Shews can squeeze through 3/8-inch mouse guards, so page 1 from my anti-shrew playbook is to staple or use push pins to attach 6mm (quarter-inch) mesh over my bottom entrances around the first week of October or whenever I think it’s getting so cold that the bees are beginning to cluster. The mesh might knock some pollen off the bees’ legs, but not enough to concern me. With push pins, I can always temporarily remove the mesh if the bees are having a particularly busy day of foraging. I sometimes cover the top entrances with mesh too just to be extra safe. And it works.

But in the winter of 2013 and 2015, I didn’t have a clue. Here’s how it first played it December 2013:
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Not Topping Up Hives in the Fall

May 2019 Introduction: I deleted most of the original post from 2012. All the photo are gone. I’ve kept this post only as a record of my first big mistake in beekeeping: not giving my bees any syrup before winter. Topping up colonies with syrup before the winter isn’t necessary if they already have enough honey. (“Enough honey” in Newfoundland is supposedly 12 solid deep frames of honey.) But as a rule now, I give my bees a least a taste of syrup in the fall just to be safe.

I didn’t top up my colonies with sugar syrup in the fall this year. I gave them all between a half and a full medium super of honey instead. Hopefully they have enough honey to get through the winter. I’ll check them again sometime in January or February and give them raw sugar if they seem starved at that point.

For the record, I have six hives on a farm in Portugal Cove and one in a secret hidden place in the city in St. John’s. I’m also experimenting with the city hive by not wrapping it. That’s all I have to say for now. Cheers.

November 13th, 20116: Some of the dumbest beekeeping is natural beekeeping. Not topping up my hives with syrup before the winter and letting the bees survive of their own natural honey resulted in my first starved out colony.