Pre-Winter Dry Sugar Feeding

May 2019 Introduction: I’ve deleted the post that used to be here except for the video because it went into unnecessary detail about a winter feeding method I no longer follow, the “Mountain Camp” method, or what’s also known as dry sugar feeding. Dry white granulated sugar is poured over newspaper that covers about two-thirds of the top bars, leaving one third free so one can still look down through the bars to see what the bees are doing. It’s a fine method for emergency winter feeding, but I stopped doing it because it was a hassle whenever I had to add more sugar later in the winter — pulling aside the old sugar, putting in more newspaper, etc. I never liked that part of it. Using sugar bricks is ten times easier, so that’s what I do now, if I feed them in the winter at all.

I also usually wait until the new year to add sugar. I used to add sugar in November just to get it over with, but the temperatures are often so warm in November now that the bees end up discarding the sugar, tossing it out the front door. I often wait until sometime in the new year instead.

8 thoughts on “Pre-Winter Dry Sugar Feeding

  1. Checked in occasionally over the summer. Glad to see you’re back and posting. Started a couple hives this past spring; now hoping to get them through a southern Ontario winter. Cold, warm, snow, rain …..
    I enjoy your work and find your site a great spot to spend the lunch hour.


  2. They might have been nasty because they were being robbed by the other hives. That’s happened with one of my hives.

    • Robbing was the first thing I thought of, but the colony was always large enough to defend itself, and the bees were nasty all the time even during the cold deep of winter.

      I was planning to requeen the colony, but those bees made more honey and made it faster than any of my other colonies, and that’s after I gave away about 7 frames of brood to some beekeeping friends of mine. Even though they don’t like the company of other bees (and they’re probably not in love with me either), I’ve never seen a more robust colony.

  3. Dry sugar feeding is still my preferred method of feeding the bees over the winter. It requires opening the hive and potentially exposing the brood to cold air, but that hasn’t been an issue for me yet. I had to add more sugar to one of my hives a few days ago and it was easy. I had a bag of sugar open and a piece of newspaper ready. I opened the hive, put the paper over the top bars, dumped the sugar over it and closed the hive, all of it done in probably less than 30 seconds.

    The dry sugar absorbs excess moisture in the hive, better than candy cakes or candy boards. The bees can access the dry sugar just as easily as they would with candy boards or candy cakes. And a dry sugar feeding means much less work for me, no mixing and cooking of sugar and water to pour into candy boards or any of that mess.

    In my particular climate, with relatively mild winters, I don’t see the benefit of using candy boards or candy cakes. I know candy boards will supposedly last all winter, which means you add the candy at the beginning of the winter and forget about it, whereas dry sugar might require additional feedings. But again, for me, that hasn’t been a problem. I can simply add more sugar from the start if I’m too lazy later in the winter to add sugar again. And if it means not having to cook up messy sugar syrup in my kitchen, I’m all for it.

    I wish all feeding was as quick and easy as dry sugar.

  4. Here’s a quick cell phone video I posted on Twitter that shows one of my colonies, which I don’t think will survive the winter, eating through dry sugar like it’s going out of style:

    And just to give you an idea of the kind of things that can go through a beekeeper’s head when faced with the unknown, here’s what I have to say about it:

    This is a small colony that may not survive the winter. It went into winter with what I thought was enough honey to keep the bees alive, but unseasonably warm weather caused them to be more active and eat through most of their honey. (All of this is speculation.) I gave them dry sugar in late November and added more just before Xmas. I calculate they’ve consumed 1 kg of sugar per week (a little over two pounds) since mid-December. I will need to give them more sugar in a week or two. I’m left to speculate on a few things…

    1) Why is this colony so active when all of my other colonies are hunkered down for the winter? None of the bees in any of my other colonies were flying around on the day I shot this cell phone video (or on any other days).

    2) Are they eating the sugar or clearing it out of the hive as they would with regular debris? (I think they’re eating the sugar.) I’ve noticed that this colony has had extremely hygienic behaviour from the start, that is, they clear out dead bees as soon as they die. Rain, shine, warm or cold — they’re cleaning up.

    3) For such a small colony, there seems to be a large amount of dead bees outside the hive. But again, that might only indicate their hygienic behaviour. There seems to be more dead bees only because they’re cleaning up more often. Perhaps.

    4) Both of the deeps had several frames full of pollen. With such an ample supply of pollen and unseasonably warm weather and the winter solstice having just passed (the days are getting longer), might the queen have begun laying at a higher than normal rate? Are all those dead bees simply an indication of high brood production?

    5) Is the colony queenless? I’ve seen colonies become queenless during the fall and winter months (when they can’t make a new queen) and the bees loose all sense of purpose and have no idea what to do with themselves. They start doing strange things like defecating inside the hive and wandering around aimlessly. I DON’T think these bees are queenless yet because I’m pretty sure hygienic behaviour is the first thing to go when the queen is dead in the middle of the winter.

    6) If they’re queenless, they’re goners. That’s a given. But if the queen is still alive down there — and I think is — then here’s the situation as far as I can tell:

    7) The cluster is very small, potentially too small to keep the colony and the queen warm enough to survive any bitterly cold days ahead.

    8) The colony is living entirely off dry sugar. If there’s any honey, there’s not much. And with a large supply of natural pollen in the frames and the days becoming longer, who knows, maybe the population is expanding.

    9) Anything could happen. If 7 is true and the cluster is very small — and not getting larger — I’d say the colony won’t survive the winter. But if 8 true and the queen is already producing more brood, even if the colony has nothing to eat but sugar, maybe it’ll make through the winter.

    10) If I don’t continue to give them sugar, they’re dead.

    So here’s the plan…

    I will give the bees more sugar this weekend.

    I also have 4 or 5 frames of honey stored in my shed. I will give them that honey if I can find way to put it in the hive without splitting up the cluster or exposing the queen to cold air. I might just drop another deep with those honey frames on top of the hive — and then put sugar on top of that as a precaution. One way or another, I have to feed them.

    I’ll be very impressed with myself and these bees if they’re still alive in February. I give them about a 40% chance.

    • I checked on the hive in the video from the previous comment. The colony is dying, but not because it’s running low on sugar, but because, or so it appears, a mouse got inside the hive. I expect I’ll be performing a post-mortem in two or three weeks.

  5. What temperature does the bees need to be able to sit and feed on the sugar at the top? whats the temp at the top inside?

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