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Ten questions about Mountain Camp feeding

The Mountain Camp method of feeding is simple. You take a piece of newspaper and lay it over the top bars, just above the brood nest. Next you add an eke or feeder rim, then you dump dry granulated sugar on top of the paper. Moisture from the bees’ respiration condenses on the sugar and makes it palatable for the bees. The Mountain Camp method is used for winter feeding when it is too cold for syrup feeding.

Q: I’ve heard that the bees carry granulated sugar outside the hive and dump it like garbage.

A: If you add dry sugar after the temperatures have dropped for the winter, the bees won’t fly it outside because it’s too cold. If you are worried about this you can spritz the mound of sugar with water which causes it to form a crust and prevents the bees from picking up granules. Alternatively, you can use superfine sugar which dissolves nearly as soon as the bees touch it.

Q: What is superfine sugar?

A: It is the same as regular granulated sugar except the crystals are much smaller so it dissolves quickly. It is also known as “bar sugar” or “baker’s sugar” and is available in 50-pound bags.

Q: Will the bees find dry granulated sugar?

A: Yes, they will. If you want, you can add a few drops of essential oil or Honey-B-Healthy to the spritzing water and they will find it even faster.

Q: Isn’t a mound of dry sugar hard to clean up in the spring?

A: By spring, any leftover sugar is usually hard as a rock. You can just pick it up in big chunks.

Q: Then what? Throw it away?

A: The sugar chunks can be melted down to make spring syrup or they can be stored in a plastic bag for next winter.

Q: So what are the advantages of dry feeding over sugar cakes or candy boards?

A: Dry feeding is quick, easy, and involves no cooking. Boiling sugar for hard candy is dangerous and not much fun. Candy boards are bulky and heavy.

Q: Anything else?

A: Dry sugar is hygroscopic, meaning it absorbs water from the atmosphere. The dry sugar does a great job of absorbing condensation before it can drip down on the bees. This absorbed water also makes the sugar palatable for the bees . . . quite a system.

Q: But I like to add pollen substitute to my sugar cakes in spring. I can’t do that with dry feeding.

A: Yes you can. Just mix the dry pollen in with the sugar crystals. Use the same ratio of pollen to sugar as you do in candy cakes. It’s actually better because you don’t risk over-heating the pollen substitute.

Q: What are the disadvantages with the Mountain Camp method?

A: Personally, I prefer sugar cakes in very cold or very wet weather because I can open the hive about one inch and slide the cakes through the narrow space without letting in the cold and rain. With the Mountain Camp method you have to take the top off the hive so you need a dry and not-very-cold day.

Q: Why is it called “Mountain Camp”?

A: It is named after a beekeeper who was keen on dry feeding and wrote about it a lot. His screen name—or so I’m told—was Mountain Camp.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Comments

Eric : GardenFork.TV

Thanks for posting this. I’ve learned quite a bit from your site. Neat.

After reading about Phillip’s fondant woes and success with sugar cakes on his Mudsongs.org site, I wanted to know more about how sugar cakes work in the hive. Now i do.

I built insulated inner covers for the hives this year which provide a large empty space just above the top super for feeding (visualize an inner cover and a shim as one unit ) and made sugar cakes with a bit of home made essential oil mixture (lemongrass and wintergreen).

I put the cakes on top of the top super, put the insulated inner cover on over the sugar cakes, and we’re good to go. Eric

Sarah

I have a ventilated inner hive cover a friend of a friend built. It doesn’t have more space than my regular telescoping inner cover has. How much space should be between?

Pat

Tried this today with some of my hives in Ireland.
Fingers crossed!

Phillip

I used the Mountain Camp Method to feed the bees in my one city hive today. Top comes off. A little rim goes on. Lay a piece of newspaper over the top bars / high clustering bees. Pour on the raw sugar. Put the top back on. Done. I had to wait for a relatively windless and warm day to do it, but it took probably less than a minute and maybe three minutes of prep time. I love it. I don’t see you how you can beat that.

Rusty

Phillip,

I agree. All year I saved the little cardboard trays that grocery store vegetables come in. I use those and so don’t even have to lay down the newspaper.

Early winter hive check | Vince Master Beekeeper

[…] Now is also a good time to check your hive’s stores.  I use the lift test: from the back of the hive, grasp the bottom and lift.  If the hive is heavy and your bees are flying, all is well.  Check again at the next warm spell.  If the hive is light, consider feeding fondant or sugar (the latter, using the mount camp method.  Google “mountain camp bee feeding” or go to http://www.honeybeesuite.com/mountain-camp-feeding/). […]

Maria

Thank you for this very helpful article. When do you start mountain camp feeding? We are in Massachusetts.

Rusty

Maria,

I usually start in December. The colonies tend to get smaller and smaller until the winter solstice (about December 21) and then the populations start to increase again, so they require extra food. That’s my rule of thumb, but if your colonies are short of food, you might want to start sooner.