Winter feeding is different from spring feeding because syrup cannot be used. First of all, bees won’t take liquids in the cold weather. At a certain point they just stop. So if your hive is running out of honey, the spring nectar flow hasn’t begun, or the weather is bad, you need to feed them something else.
Also, you don’t want any liquid in your hives in winter. If it evaporates it further cools the hive; if it condenses on the cover and drips down on the bees you can seriously weaken the colony. Furthermore, disease and fungus can thrive in damp, cool conditions.
Many beekeepers boil sugar in water until it reaches the “soft ball” candy stage and then pour the mixture into a frame that looks like a shallow super with a bottom. The mixture hardens in place, and the board can be inverted over the brood chamber to provide an emergency food supply. This is called a candy board.
Other folks make a similar mixture and pour it into lightly greased paper plates. The hardened disks or “sugar cakes” can be popped out of the plates and placed on top of the frames in the brood chamber. This method eliminates the dead air space between the bees and the sugar, but does require a spacer or shim.
Another option is the mountain camp feeder, also known as the dry sugar method. A mountain camp feeder is just a 2” (5 cm) super mounted between the top brood box and the inner cover. Inside of the feeder you lay several layers of newspaper so it covers ½ to ¾ of the area over the frames. On top of that, you pour granulated white sugar. Bees are known for carrying sugar crystals out of the hive and disposing of them if it is warm enough to fly, so many beekeepers spritz the pile of sugar with water until it hardens on the surface.
There are several advantages to this method:[list icon=”plus”]
- It is easy and quick. There is nothing to cook and no high temperatures to deal with.
- The sugar tends to absorb moisture from inside the hive, keeping it drier.
- The mountain camp rim can do double duty as a baggie feeder rim in the spring.
- You can add Honey-B-Healthy or a similar product to the spritzing water as a dietary supplement.