feeding bees

Mountain Camp feeding: what it is, how to do it

A brood box sliced horizontally to make ekes or feeder rims for mountain camp feeding or baggie feeding.

Mountain camp feeding is a way to feed dry sugar to your bees in winter. It is simple and can easily save your colony from starvation.

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. You can use the Mountain Camp method of 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. Some people call it “bar sugar” or “baker’s sugar” and buy it 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 difficult 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: You can dissolve the sugar chunks in water to make spring syrup or you can store them 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, too.

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 substitutes 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 overheating the pollen substitute.

Q: What are the disadvantages of 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.

Honey Bee Suite


  • 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

    • 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?

  • 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.

    • 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.

  • […] 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 https://www.honeybeesuite.com/mountain-camp-feeding/). […]

    • 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.

  • Hello, I was wondering if this method of feeding eliminates the need for a quilt. I’m in Ohio and our winter temperatures can fluctuate to extremes and are very unpredictable.

  • Hello Rusty,

    Just reading through this thread about winter feeding – am faced with having to do so this year – I’ve provide honey in frames and also saved honey in baggies but still the hives haven’t stored what I’d like them to. We had a dismal summer here in southern Ontario – most hives were consuming summer honey just to stay alive, let alone build comb and make honey (yields are down by up to 2/3 over last year).

    My question – given the timing, I’m considering providing sugar feeding since honey doesn’t seem to be the answer. I use deep inner covers (about 3 1/2″ deep), so could easily put 10 lbs of damp sugar in and then lay a piece of 1″ blue styrofoam for insulation and then add my telescoping cover. Or, I could add a chimney feeder on top of the upper brood box, fill it with damp sugar and then put on my insulated inner cover etc. Do you think the bees would travel up the chimney to feed on the sugar?

    Thanks for much for the thoughtful and thorough answers you provide, not to mention the wit and humour you inject at times.


    • John,

      In my opinion, it is best to keep the sugar as close to the winter cluster as possible. I like to place the damp or dry sugar directly over the cluster so they don’t have to travel too far to get the food. That said, I never tried a chimney feeder on a winter cluster, so I can’t be 100% sure.

  • Ten questions about Mountain Camp feeding

    I have Italians. Does it matter if the newspaper is in Spanish?

  • New to hives. When laying down newspaper under the sugar, how do the bees get to it? Are you supposed to leave gaps or a hole or will they chew through it? Thanks!!

  • Hi, I’m a new beekeeper and going into cold weather in Vermont. What do you think of adding Bee Pro to a mountain camp patty to help out for the winter? I have a 1 lb jar of it and I was thinking of adding half of it to the patty.

    thanks, sonny

    • Sonny,

      You can do that if you want, but the bees don’t really need it now. It’s more important after the colony begins raising brood again, which is soon after the winter solstice.

  • I made a quilt box out of an empty medium super. I stapled hardware cloth about 2″ up from the bottom. I plan on using the 2″ space for Mountain camp and the rest of that medium will be full of cedar shavings for a quilt box. On top of the quilt box will be the inner cover with a small notch for ventilation.

    I also added an upper entrance hole so the bees can get out if the lower hole becomes plugged.

    Does this sound right?

      • Question: Is it imperative to have a top entrance? I’m having trouble figuring out how to provide one, now that I’ve put a super on with insulation in the top half, room for the moutain camp feeding below this.

        • Ericka,

          No, it’s not imperative, only an option. If you don’t have much moisture accumulating at the top of the hive, you should be fine without an upper entrance.

  • I insulated my hive with 1″ insulation, and put a 9″ super on top with fabric on the bottom and filled it with pine shavings to wick off the moisture, put in a mountain patty and the bees were fine. Now they are all dead. There was lots of honey for them too but the cluster of bees was small. when I looked the other day they were scattered throughout the hive. I guess it’s just one of those things.

    • Sonny,

      I doubt the insulation, fabric, shavings, or pollen patty had anything to do with colony death. More likely it was a disease, such as nosema, or a virus, or mite infestation.

  • I don’t know what killed them, I do treat for mites so I don’t think its that. I think I’m going to start fresh in the spring, I have bees coming and I’m going to make a new hive.

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