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.