Last Updated on October 20, 2021
The Mountain Camp method of feeding bees is a simple method to place dry granulated sugar on the top of a hive. It is similar in many ways to making a candy board. There are noticeable differences and we will review the mountain camp method of feeding bees as a way of feeding bees dry sugar.
The Mountain Camp Method Of Feeding Bees
This method is really, really simple. You place a sheet of newspaper on top of the frames at the top of the hive. The sheet must be smaller than the hive box so that the bees can get around the paper to the sugar.
On top of the paper, you pour a bit of granulated sugar and then spray this down with some water. This glues the sugar together, and the fact that some of the sugar is now wet also helps the bees discover that it is sugar. If the bees do not discover it is sugar they will cart it out of the hive and dump it outside.
When it is cold in winter, much like the Candy Board method, the moisture condenses in the sugar. The moisture dissolves the sugar and the bees consume this sugar solution. The result is more moisture, which dissolves more sugar and so the cycle goes on.
This method was originally promoted on a few beekeeping chat groups by “Mountain Camp” hence it got named after this user. Before that, there were people who would use similar methods to put dry sugar in the top of hives. But the “Mountain Camp Method” works.
A Note On Newspaper Use
Inks can contain heavy metals. Bees will eat the newspaper with time and or these inks can dissolve into the sugar. Many inks still contain toxic compounds – generally, there has been a move away from heavy metals as pigments. This does not mean the “heavy metal-free” inks are non-toxic. They just don’t contain heavy metals. Azo dyes and various other synthetic pigments are actually quite toxic and should best be precluded from being put in the hive.
My advice would be to use straight newspaper sheets that are unprinted. Or to use a product such as this. We live in a world where hundreds of thousands of new man-made chemicals are circulating in our environment. Bees possess complex little brains, and the last thing you want is to have brain-damaged bees emerging from the hive in spring and getting lost and not making it back to the hive. That sounds suspiciously like Colony Collapse Disorder but I digress.
How To Avoid The Bees Carting The Sugar Out
Bees seem to need a bit of a nudge to understand what crystals are and how to dissolve them. I have had a situation where I used a version of the Mountain Camp method for feeding my bees. I came to the hives two days later and the ground in front of the hives was white with sugar. The newspaper was chewed to shreds. A complete fail.
My personal observation is that the Mountain Camp method works. Just set it up just before the conditions get really cold and the bees cannot leave the hive at all. In these cold conditions, condensation forms in the sugar, and the bees figure out that they can eat the sugar.
I have experimented with this method with dry powder sugar, and sugar I have sprayed down. My general observation is that you will have more success if you spray the sugar down with water after you place it on the newspaper. The dissolved sugar gets them going.
My first mistake was to be clever and modify the method. My area is quite windy, hence I thought it would make sense to place the paper under one side of my spacer square. I made 2 inch thick spacers to place under my inner cover and then use those to make space for the newspaper sheet and a few pounds of sugar.
The thinking was that placing the paper under the spacer would hold it in place. This was the case – however when it rained the moisture wicked in through the paper. This made the paper sticky and wet – the bees then ate the paper and the sugar fell through the brood nest and caused problems.
Newspaper versus wax paper – with my bees I have found that wax baking paper works better. Experiment and find out what works best for you. You will find that some bees seem to have the “bubble wrap syndrome”. This is like the person that cannot stop popping bubble wrap. Not everybody has this problem. It is the same with bees. Some bees will eat paper, others will not.
How Much Sugar
This will depend on your circumstances. My area has mild winters, but they are dry and cold for one-week patches followed by mild weather for 1-week patches. In my area, I have found that about two pounds of sugar met the needs of my bees to get through this patch.
The nice thing with the Mountain Camp method is that you can always open the hive and have a look on a warmer day and just check the sugar levels. The newspaper layer helps to protect the brood nest against heat loss, hence opening the lid and looking quickly works.
If you see that the sugar levels are a bit low, then you can always add a bit more. Carry a bucket of sugar with you, and a large yogurt scoop or a jug. Scoop one or two scoops of sugar onto the newspaper as needed and spray with water then close the hive quickly to prevent additional heat loss.
A Note On Sugar Types
Ideally, buy plain white granular sugar. Read the ingredients – if it says “Sugar” then it is fine. If it says “Sugar and starch” or something like that, do not use that sugar. Sugar with starch or other additives will cause big problems and kill your bees.
I remember having a discussion with a beekeeper who had fed their bees “Erythritol” sugar substitute. He has bought a big bag of this from one of those places that sell damaged packets of foodstuffs. The bags were very inexpensive, and the beekeeper used the Mountain Camp method to feed this to his bees with disastrous consequences.
We hope this article has helped you understand how to use the Mountain Camp method to feed your bees. Share if you found it useful.
Dr. Garth A. Cambray is a Canadian/South African entrepreneur and beekeeper with 28 years of experience in apiculture and specializes in adding value to honey. His Ph.D. research developed a new advanced continuous fermentation method for making mead that has resulted in a number of companies globally being able to access markets for mead. His company, Makana Meadery, exports honey mead to the USA where it is available to discerning connoisseurs. He has also developed technologies to commercially manufacture organic honey vinegar in Zambia for export globally. He holds a few patents globally in the ethanol industry and believes in technology and knowledge transfer for human development and environmental sustainability. One of his proudest achievements is the fact that the wind farm he started at one of his old apiary sites has essentially made his hometown carbon neutral.