Mountain Camp Feeder for Overwintering Honey Bees
Should the bees eat all the honey a mountain camp feeder will help them through the winter
As first year beekeepers we are learning quite a bit about the life and times of honey bees. We make no pretense that we are experts at this and even seasoned beekeepers will tell you there are no experts. Beekeeping is an endeavour in which one learns constantly. One of the things we learned about, and had to in our climate, is how to overwinter your bees so they make it through to spring and the new nectar and pollen flow.
In a previous post we showed how we wrapped the hives in tarpaper to help the bees. In theory the black tarpaper absorbs the sun’s rays and helps keep the hive warm. We’re not sure about the inside of the hive but when the sun is shining the tarpaper certainly does get warm. Hey, it can’t hurt.
Another thing one should think about is emergency feeding by the use of a mountain camp feeder. Insurance if you will. Basically it’s a wooden frame with a wire mesh bottom with newspaper paced over the wire. Then you pour white cane sugar on the paper, insert it into the hive, put the outer cover on, and leave well enough alone for the winter. With the surplus honey the bees have and the sugar we provide, if they need it, they are another step closer to surviving the cold.
The mountain camp feeder serves another purpose, one we at Clean Slate Farm can verify by observation. Moisture is the kiss of death for a bee colony, the bees will freeze is water drips on them. The problem is bees in a closed up hive create moisture simply by breathing. Ventilation is the key to keeping moisture out of the hive. As you can see in the images we drill a 3/4 inch hole in the front of the mountain camp feeder. This along with the same size holes in the front of the hive body will provide air flow to help keep moisture out of the hive. The hole can be plugged with a wine cork, the benefit is to the beekeeper as we get to drink the wine and help the bees by doing so.
The mountain camp feeder helps keep moisture off the bees also. Sugar is hydroscopic, meaning it absorbs water. So if there is excess moisture in the hive that isn’t being ventilated it will rise, condense on the inner cover, and drip on the sugar. Presumably the moisture will also be attracted to the sugar before it even condenses. No matter, the mountain camp feeder helps keep moisture off the bees.
We built ours with an additional feature to maintain heat in the hive. For about four dollars you can buy 1 inch rigid foam insulation at the big box hardware store, which can be used to create an insulating lid for the mountain camp feeder. Yet another layer of protection and insulation for the hive. The insulation fits snugly into the feeder and the outer cover fits over both raising the out cover only 3/8 of an inch. Still plenty of room to keep the cover from falling off.
Should you leave the inner cover below the mountain camp feeder? We’ve read, heard, and been told differing opinions. We left ours off for this reason. If the inner cover is on any moisture that is in the hive will condense on that, not the insulation board, and then the bees. This, to our beginning beekeeper expertise, defeats one of the purposes of the system. See this post for a visual of a hive set up to help understand what we mean.
A really good site about beekeeping is Honey Bee Suite. Rusty Burlew is quite well known in beekeeping circles and has a lot of great information about beekeeping. We defer to her knowledge all the time and got the idea for our mountain camp feeder from her site.
Are you a beginning beekeeper? What have you done to help your hives?