Winter Feeding Bees Dry Sugar: A Practical Guide

Winter can be a challenging time for honey bees. It’s too cold to go outside and there are no flowers in bloom. Beekeepers often turn to supplementary feeding to ensure their colonies have enough sustenance to survive the cold months. Dry granulated sugar provides a simple and cost-effective way to nourish the bees until the weather warms up.

Winter Feeding Bees Dry Sugar

By feeding bees dry granulated sugar, the cluster of bees within the hive utilize the moisture that condenses on the surface of the sugar, allowing them to consume it without the need for added water. This is particularly useful in colder climates where temperatures drop below 50°F (10°C), rendering sugar syrups and other liquid feeds unsuitable due to the risk of freezing or causing increased humidity within the hive. While this feeding method is effective for emergencies, it should not be relied upon as a primary source of nutrition for bees if they have stored enough honey.

When temperatures drop below 50°F (10°C), beekeepers use fondant, sugar cakes, or granulated sugar instead of syrup. Dry sugar can be sprinkled directly onto a newspaper above the frames of a hive or using a feeding shim above the frames.

Benefits of Dry Sugar Feeding

Feeding bees dry sugar, also known as the Mountain Camp Method, has several advantages over other feeding methods.

First, it’s simple. The dry sugar is placed directly on the hive’s top bars or paper without elaborate preparation. This is much easier than preparing candy boards or sugar syrup, which require the beekeeper to spend more time and resources preparing the feed.

Another advantage of dry sugar feeding is its ability to convert into a candy board with time. As the bees consume the sugar, they generate moisture, which eventually turns the dry sugar into a candy-like substance. This natural transformation keeps the sugar in place above the frames.

Dry sugar feeding also helps decrease moisture in the hive. Feeding sugar water to bees can introduce excessive humidity, which can kill your bees. However, dry sugar doesn’t introduce any additional moisture into the hive.

While honey bees may prefer liquid nectar, they will still feed on dry sugar. A PubMed study observed that honey bees could effectively consume dry sugar as an alternative to their primary food source, giving beekeepers a viable option when feeding bees throughout winter.

Dry Sugar Feeding Methods

Mountain Camp Method

The Mountain Camp Method is a simple and effective way to provide dry sugar to your bees during winter. To use this method, follow these steps:

  1. Place a sheet of newspaper on top of the top bars or inner cover of the hive.
  2. Spread a layer of dry sugar, around 2-4 lbs, on the newspaper.
  3. Close the hive with an outer cover, ensuring that it is well-ventilated. If possible, place a spacer above the frames to provide enough space for the bees to access the sugar.

Sugar Brick Method

Another method for providing dry sugar to bees during winter is the Sugar Brick Method. This technique involves creating sugar bricks or cakes and placed inside the hive. To create sugar bricks:

  1. Mix 5 parts granulated sugar with 1 part water in a large bowl.
  2. Stir the mixture until it has a dough-like consistency.
  3. Press the mixture into a mold, such as a small baking pan or plastic container.
  4. Allow the sugar bricks to dry for 24-48 hours, then remove them from the mold.

To feed your bees using sugar bricks, place the bricks directly on the top bars or inner cover of the hive. 

Monitoring and Maintenance

It’s crucial to keep an eye on the sugar supply in the hive and replenish it when needed. Many beekeepers lose their colonies just as spring begins due to starvation. The stronger the colony, the faster they’ll consume the sugar. You don’t need to open up the whole hive during the hive. If you peek under the cover and notice they are running low, that’s enough. In order to avoid chilling your bees, insert more sugar when needed without lifting the frames. Keep the cluster in formation.

In addition to monitoring the sugar supply, be prepared to provide supplementary nourishment by offering a pollen substitute, as spring begins. This will support the colony’s expansion, gearing up for splits when the flowers bloom.

Lastly, maintain proper hive ventilation to regulate temperature and prevent mold growth. Make sure to clear any snow or debris blocking the hive entrance, ensuring proper air circulation. Occasional hive inspection will also help identify any potential issues, such as queenless ness or signs of disease, and allow for timely intervention.

Potential Drawbacks

Feeding dry sugar to honey bees during winter may have some drawbacks. Granulated sugar is nutritionally inferior to natural nectar or honey. According to the NSW Department of Primary Industries, when feeding sugar to honey bees, white sugar (sucrose) is the preferred sugar to feed to bees, but it’s not an exact substitute for their natural diet.

Using dry sugar as a feed, particularly within the hive, might also attract ants or other pests, compromising the colony’s well-being. Beekeepers recommend placing dry sugar inside the hives in the evening to minimize the risk of robbing from other colonies, indicating that improper feeding practices can create unintended consequences.

Alternative Winter Food Sources

Dry sugar can be fed to the bees in multiple ways, such as:

  • Candy boards
  • Fondant
  • Sugar bricks
  • Granulated sugar poured onto newspaper

These alternatives are typically placed just above the cluster, ensuring that the bees can easily access the supplementary food source.

Winter patties provide a more nutrient-dense alternative for the bees compared to just dry sugar. They are made from sugar, water, and pollen or protein supplements. If your colony requires a boost, especially toward the end of winter, these patties can help push those numbers up.


Feeding bees dry sugar should be used only in emergencies when they have run out of stored honey and are unable to forage. 

Incorporating dry sugar into a sugar cake can be a helpful way to provide nourishment for the bees, with minimal disruption to their natural behaviors. Monitor the situation of the hive throughout the winter months to ensure the colony stays healthy and strong.

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