Feeder Styles

Thursday 9 September 2021

Fall is fast upon us in Atlantic Canada, which means that it is time for fall beekeeping! Good management in the fall is essential for coming out of the winter with strong hives able to proliferate in the early spring. One important practice for overwintering strong colonies is to be sure they are properly full of stored honey- or stored sugar syrup! In this blog, we will provide an overview of various options for feeding your bees syrup this fall.

Feeder Styles

Six common ways that beekeepers feed their hives are through pail feeders, hive top feeders, division board feeders, empty drawn comb, Boardman feeders, and plastic bags. 

Pail feeders. Pail feeders are typically 1 gallon plastic buckets or 5-10 lb. glass jars. The tops are modified to have small holes which allow bees to access the syrup within when the container is inverted over the hive. These feeders can be home made or commercially purchased. To make your own out of a glass jar, a nail can be used to pierce about 5 holes, each approximately 1.5mm in diameter. For a plastic pail, it is recommended to create a single hole in the center of the lid about 1 inch in diameter and then cover the hole with a fine metal screen. Fill the container with syrup and then invert it over the inner cover. Once the initial dripping has stopped, place the container over the hole of the inner cover and add an empty super to surround the feeder, protecting it from the elements. Lastly, remember to place a weight on the top of the outer cover to secure the super in place. 

Hive top feeders. Hive top feeders are typically the size of a shallow super and are placed directly on top of the hive, under the inner cover. They are filled with syrup but have an entranceway which is isolated from the liquid. Through this entrance, bees can enter the feeder from the hive below and crawl over and down the walls to access the surrounding sugar syrup.

Figure 1. Hive top feeder. Image to the left shows the entrance through which the bees can access feed. Image to the right shows the protective cover in place, which floats on the surface of the syrup.

Division board feeders. These are also called frame feeders, as they assume the place of a frame within the hive, typically placed against a wall. Division board feeders are plastic containers with a floatation device, such as Styrofoam or wood, which float on top of the syrup within and allow the bees to drink without drowning. It is also common for these feeders to be fashioned with ladders or roughened inner walls to help the bees crawl down into them. Unfortunately, drowning is still quite common with division board feeders.

Figure 2. Division board feeder next to a nuc box. 

Empty drawn comb. A frame of empty drawn comb can be used as an in-hive feeder, as well. It is recommended to fill the frame by slowly submerging it into a container of syrup to properly fill the comb. This is does not provide a large volume of food but can be useful for emergency feeding as the frame can be placed directly next to the brood nest. Comb which has previously been subject to brood disease should not be used for this purpose.

Boardman feeder. Boardman feeders are not highly recommended for feeding sugar syrup. A Boardman feeder is a stand which holds an inverted quart-sized mason jar. The base of the stand is inserted into the front of the hive, through the entrance, for bees to crawl into and gain access to the liquid inside the mason jar. The placement of the jar at the entrance of the hive makes it quite vulnerable to the elements and troublesome mammals. Cold weather can freeze the syrup and hot weather can cause fermentation or added medications to become altered. Rather than feeding, the Boardman feeder is most recommended for providing water in times of drought. A quart of water during drought will go much farther than a quart of syrup. 

Plastic bag feeders. The same plastic bags that we use to hold our food can also be used to hold food for bees! Half-gallon plastic Ziplock bags can be filled about ½ - ¾ with syrup, sealed tight, and laid flat on the lid of the inner cover or top bars. Cut a 1-2 inch slit on the upper side of the laid bag and the bees will slowly access the syrup inside. 

In next week’s blog, we will continue the discussion of feeding sugar syrup with a blog about the nutritional implications of feeding bees.  

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