Choosing which type of bee feeders to use for your honey bees is an important decision. There are several styles to choose from and each has pros and cons. In this guide, I provide the factors to consider as you look for the feeder that best suits your beekeeping goals.
With years of beekeeping experience, I am familiar with the struggles of making sugar water for bees in a efficient manner. Getting it to the bee yard and into the hives that need it-is not always easy.
Choosing Bee Feeders for Your Hives
There are many different types of honey bee feeders for beekeepers to use. Each method of feeding has advantages and disadvantages. None are perfect – otherwise we would all be using the same thing!
Here are the most common:
- boardman feeders
- mason jar feeders
- hive top feeders
- frame feeders
- pail feeders
- open feeding
Boardman Feeder (Entrance Feeder)
The boardman feeder is the most popular type that appears in most beekeeping kits. It is used with a regular glass jar and fits into the front hive entrance.
- easy to refill
- clear container shows when its empty
- smell will attract wasps and other insects
- may increase chances or robbing
- does not hold much syrup
A beekeeper can easily see when to refill. But, this type of feeder does have its problems. A hungry colony can drain this in a couple of hours -are you available to refill it several times a day?
An even bigger issue, food hanging on the front of the hive can encourage robbing bee attacks. If you want to use a boardman feeder, it is best to place it inside the hive – with an extra box to enclose the feeder.
Mason Jar Feeder
This is basically the same as the boardman without the fancy wooden holder. It is really easy to make a mason jar bee feeder, because almost everyone has an extra glass jar around.
One easy way to use jar feeders is to purchase or make 4 jars feeders. Place all 4 inside the hive – sitting on the inner cover and elevated just a bit.
Use an extra deep hive box or brood box to enclose the jars and then put the top back on the hive. This allows the bees to have access to a gallon of food inside the hive.
Rather than placing it inside the hive – some beekeepers use a temporary hive top with a 1″ – 2″ hole in the top.
The upside-down jar is placed over the hole so bees can reach the feeder holes. Weigh down the jar with a brick or strap. We do not want the wind or a raccoon to push the jar over.
Hive Top Feeders
Hive top feeders sit on top of the hive under the telescoping top. They may be made of wood or plastic. This feeder will hold around 1-2 gallons of bee syrup and will feed the colony for several days.
- easy to fill without disturbing colony
- holds a lot of food
- they have a tendency to leak over time
- they are heavy when filled
- care must be taken to avoid spilling syrup around the hive
- if the lid does not fit tight – a robbing frenzy may result
A frame feeder takes the place of one frame in the hive body. If the hive normally holds 10 regular frames, you will use 9 regular frames and 1 feeder frame.
Having the same dimensions as a frame of honeycomb, this frame has 2 solid walls with an open cavity to hold sugar water.
- holds up to 1 gallon of syrup (or more)
- located inside the hive close to the cluster
- good option in cool weather because bees can access the food easily
- beekeeper has to open the hive to refill
- some bees will drown in the feeders
- they may leak over time
If you choose to use frame feeders, put some type of floating material inside the compartment to reduce drowning. I have used small sticks or wooden Popsicle sticks.
The pail feeder is one of the most popular ways to feed sugar water to bees. A small plastic pail with a mesh feeder hole holds 1 gallon of sugar syrup.
- lightweight and easy to handle
- holds at least 1 gallon of food
- can be inside the hive – accessible to bees in all weather
- easy to refill without disturbing colony very much
- requires extra equipment
- mesh hole may be filled with fresh bee propolis if you let it become empty
- a small amount of liquid is wasted when first inverted
To use, fill the bucket with your sugar water and close the lid tightly. When you turn the bucket upside down, some syrup will escape until a vacuum forms. (It’s a good idea to have a bowl or something handy to catch this extra syrup).
Place the upside down bucket directly on top of the frames or over the hold in the inner cover. Bees will feed from the mesh feeder hole in the bucket (or small holes drilled by the manufacturer).
Like the boardman feeders, pail feeders inside the hive require extra equipment. An empty hive body or deep around the pail allows the hive to be closed.
If you choose, you can use a temporary hive top with a small hole drilled in the center. Place your upturned pail over the hole. A brick or rock on top of the bucket will prevent wind damage.
Open Feeding in the Bee Yard
Some beekeepers enjoy providing food in an open container. Commercial beekeepers often use this method because is it easy to feed a lot of colonies at once.
- easy to do – not filling individual feeders
- no feeders to clean
- no special equipment needed
- provides a lot of bee syrup
- not an economical way to feed
- bees will drown in the container
- bees can’t access food in bad weather
- can cause robbing if used near the hives
This method for feeding bees has some merits but it is also risky. It is not economical because you end up feeding every bee, wasp and yellow jacket in the area. Some bee death also results from fighting at the feeder or drowning.
If you do plan to try open feeding, ensure that the feeders are well away from your hives. A distance of at least 60-100 feet is best.
Open feeding can be worthwhile in certain situations. I use it as an indicator of natural forage. If the bees are getting a lot of natural nectar, they will ignore the open feeder.
If they attack the feeder in mass, they are not finding a lot of food in the field. Then, I know it may be time to consider feeding internally.
One easy method to practice open feeding is to make a bucket feeder. At least in this case, there is no drowning to worry about.
Selecting the ideal feeder depends on factors such as hive size, bee behavior, and local conditions.
The frequency of refilling a bee feeder varies based on factors like bee population, nectar availability, and seasonal changes. You should always monitor feeder levels.
While most types of liquid bee food could be place in a bee feeder, it is best to only provide simple sugar water for your bees.
Bee feeders should only be used when colonies are low on stores, a new colony needs extra food or their is a shortage of natural food.
The best way to ensure your bee feeders are not feeding other insects is to use internal feeders and reduce the entrance of the beehive to keep out unwanted intruders.
When you find the proper bee feeder for your colonies, the job of providing extra nutrition becomes much easier. Keep them filled and clean to avoid contamination and always monitor your colonies when feeders are in place.