Make a Bucket Bee Feeder

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One of the easiest ways to provide nourishment for your hives is to make a bucket bee feeder using a 5 gallon bucket. While not as economical as feeding inside the hive, open feeding does have some advantages. Best of all, a bucket feeder for bees is incredibly easy to make. There are several ways to do this – I will share my favorite. Let’s get started.

Honey bee feeding at homemade bucket feeder.

Taking care of bees is hard work and not inexpensive either. In fact, providing sugar water to bees costs some money too. The advantage of using this feeder type is that you are not wasting money on a commercial feeder. And, almost everyone has a bucket?

Pail Feeder vs Bucket Feeder

Let’s start by clearing up a bit of confusion. This type of bee bucket feeder is different than using a pail feeder.

A pail feeder can be any size but a small one or two gallon pail is the most common. It is usually placed inside the hive (with another outside box around it) or on top of a hive.

Bees inside the hive access the syrup through a screen mesh (or small holes) in the lid of the pail. When used on top of a hive, a small hole is drilled in the outer cover, with the holes in the pail lid directly over it.

This is a economic method of feeding as only the bees in the hive benefit. Anything we can do to cut the costs associated with beekeeping is a plus.

Bucket Method

The bucket method provides a large amount of feed to any hungry bee in the region. It is placed well away from any hives.

Why would any beekeeper want to feed bees in a manner that is not the most economical? Sometimes it is about time saved and a desire to streamline the feeding process. Again, not my preferred method but it does have some benefits. Let’s make one.

Materials

  • bucket with lid
  • drill
  • small drill bit
  • level (optional)

Bucket and Lid

The bucket for this project should have a water-tight lid and be clean (ish). Food grade is always preferable but not a requirement – though they are easy to obtain.

No funky smells or hazardous materials. A old pickle bucket is not a good choice unless you have been able to safely remove all the vinegar smell.

You want a bucket with the reinforcement rib as pictured in the video that goes with this post – also see the images in the how to card at the bottom of this post.

White plastic bucket and lid suitable for making an open feeder. Red arrow shows the reinforcement rib that forms a feeding channel.

Most beekeepers use a 5 gallon bucket to make a bee bucket feeder. But, as I get older that bucket of sugar water gets heavier! You can use a 3 gallon bucket just as well – I have even made smaller ones.

However, if you have several hives you need more drinking space for your bees to sit or they will fight at the feeder.

How to Make the Bucket Feeder

step by step directions on making a 5 gallon bucket into a bee feeder.

1. Full instructions are below but here are the main steps. Make sure your bucket has the reinforcement rib and a watertight lid. When we turn the bucket upside down – that reinforcement rib is going to be the trough that holds our sugar water!

2. Use a drill with a small bit (really size does not matter – just small) and drill one hole in the bucket wall from the inside of the bucket outward – for each one of the little compartments of the reinforcement ring.

With a white bucket you can clearly tell where the little compartments are.
Do not drill a hole through the outer rib wall – this is what will hold the syrup in so the bees can drink.

3. This shows the bucket with the holes drilled (but you can see them – they are on the inside) and the lid is on. I tested with water first to make sure it was working correctly.

4. Fill the bucket (almost full) with sugar water and add a tight fitting. When you flip the bucket upside down – hold your hand over the lid bottom for extra support.

Syrup should fill run through the holes you drilled through the inner bucket wall into the channel. Place the bucket on a level spot – well AWAY from your beehives.

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How to Use

When using the bucket feeder method, I normally use a 1:1 sugar syrup ratio. This is 1 part pure cane sugar mixed with 1 part warm water.

I like to include an essential oil feeding stimulate – even though this can increase the chances of robbing activity. Be careful, don’t use too much and don’t spill any near the hive.

Of course, you can make your own bee feeding supplement with essential oils but I really like to use Honey B Healthy. The 16 oz bottle lasts a long time.

Many bees drinking from bucket feeder at bee equipment shed.

Open Bucket Feeding Cautions

A bucket feeder is only one example of “open feeding”. This beekeeping term refers to any feeding station that is outside -away from the hive. It is accessible by many bees from different hives at one time.

As with most things in beekeeping using a bucket feeder has pros and cons. It’s called a bucket feeder because… um..well its a bucket.

Using an open feeder (bucket or other) is not my favorite method. But, it does provide the advantage of holding a lot of sugar syrup. A plus for the beekeeper who is too busy to check feeders daily or lives far away from the bee yard.

When feeding large numbers of bees in Fall, buckets can be an option (though still not the most economical).

Also, you don’t have to open a hive. It may be a technique that you only use in certain circumstances-that is how it is with me.

My bees drinking from a bucket feeder image.

How I Use It as a Nectar Indicator

I primarily use my bucket feeder as an indicator of nectar availability. In times of dry weather, I put my bucket feeder out with a little1:1 sugar water. If I see a few bees interested, that’s okay. They must be collecting real nectar from flowers too.

If the bees are going wild over the feeder bucket, I know that natural nectar must be very limited – a nectar dearth!

In this case, I will stop the bucket feeder to stop the fighting at the feeder. And switch to regular feeders inside the hive or a pail feeder on individual hives. 

Risks

There are a few risks involved when using your bee bucket feeder.

  • wasting money on sugar
  • weakest colonies won’t get the most food
  • starting honey bee robbing in your apiary

Ants, hornets and (even though they are different than bees) – Wasps, will also be drawn to the feeder – some are predators of honey bees. You will spend more money on sugar that does not go to your hives.

Bee feeders inside the hive, even homemade mason jar feeders allow small colonies to gather food without competition. They are better in most situations.

Do Not Place an open bucket feeder near your hives! This may result in weaker hives being victims of robber bees.

Place your bucket feeder outside in a good location well away (100 feet or more ) from your hives. Remember, honey bees can fly quite well – they will find it if they need it.

A Final Word

Open feeding is not my favorite way to providing supplemental feeding for my honey bee colonies. However, there are times when it comes in handy. Think about making your own feeder bucket for your bees but place it well away from the hives and monitor any activity.

Worker bee drinking sugar water at bucket feeder.

DIY Bucket Feeder for Bees

Charlotte Anderson @ Carolina Honeybees, LLC
Learn how to make a DIY feeder bucket for your beehives using a 3 or 5 gallon bucket and lid.
5 from 1 vote

This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Read my Disclosure.

Tools

  • Drill
  • Small drill bit

Supplies
 

  • 1 piece Bucket 5 gallon or 3 gallon

Instructions
 

  • Choose a plastic bucket with a tight fitting lid. A 5 gallon bucket is common but a 3 gallon version will do as well. The bucket needs to have a rim or collar near the top.
    Five gallon bucket for bee feeder with red arrow pointing to the collar.
  • Use a drill with a small bit to make holes from the inside wall of the bucket towards the outside. One hole per section of the collar. Do not drill through the outer wall of the collar.
    Using drill to make holes from the inside out around the bucket collar.
  • Check the fit of your lid. It should fit snuggly with no leaks. Try it with some water to make sure.
    DIY bee feeder bucket with lid.
  • With the bucket upside down (lid on tightly) the red arrow shows where the bees will drink sugar water.
    Bee feeder ports in the rim of a bucket.
  • Fill the bucket with sugar water and place lid on tightly. Outside at a place well away from the hives, flip the bucket over quickly. Some sugar water will run out until a vacuum is reached.
    Make sure you have a level place to sit your feeder bucket before filling it with sugar water.
    Bucket bee feeder outside with a level to make sure it sits properly.

Video

Notes

Any size bucket with a tight fitting lid will work.  Three gallon size is best for some – even though 5 gallon holds more syrup.   Will you be able to quickly flip over a 5 gallon bucket full of sugar water?
Expect to have some spillage.  The more syrup you have in the bucket the less waste as the vacuum will happen quicker.
Learn more about bees and using products from the hive!Join me on Pinterest – @carolinahoneyb