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How to Make a Bucket Feeder for Bees

Many beekeepers will experience a time when they want to provide nourishment for their colonies. There are many ways to do this. The use of a bucket feeder for bees is one of the easiest. Though not always the most economical way of feeding bees, it is useful in some situations. And the best thing is, it is very easy to make your own homemade bucket bee feeder.

My bees drinking from a bucket feeder image.

Making a Feeder Bucket for Honey Bees

Why would any beekeeper want to feed bees in a manner that is not the most economical? Well, as with most things in beekeeping using a bucket feeder has pros and cons.

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To clear up any confusion, using a bucket feeder is different than using a pail feeder. With a pail feeder, it is usually placed inside or on top of a hive. The bees inside access the syrup through a screen mesh in the lid.

With a pail feeder inverted on the hive, you are providing sugar water to that hive only. You do not have bees from several hives trying to drink from it as you do with an open feeder bucket.

Open Feeding of Honey Bees

A bucket feeder is only one example of “open feeding”. This 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.

Foraging honey bees fly to the feeder. They fill up with sugar syrup and take it back to the hive – just the same as collecting plant nectar.

It’s called a bucket feeder because… um..well its a bucket. Though of course there are other ways to make open feeders.

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Some large commercial beekeepers fill a 55 gallon drum with sugar water. They add pine needles to the drum to lessen the number of drowning bees.

Using an open feeder ( bucket or other) is not my favorite method of feeding bees.  But, it does provide the advantage of holding a lot of sugar syrup. 

This is an advantage for the beekeeper who is too busy to check feeders daily or lives far away from the bee yard. Also, you don’t have to open a hive to provide bee feed.

Risks with Open Feeder Buckets

In spite of the convenience, there are a few risks involved when using your bee bucket feeder. The main concerns are:

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

Wasps, ants, and hornets will also be drawn to the feeder. And, some of those wasps and hornets can be a predator of honey bee hives.

You may end up feeding every sugar loving insect within flying distance. This is why you will need more sugar water to ensure your colonies reap the benefits.

Clearly this is not the most economical way to provide sugar water to colonies with low food resources. Feeders inside the hive, even homemade jar feeders would be much better.

Your larger hives will collect more food than the weaker hives (who may need it worse).  It will be necessary to purchase a lot more sugar because you’re feeding the whole insect community.

Very important tips –Do Not Place an open bucket feeder near your hives! You do not want bees from other hives or wasp pests to be feeding in close proximity of 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. The bees will find it if they need it.

Using Bucket Feeder as Nectar Indicator

I use a bucket feeder as an indicator of nectar availability.  Honey bees will normally prefer natural nectar that they collect from flowers. 

In times of dry weather, I put my bucket feeder out with 1:1 sugar water.  If I see a few bees interested, that’s okay.  They must be collecting real nectar from flowers. If the bees are going wild over the feeder bucket, I know that natural nectar must be very limited

This tells me that I need to implement feeding in my regular hive feeders inside the hive or with a pail feeder on individual hives. 

In practice, you may use different feeding methods at different times of the year.  If you think this method has a place in your apiary, lets explore how to make your own bucket feeder for your bees.

Making An Bucket Feeder is Easy

The bucket for this project should have a water-tight lid and be clean. No funky smells or hazardous materials. You want one with the reinforcement rib as pictured in the video in this post.

  1. Find a plastic bucket (food grade is good but not essential)
  2. Using a tiny drill – drill holes through the inner wall of the bucket within the reinforcement rib – but not through the outside wall
  3. Fill the bucket with sugar water and invert. (test with water first). Liquid will spill out until a vacuum is created. This is messy, be outside.
  4. Place the bucket on a level surface outside away from your hives.

What to Feed Bees

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

You can measure by volume or weight. 5 pounds of sugar to 5 pounds of water or 5 cups of sugar to 5 cups of water.

I like to include an essential oil feeding stimulate. Of course, you can make your own feeding supplement for bees but I really like to use Honey B Healthy.

The 16 oz bottle lasts a long time. I add a bit to my regular sugar syrup – only a tablespoon per gallon and it prolongs the freshness of the mix. When using in an open feeder like this bucket, I add less. Perhaps only a teaspoon per gallon.

There are as many types of feeders as they are beekeepers.  All feeders have advantages and disadvantages. 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.

Try making your own bucket feeder for your bees, place it well away from the hives and see if you have any visitors.

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