Making a Feeder Bucket for Honey Bees
Among many types of bee feeders, the use of a bucket feeder for bees is one of the easiest. It is not always the most economical way for a beekeeper to provide food. However, if you need to feed bees a lot of sugar water at one time, the feeder bucket idea can work. Even better, you can make your own 5 gallon bucket feeder at home with very little effort.
If you are a beekeeper, you will most likely want to make an open bucket feeder at some time. The term “open feeding” refers to a feeding station that is 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.
Open Feeding Bees Not Most Economical
Bucket feeders are easy to make and use. Of course, they are not the only way to feed bees sugar water and may not be the best way either.
I do feel that bucket feeders are good to use in some situations. But understand that you will also be feeding every insect within flying range.
Clearly this is not the most economical way to provide sugar water to colonies with low food resources. In hive feeders, even jar feeders would be much better.
Using this bucket method is different than using a pail feeder. With a pail feeder, it is usually placed inside or on top of a hive. You do not have bees from several hives trying to drink from it as you do with this feeder bucket.
In practice, you may use different feeding methods at different times of the year. If you think an open bucket feeder has a place in your apiary, lets explore how to make your own and use it properly.
What to Feed Bees In Your Bucket Feeder
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.
But is this the only thing to put in the bee feeder? Of course you can just put sugar water in the feeder – especially if you think the bees will drink it in a few days.
The 16 oz bottle lasts a long time. I add a bit to my sugar syrup – only a tablespoon per gallon and it prolongs the freshness of the mix.
I also add a few drops to any spray bottle of sugar water that I keep in my work box. This is something that I always keep on hand.
When using in an open feeder like this bucket, I add less. Perhaps only a teaspoon per gallon.
Risks with Feeder Buckets and Other Open Feeders
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.
However, because it is placed outside the hive, your bucket feeder will also end up feeding a lot of other insects.
Wasps, ants, and hornets will also be drawn to the feeder. And they wasps and hornets can be a pest of honey bee hives.
Uneven Feeding of Bee Colonies
Your larger hives (that may not need the feed as much) will collect more food than the weaker hives. It will be necessary to purchase a lot more sugar because you’re feeding the whole insect community.
Still, the volume and ease of set up gives the bucket feeder a place in my honey bee management system. It is not my primary feeding method I use it for special purposes.
I use a bucket feeder as an indicator of nectar availability. Honey bees will normally prefer natural nectar that they collect from flowers.
So, I can 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.
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.
There are many ways to provide open feeding. Some large beekeepers fill a 55 gallon drum with sugar water. They add pine needles to the drum to lessen the number of drowning bees.
Use Any Feeder Bucket Away From Hives
This is very important. 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.
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.
- Find a plastic bucket (food grade is good but not essential)
- Using a tiny drill – drill holes through the inner wall of the bucket within the reinforcement rib – but not through the outside wall
- 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.
- Place the bucket on a level surface outside away from your hives.
Final Advice on Using a Bucket Feeder for Bees
Beekeepers have many methods for feeding bees. And we don’t agree on which one is the very best.
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.