How to Make a Bucket Feeder

Pinterest Hidden Image

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, it is useful in some situations. And the best thing is, it is very easy to make your own bucket bee feeder.

Honey bee feeding at bucket feeder.

Why would any beekeeper want to feed bees in a manner that is not the most economical? Managing beehives is not a cheap endeavor after all any anything we can do to streamline the process is good.

Pail Feeder vs Bucket Feeder

As with most things in beekeeping using a bucket feeder has pros and cons. And, it may be a technique that you only use in certain circumstances-that is how it is with me.

To clear up any confusion, using a bucket feeder is different than using a pail feeder.

A pail feeder can be any size but a one or two gallon pail is the most common. It is usually placed inside the hive 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 – you are providing sugar water to those bees only. Anything we can do to cut the costs associated with beekeeping is a plus.

Materials

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

The bucket for this project should have a water-tight lid and be clean. No funky smells or hazardous materials.

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

You want one 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.

Recommendations
This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Please read my disclosure.

How to Use

The bucket is filled with sugar water and a tight fitting lid put on. When you flip the bucket upside down – hold your hand over the lid for extra support. Syrup should fill the rib or channel where you drilled holes. Make sure the bucket is level.

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.

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.

Join Our Beekeeping Community

Free "Secrets to Successful Beekeeping" plus weekly newsletter with info about bees, beekeeping and more...

Many bees drinking from bucket feeder at bee equipment shed.

Open Feeding of Beehives

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.

Foraging honey bees fly to the feeder – attracted by the scent. They fill up with sugar syrup and take it back to the hive – in the same way that bee collect plant nectar.

It’s called a bucket feeder because… um..well its a bucket. 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 surplus food for your bees to eat.

Risks

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 predators of honey bees.

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 weaker colonies. Feeders inside the hive, even homemade jar feeders would be much better. This allows the small colony to gather food without competition.

In open feeding, your larger colonies 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. Remember, honey bees can fly quite well – they will find it if they need it.

My bees drinking from a bucket feeder image.

Using Bucket Feeder as Nectar Indicator

A bucket feeder can be used as an indicator of nectar availability. Honey bees will normally prefer natural nectar that they collect from flowers. But, flowers don’t always have nectar.

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. 

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

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.

A Final Word

There are as many types of feeders as they are beekeepers. All 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. 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.

Feeder Bucket for Bees DIY

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