In New England, we feed our bees. Not like it’s our special skill, most beekeepers do it, but in New England, where the summers are short, and the nectar doesn’t flow with regularity, feeding is almost a necessity. Remember though, that you’re feeding them sugar, which is not nectar or pollen. But that’s a topic for another post…
When you ask a beekeeper which feeder type works best, each one will tell you, with the voice of conviction, that they’ve tried them all, and only one works best. Well, that’s a load of crap.
There are many feeder types, and the one that works best is the one that works best for your bees – period. Each style has its pros and cons, and I’ve tried a few. I’ll share in the following posts which ones work best for my bees and my lifestyle but you should do some experimenting and see for yourself.
The one I’ve found that’s easy for my lifestyle, and my bees take to it, is the inverted pail feeder. The idea is that you get a bucket (I use clear mason jars) punch a few small holes in the top, fill it with syrup, and invert it. While it will leak quite a few drops when first inverted, the pressure will stop the leaking in a few seconds, and leave small droplets of syrup for your bees. It’s easy, not very messy, cheap to make, and since mason jars are clear, it’s very easy to see if they need to be refilled or if the syrup has started to mold. I use half-gallon mason jars with five holes punched in the top, and then set it upside down on two wooden strips of wood. The key is to keep the jar lid level to the ground, so make sure the wooden strips are the same height, and that they are about 1/2″ high. This leaves room for the bees to crawl under the jar and drink from the bottom. With each drop of syrup the drink, another one appears from the hole.
Now I point out that I like this type for my lifestyle because I am lazy. I love beekeeping, and will go to great lengths for my bees, but if the methods are too difficult, I quickly start cutting corners. For instance, I use a half-gallon jar because it’s big, and typically only needs to be changed out once a week in my climate. It clear, so with a quick peak under the hive top, I can see if it needs to be refilled. Easy for me to use, and it works for my bees, a win-win.
The downside is that you have to balance it on the two strips, and it may leak a little, especially when you first put it in the hive. I find the bees just lick up the small leaks, so that’s not a big deal for me. I also turn them upside down outside the hive, so the first few seconds of drippings land in the bushes, not the hive. They are glass, and heavy when full of syrup, so I suppose you could drop and shatter one which would be a big mess, but as of yet I haven’t broken one.
Another downside is the height. These types of feeders are placed on top of the inner cover, and without a feeder, the hive top goes snugly on top of the inner cover. With a half-gallon mason jar on top of two wooden sticks, it’s just too tall, so I’ve found a “deep” sized honey super box on top of the inner cover will raise the hive edge tall enough to clear the mason jar, and allow the top to be put back on. So, this type of feeder takes an extra deep sized honey super out of use by the bees. Not the end of the world, but it means your cheap feeder just got more expensive, and your hive just got taller.
In another post I’ll talk about the Miller type feeder. I’ve also tried it with good results, and it has a few advantages over the inverted pail style.