One of the most essential acts of being a beekeeper is feeding your honey bees. Before the pollen and nectar flow, it is essential to build a strong colony of bees in order to maximize the honey harvest. Beekeepers need to know the types of bee feeders that are available and the advantages and disadvantages of using each type.
In the spring, feed your bees a 1:1 mixture of granulated sugar and water. I don’t boil the sugar like some books suggest. I place a 25 pound bag of sugar in a bucket and fill it with the hose till I get a good mixture. In the fall you feed mixture should be 2:1 sugar to water. You can also feed your bee’s sugar patties in the winter which go directly into the hive. Sometimes in the spring I use a pollen substitute such as BeeMax which is added to the sugar / water mixture. I found it to be very effective, but not really necessary. The bees do just as well with sugar and water. Also the BeeMax might clog some types of feeders and can also ferment in some feeders. However, the bees don’t mind the fermentation.
The first type of feeder we’ll talk about is the entrance feeder. This is an inverted container with a base that slips into the entrance of the beehive. These are good feeders when you want to give the bees a short amount of feed. They do not hold a lot and do not work well when the weather is cold. The liquid might freeze and the bees have to go to the cold entrance to get food. Also hungry deer, raccoons and skunks might knock it out of the hive for a quick snack.
The second type of feeder I use is the in hive frame feeder. These feeders do not hold a lot of sugar water but they have some advantages. They are inside the hive so the bees do not have to travel far to get food. Also they stay warm during cold months since they are internal to the hive and the bees do not have to go far. However, you have to enter the hive to fill the feeder. So during the winter months when you want to keep you hive sealed, you cannot refill it. I like these feeders for starting nucs (a small bee hive split) in the fall or spring. Because of the small amount of bees in a new nuc I don’t have to enter the nuc to refill often and the bees have a ready supply of sugar water.
Internal pale feeders are another in the hive feeder you might use. These feeders have a screen mesh that is inserted on the top of a small pale and turned upside down on the inner cover board directly in the hive. You then place a deep box around the pale and the feeder is secured. These are pretty effective feeders. The downside of them is that the screen area is about 2 inches in diameter so the amount of bees that are being feed is minimal. Also the screen board has become clogged if I used a pollen substitute in the feed. The major advantage of these feeders is that they can be replaced without really entering the hive and a new feeder quickly inserted.
The last and my favorite type of feeder is the top feeder. This is a sealed box that sits on top of the hive and sugar water is added to. The bees enter through a small series of holes and come and drink the sugar water. This is extremely efficient since a large number of bees can eat at the same time. You can also add a lot of sugar water at one time. I prefer the beemax Styrofoam feeders since they have an insulation property to them and the sugar water can stay in liquid form longer for the bees. If you decide to use this type of feeder, make sure you score the feeder with some heavy sandpaper to ensure the bees have good footing. I have minimal dead bees with this feeder.
Remember the number one rule of bee keeping: The job of the beekeeper is not to make honey of candle wax, that is the job of the bees. The beekeeper’s job is to make bees. So feed those bees and maintain happy healthy colonies.