All beekeepers are different, which means they all have different ideas about what makes the perfect beehive. Fortunately, there’s plenty of equipment to suit the various needs of the beekeeping community. Honey bee feeders are no exception. No matter what type of hive you have or how you prefer to care for your honey bees, you’re guaranteed to find a bee feeding solution that’s perfect for your colony. Learn more about your options with our guide to the different types of honey bee feeders.
What are bee feeders?
A honey bee feeder is a type of beekeeping equipment used by beekeepers to assist their colonies in feeding. It’s a type of vessel or contraption designed to feed pollen, sugar, or honey to honey bees.
Why use bee feeders?
Bees don’t need to be manually fed all the time. Bees are self-sufficient most of the time and can find their own food for most parts of the year. However, when there’s a shortage of resources or certain conditions prevent the bees from foraging, the beekeeper needs to supplement the colony.
Beekeepers need to monitor when these shortages or conditions occur to adequately prepare for them.
When do you need a bee feeder?
A bee feeder will only be necessary in two situations. One is when you’re establishing a new colony. This will be useful in helping the bees settle into their new home and surroundings. The second is during extremely hot or cold temperatures. Under such conditions, a bee feeder will be handy to help the bees get the resources they need to function throughout the difficult seasons.
Honey Bee Feeder Types and Their Benefits
As a beginner beekeeper, you now know the importance of having a bee feeder. But which one should you get? There are many different types of bee feeders available, each with its own pros and cons. Familiarizing yourself with each type will help you determine the right feeder to get.
An entrance feeder, also called a Boardman feeder, consists of a feed jar that sits outside the hive and a feeding tray that slides into the hive’s entrance for easy access. Syrup drips from the jar into the feeding tray, where your bees can reach it. Because this jar sits outside the hive, you can easily keep an eye on the feed level. This also makes it easy for you to take the feeder apart and clean it. However, the exterior jar is vulnerable to the elements, so your feed can easily freeze and become inaccessible during cold weather.
The nice thing about using an entrance feeder is that it fits well into the hives. It's easy to assess the amount of food needed and when a refill is required. Its biggest disadvantage is how exposed it can be to the elements. It doesn’t last long in winter, and exposure to the sun can cause the food to spoil much faster during warmer seasons.
Baggie feeders feature a simple yet effective design for your beehive. They have two main components: a shallow frame that sits just below the hive’s inner cover and plastic feed bags for your syrup. Once you place the bags in the frame and carefully slit them to allow access to the syrup, your bees can safely drink the syrup.
Because baggie feeders work inside the hive, the heat from your colony keeps them from freezing and becoming inaccessible. However, the bags themselves can create a mess if you’re not careful, and you have to replace the bags often.
Baggie feeders are budget friendly if you’re looking to use them for a few feeding sessions. If your colony needs to be supplemented for much longer, buying single-use bags can easily get expensive over time.
Of all the different types of bee feeders, top feeders are among the strongest and most durable. They hold a large amount of syrup—up to four gallons for a 10-frame hive—and their design makes it easy for you to refill your feed without opening the hive. Experts have created an improved design that includes a steel safety screen to keep your bees from crawling inside and drowning within the feeder. Many beekeepers prefer this feeder type, especially those with many hives.
If you want to keep your feeders safe from pests and other bee colonies, pro feeders are the way to go. These feeders sit in the hive in place of one of your normal frames. They hold a decent amount of syrup, and because you can remove them as easily as any frame, they're easy to refill. Many beekeepers fear their bees drowning in division board feeders, but the pro feeder includes a cap and ladder system that seals the feeding tubes and minimizes the danger for your colony.
How to use and maintain a bee feeder
Using a bee feeder is a pretty straightforward process. Depending on the type of feeder used, the bee food, which can either be honey, sugar, or pollen, is simply placed in the feeding receptacle and applied to the hive. While it can seem simple, there are important rules to remember.
- Use white sugar. The composition of white sugar—sucrose, is the closest to the composition of nectar.
- Avoid dark-colored, unrefined sugars such as brown and raw sugar or even bottled syrup and molasses. These can cause your bees to get sick and die. The solids in these types of sugars are often a death sentence to the fuzzy insects.
- Don't feed a colony honey that was taken from another hive. This helps prevent any potential cross-over of diseases and parasites.
- You can use the colony’s own honey to feed the bees in it.
Keeping these tips in mind will help you make sure your feeding process does not harm or affect your colony in a negative way.
How to make sugar syrup for your bee feeder
A syrup is essentially a solution of sugar in water. To make the syrup for your feeder, simply boil the sugar before adding it to the water. Never boil the sugar and the water together. This can cause the mixture to caramelize, which is deadly for the bees. The water must also be hot to dissolve the sugar.
If resources are scarce, you can use a weaker formula of one part sugar and one part water or a stronger formula of two parts sugar and one part water.
Usually, a 1:1 ratio is enough for spring feeding, while a 2:1 ratio might be needed for the fall.
Remember to always keep the feeder clean to avoid mold growth on the bee food.
When to stop feeding?
Normally, the bees will return to their normal foraging behavior once food sources are available again. You might start to notice the bees losing interest in the feeder. Monitor the season and the colony closely, as they will help you tell when to stop the manual feeding process.
In principle, the feeders should only be used when the bees really need help. Otherwise, they are just fine fending for themselves and can hold the colony strong on their own.
What is the best feeder for honey bees?
Top feeders are widely considered to be the most efficient and well-built feeder type. They are easy to install, economical, and offer a great way to keep your bees well-fed.
However, this is a topic that's also highly debated in the beekeeping community. The best feeder will ultimately depend on your needs and the resources available to you. Additionally, a lot of beekeepers are coming up with ingenious new ways to feed their beloved bees regularly, so it’s good to learn from others too.
As a beginner beekeeper, you will benefit from a healthy dose of research and experience to determine the best type of feeder that works best for you and your bees.
In conclusion, there are several types of bee feeders available to help support bees in their natural habitat. Each type has its own unique benefits and drawbacks, and the best option will depend on your specific needs and preferences. If you're looking to start a new colony or prepare the one you have for overwintering, the right time to explore the best option is now.
Shop honey bee feeders at Mann Lake and choose the one that works best for you and your colony!
We carry a wide selection of high-quality feeders which you can browse and buy online right now. We ship to 48 states in the USA.
If you’re still unsure of your choice or don’t know where to begin, we are ready to answer your questions and help you find the right product for your beekeeping needs. Just give us a call at 1 (800) 880-7694.