An Improvised Feeder


We installed 7-litre frame feeders in our hives over the past few weeks. The feeders take up the space of two frames inside the brood box and the bees go to town on the syrup faster than they ever did with the Boardman feeders, probably because about ten times more bees can get at the syrup. We like the frame feeders for that reason and because they only require re-filling every ten days or so, and they don’t seem to attract as many wasps as Boardman feeders. (Ants are another story.) The only downside to a frame feeder this large is that is doesn’t leave any wiggle room for the remaining eight frames. I had to use the frame gripper for the first time today because I couldn’t slide the frames to loosen them.

We decided to remove the feeder from Hive #1 today because the bees have filled all the frames and they need the extra two frames of space the feeder was taking up.

On the left, you can see how wide the feeder is compared to the frames next to it. It’s also very heavy when it’s full. Use a funnel to refill it once it’s installed. Pulling it out to refill it, you’re just asking for trouble. On the right is a close-up showing how many bees can crawl down the bee ladder to the drink up the syrup.

A frame full of honey on the top and sides. Brood in the middle. Jenny had to hold this frame while I removed the feeder. The other side of the frame was full of honey. A line of it got scraped off by the feeder because it was so tight up against it. I should have removed the feeder before the bees began building on the frame next to it.

On the left, a photo of me installing one of two foundationless frames between drawn frames. For the record, Hive #1 has a total of 6 foundationless frames, 2 on top, 4 on the bottom. The bees have no problem filling those frames with honey and brood. The photo on the right shows me placing a medium super on top of the inner cover. The improvised feeder will go inside.

This is the improvised / experimental feeder. The casserole dish holds a little over 2 litres of syrup. The wooden bridges prevent the bees from drowning. The bridges are held together with fabric medical tape and will bend as the syrup level goes down. The bees come up through the bee escape hole in the middle of the inner cover. If this works, I’ll just lift the outer cover up every four or five days and refill the casserole dish.

If I had another brood box (or deep super), I’d follow exactly the same set up, but I’d just install the double frame feeder instead. I wish there were frame feeders for medium supers. I’ll quickly check tomorrow to see if the feeder is drowning any bees. If it is, I’ll have to come up with something else. I could put a Mason jar from a Boardman feeder over the inner cover hole, but that wouldn’t give them as much syrup as this open-style improvised feeder. I hope this doesn’t turn into a bee-killer. It’s all a big experiment.

UPDATE (a couple hours later): The bees aren’t drowning, but they’re not using the bridges, so I took a piece of cloth and draped it over the side of the casserole dish. That’ll give the bees something to grip onto as they drink. I may abandon the whole thing and simply place 3 or 4 Boardman feeders inside the super. Which is probably all I needed to do in the first place.

UPDATE #2 (the next day): Well, that was fun, though not fun for the handful of bees that drowned. I removed the improvised feeder. I could have put floaters in the syrup, but it was all too much trouble than it was worth. I placed two Boardman feeders inside instead. It will be easy to refill them because all I have to do is remove the top cover and switch up the bottles.

3 thoughts on “An Improvised Feeder

  1. try to get some straw/dray grass to put in the corelle dish. This provides some substrate for the bees to get on. I was reading about it for people who use barrels for feeding large numbers of hives in the spring.

    something to consider to minimize bee drowning.

    • If the bees are to survive the winter (being stuck in a hive for about 6 months), they need to be full strength colonies with plenty of food to eat. Feeding them sugar syrup stimulates brood rearing, which increases the population of the colony, which in turn provides more worker bees to build comb (to expand the hive) and more foragers to bring in pollen and nectar for creating honey (honey is their energy food for the winter; pollen is their protein). So we feed them to make sure they’re ready for the winter. Bees are fed again in late winter or early spring because they’ve often consumed most of their winter food by then and would starve if they weren’t fed (spring flowers come late in Newfoundland). Early spring feeding also stimulates brood rearing to compensate for bees that die over the winter.

      We don’t feed the bees when we plan to harvest their honey.

      Our colonies were only started about 50 days ago from nuc boxes. That means each colony was about 13 times smaller than they would need to be to survive the winter. We didn’t have to feed them. They may have brought in enough pollen and nectar on their own. But it’s better not to chance it with young colonies.

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