A Kill-Free Hive Top Feeder

Here’s a video of a simple modification I’ve made to most of my hive top feeders that helps reduce the likelihood of drowning. I put screens in and over the syrup reservoirs. It makes refilling the feeders easier too.

I have no love for hive top feeders. They can be heavy and messy and a farcical tragedy when things go wrong. But this simple and cheap modification virtually transforms them into kill-free feeders and, at least in my experience, makes them easier to use. It also allows me to put various rims over the feeder, or anything I want over the feeder, without risk of drowning any bees. Obsessive-compulsive mad scientist beekeepers (a significant portion of the beekeeping demographic) could easily build on this design so that the feeder virtually refills itself. I can already imagine how that could work, but I digress.

What Does Fresh Brood Look Like?

Fresh brood looks like this (click the image for a closer view):

Fresh brood in the upper deep (or hive body). The queen expanding the brood nest up without any help from humans. (August 10, 2015.)

Fresh brood in the upper deep (or hive body). The queen expanding the brood nest up without any help from humans. (August 10, 2015.)


I was planning to pull up a frame or two of brood from the bottom box to make sure the queen expanded the brood nest up (a lazy edition of pyramiding), but I found fresh brood on the second or third frame that I inspected. The queen didn’t need any help from me. So I put everything back the way I found it and left the bees alone.

I also filled the frame feeder on the nuc and added a pollen patty.

Topping Up a Frame Feeder

I topped up a frame feeder in one of my nucleus colonies today.

Refilling a frame feeder without drowning any bees. (August 10, 2015.)

Refilling a frame feeder without drowning any bees. (August 10, 2015.)


All feeders have their pros and cons. I use a modified frame feeder (a.k.a. a division board feeder) with my nucs because they’re easy to refill without killing any bees, and they give me an excuse to take a peek at the bees.

Refilling hole plugged up after the frame feeder is filled. (August 10, 2015.)

Refilling hole plugged up after the frame feeder is filled. (August 10, 2015.)


The disruption to the bees is minimal because no smoke, not even mist, is required. It’s also easy to do a visual inspection without removing any frames.
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Absinthe and Honey Bees

I added some frame feeders to two nucs today but couldn’t find my anise extract to add to the syrup as an attractant. So…

Absinthe used in sugar syrup instead of anise. (July 29, 2015.)

Absinthe used in sugar syrup instead of anise. (July 29, 2015.)


…I used absinthe instead. Hopefully there’s nothing harmful it in that might hurt the bees. I doubt it.

My previous video, Refilling a Frame Feeder, shows exactly how I use my frame feeders.

Freshly filled frame feeder. (July 29, 2015.)

Freshly filled frame feeder. (July 29, 2015.)

A Mouse in the Hive or No Honey Left in the Hive?

THE FOLLOWING WAS LAST UPDATED ON APRIL 28, 2014.

One of my six colonies either has a mouse in the hive that’s scaring all the bees to the very top of the hive, or the colony is completely starved for honey. Either way it seems like most of the bees (and they’re grumpy) are clustered above the top bars and living entirely off dry sugar I added about a month ago. The bees are so crowded above the top bars, they’re constantly walking in and out around the top entrance, as can be seen in this photo I took during my lunch break today:

13-12-23 Hungry Bees

I also noticed many dead bees in the snow in front of the hive:

13-12-23 Hungry Bees in Snow

Not that dead bees in the snow are unusual, but none of the other hives have many dead bees nearby, hardly any. This does not bode well.
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Pre-Winter Raw Sugar Feeding

THE FOLLOWING WAS UPDATED SINCE ORIGINALLY POSTED.

I used to add dry sugar to my hives in January or February following what some call The Mountain Camp Method, but this year I decided to add sugar around the same time I wrapped my hives, in late November. Why not? I have several reasons for adding the sugar early — the main reason is I don’t want to see another colony starve to death — but ultimately it doesn’t hurt to put the sugar on early and it saves me the trouble of having to do it in the middle of winter with snow all around. So yeah, why not? Here’s a video that shows how I did it.

This is probably the last time I’ll post a video about the Mountain Camp Method. There’s not much else to see.

I also mention in the video (at the 58sec mark) how one of my hives was full of exceptionally nasty bees until I moved the colony far away from my other colonies and just like that they settled down to become the nicest bunch of bees around. This is just speculation, but for now on whenever I come across an especially defensive colony, I’ll try moving it way off by itself, far from any other colonies, before I resort to requeening.

ADDENDUM (Jan. 16/14): It’s come to my attention that covering the entire top bars with sugar isn’t a good idea because then you can’t see down into the frames to see how the bees are doing. I knew that last year but forgot about it this year. So don’t do what I did. Cover only the back two-thirds or so of the top bars.

Topping Up a Hive With a Frame Feeder

Cutting to the chase: A frame feeder works just as well as a hive top feeder for anyone with easy access to their hives, especially with a modified frame feeder.

I created two nucs for a friend earlier this summer. He used a frame feeder to feed the bees sugar syrup all summer and now the bees in each hive have filled all the frames — minus two frames taken up by the frame feeder.

Question: How does he get the bees to work the final two frames with the frame feeder in the way? Answer: Leave the frame feeder in and just keep swapping out frames until the bees stop taking down syrup. Then remove the frame feeder and replace it with capped honey/syrup. Here’s the step-by-step answer:

• Remove a frame of capped syrup/honey and replace it with an empty frame.

• Keep the feeder where it is and let the bees go to work on the empty frame.

• When the new frame is full, pull another frame of syrup/honey and repeat the process until the bees stop taking down syrup.

• Make sure the feeder never goes empty.

If he’s lucky, he’ll have three or four extra frames of capped syrup/honey put aside at the end of it all.

• Remove the frame feeder and replace it with two frames of syrup/honey. Done.

Keep any extra frames of syrup-honey for emergency or spring feeding.

The fine print: Place empty frames between fully drawn frames. Shift frames around to make this happen if necessary. Pull two frames at a time if the bees are working fast and furious. You might as well insulate and wrap your hives for winter after this, because other than adding a mouse-proofing mesh, what else is there to do? Cancel that. You might want to add dry sugar before winter kicks in.

If you don’t own or don’t want to bother with a hive top feeder, you could feed your bees like this in the fall to top them up before the winter. You’d start by removing two frames of honey to make room for the frame feeder. Then you’d have to put them back once the bees were done taking down syrup. I haven’t tried it, but yeah… that could work.

Frame feeders aren’t practical for people with a large number of hives because they may need to be refilled more than once a week at the height of summer. But they’re perfect for new beekeepers because it gives them an excuse to look inside the hives and see what’s going on without disturbing the bees too much.

P.S.: The above method of topping up a hive or building up a nuc with a frame feeder may seem obvious. But the obvious is easily overlooked. How often have you heard a beekeeper say, “Why didn’t I think of that?” (I wrote this post because I didn’t think of it until someone suggested it to me.)

Recycled Honey: Feeding Bees Crystallized Honey (in Jars)

I had more jars of crystallized honey than I could eat or give away, so I gave it to the bees and they loved it.

They cleaned out every piece of honey from the jars. I eventually surrounded the inner cover hole with five or six jars of crystallized honey all at once and it worked perfectly as a spring feeding.

I have an idea to make patties from crystallized honey instead of using sugar. I’ll talk about that later.

Urban Beekeepers, Don’t Overfeed Your Bees

AN UPDATE WAS ADDED TO THE END OF THIS POST ON JUNE 24, 2013.

I caught a swarm out in the country last year and I loved it. But unfortunately I live a in relatively crowded urban neighbourhood with an easily enraged next door neighbour, so even though I only have one hive in the city now, I don’t have the luxury of a laid back attitude towards swarms. I need to keep my neighbour from calling the fire department on me again, which means I have to do everything I can to prevent my lonely little colony from swarming. So what should I do?

Upper half of the large water melon sized swarm I caught last summer.

Last year I reversed the brood chambers and checker-boarded my hives. But three of my four colonies swarmed anyway. Here’s a video that shows what one of the hives looked like shortly before its colony swarmed:
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