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.)