NOTE (March 16/14): The following has been updated more than once since it was originally posted. The updates appear near the bottom. The title of the post has been changed to reflect the reality of what he had to deal with. Both of the top hive feeders leaked all over the hives and the bees. We had to switch to inverted jar feeders instead. It was the messiest biggest headache of our beekeeping experience so far. We have no love for hive top feeders.
It was about 7°C in the backyard today. The weather forecast doesn’t call for much rain and the temperatures are supposed to be well above freezing all week. So we decided to add top hive feeders to both hives, filling up one side of each feeder with about 8 litres of syrup (a little over 2 US gallons). But first we modified the feeders by stapling screens to the reservoirs:
We used our industrial strength scissors to cut the screen (photo showing specs) and then secured it down with our staple gun:
Then we tapped the staples down with a hammer to make sure they were completely flat:
Here’s what the top hive feeders looked like with the new screens:
The screens prevent wasps from getting into the syrup while the reservoirs are exposed to the air during refilling.
That was yesterday. Today we installed the feeders and this is what they look like when one side is filled with thick syrup:
We placed Popsicle sticks (or craft sticks) down the drinking well (if that’s what it’s called). The sticks float like little life rafts and fit perfectly side by side inside the well. (We bought the sticks to use as starter strips, but they’re useless as starter strips because they’re so small and thin. Do we need jumbo sized craft sticks for starter strips? I don’t know.)
For Hive #2, we placed the inner cover in the regular position with the flat side down. (We removed the insulated inner covers.) I thought the pollen patties would still fit above the frames, but they didn’t, so we took them off. Here you can see the position of the inner cover and the top hive feeder above it:
Hive #2 sprung a leak a while back and one of the pollen patties near the edge was soaked. We removed it and put it on the bottom board to dry it off:
We took fragments of another pollen patty and slid them under the bottom entrance. We may put them in the unused portion of the top hive feeder later on so they don’t go to waste. There were plenty of candy cake fragments left over. We’ll toss those now, or dissolve them into the next batch of syrup. After that, we decided to install the inner cover in Hive #1 in the winter position so we could just leave the pollen patties and sugar cakes in there. Here you can see the inner cover in the winter position:
We lifted our hives and noticed both were light. So to get them some food as quick as possible, we mixed a thick syrup at about a 2-sugar:1-water ratio. The next time we feed them, though, we’ll probably lower that ratio to 1:1 and then 1:2 to simulate early spring nectar and get the queen laying.
We normally don’t smoke our bees, but they’re thick on the top bars these days, so just to be safe and to get them out of the way, we decided to smoke them a bit to drive them down into the hive. A nice clump of bees in both hives clung to the insulated inner covers so we had to bang them off before we installed the regular inner covers. We also noticed the inner covers don’t make a perfect seal with the rest of the hive, and seeing how the bees can’t collect propolis just yet, we’ll probably duct tape over the cracks for now. Both hives still have most of their black winter wrap. I guess we’ll keep the wraps on at least until the snow has disappeared.
UPDATE (an hour later): I just went out and checked on the hives. The first thing I noticed was what appeared to be syrup leaking around the top entrances of both hives (you can see the leak in the above photo). The top hive feeders better not be leaking. The inner hive covers below the feeders should prevent any leaking syrup from dripping down on the bees. (We could have easily installed the inner covers above the feeders, but I’ll admit it: we didn’t even think of that. Should we put them on top of the feeders? I don’t know.) Then I noticed what I can only describe as a crackling sound coming from Hive #2, similar to the sound of Rice Krispies with milk. I can’t remember if I’ve heard that sound before and I don’t know what it means. Hive #1 sounded like a normal hive. The only thing different about Hive #2 is that the inner cover is not flipped to the winter position, which I realize now means the upper entrance can’t be guarded without the bees breaking far from the cluster. Probably not a good idea while the weather is still on the cool side. I may flip it tomorrow if I can. I might also put a piece of insulation over the top hive feeders. I’m not sure if it would reduce any condensation build up below in the inner cover, but it can’t hurt.
UPDATE (a few hours later): I checked on the hives again, this time with a flash light. Hive #1 isn’t crackling as much. Who knows what that means. I may just leave its inner cover alone and not flip it to the winter position. I was concerned the guard bees would freeze from breaking so far from the cluster, but they seem to be okay. Although syrup appears to be leaking from both top hive feeders, the leaking is only near the top hive entrance and it might only be syrup that spilled onto the inner covers while we were filling the feeders. I also lifted the top covers of each hive. The bees in both hives are clustering up through the inner cover hole and partially into top hive feeders, but they’re not crawling up to feed from the troughs (I called the syrup troughs wells earlier). That may be due to the cold, or maybe they’re satisfied licking up the leaking or spilled syrup on the inner cover. I noticed a small amount of condensation on the inside of the top covers, too, so I put a piece of insulation under each of them and weighed them down with a brick. I’ll check them again tomorrow afternoon when it’s supposed to be sunny and warm.
UPDATE (Apr. 11/11): I mentioned that the bees in Hive #2 are making a crackling sound. I found this video on YouTube — that’s exactly what it sounds like. What information I could find about it on the forums suggests that it’s nothing to worry about, but no one really knows what it is or the how the bees are making the sound.
UPDATE (Apr.11/11, 11:00am): Here’s a photo of the leaking syrup from the top feeder in Hive #2:
That’s the bottom entrance. An ugly sticky mess. If this was the middle of the summer, we’d have ants everywhere.
8°C in the backyard. I smoked the inside of the top hive feeder to drive the bees down into Hive #2. I removed the leaking feeder, splishing and splashing the syrup all over myself. I flipped the inner cover to the winter position and installed our newly-minted 4-litre jar feeder over the inner cover hole like I do in this video, but with a much larger jar. (I tested it for leaks for about 15 minutes before I installed it.) I put two pieces of insulation over the inner cover on each side of the jar. Then I put two medium supers on top of the inner cover to shelter the jar (I don’t have any extra deeps assembled yet). Then another inner cover with an upper entrance for the stranglers stuck down on the inner cover from when I flipped it. I topped it all off with another piece of insulation just for kicks and then the top cover.
The bees will be able to chow down on the syrup through the inner cover hole without breaking cluster now, the hive is still well insulated, and the syrup theoretically will not freeze over night because it’s sheltered and insulated from the cold. It better work.
The top hive feeder on Hive #1 still appears to have a leak, though not as drastic as what I saw in Hive #2. I’m going to leave it alone until after lunch. If I’ve noticed a significant amount of syrup has leaked out, I’ll add an inverted jar feeder to that hive too, though it’ll have to be a smaller jar.
Later this week I’ll clean up the top hive feeders and see if I can plug up the leaks with melted bees wax. I’ll make sure to thoroughly test for leaks whenever I use these feeders again. I’ll probably have to tear off the screens to fix the leaks. What a complete pain in the neck this has been. Why would anyone make a feeder like this out of wood? Don’t we live in the age of plastic? Wouldn’t a simple mould of exactly the same design made from an eco-friendly plastic-like material work about a thousand times better? Some of the primitive aspects of beekeeping can be frustrating at times. Making water-proof feeders out of wood is one of them.
UPDATE (Apr. 11/11, 1:30pm): The leaky top hive feeders have been removed from both hives, replaced with inverted jar feeders. The hives looks like this now:
Syrup had dripped down the inner cover hole in Hive #1, which is a good way to kill bees and brood. I’m ready to smash the top hive feeders into a thousand pieces. I noticed today that Beemaid now sells a plastic feeder similar to a top hive feeder — except it doesn’t leak. It’s called a Plastic Insert Feeder. This is what they say about:
“This feeder combines aspects of frame and hivetop feeders. Place the insert into any 10 frame honey super and fill the chambers with feed; the bees enter through openings along the middle ridge and take the syrup. Holds up to 15 litres (4 gallons) and includes a molded screen to prevent the bees from drowning. Guaranteed not to leak!”
I would have never bothered with the stupid top hive feeders if I’d known these plastic feeders existed. I may try to use the top hive feeders again if I can fix the leaks, only because I want to get my money’s worth of them (shipping them to Newfoundland was expensive). I’ll eventually pawn them off to anybody who is happy to deal with the leaks. I’m feeling like I got ripped off.
UPDATE (March 16/14): The plastic feeders sounded great but didn’t work because the bees ignore the syrup in them most of the time. A waste of money. I don’t think there’s such a thing as a good feeder. They can all get a little messy. Sugar syrup is messy. There’s no way around it. I use hive top feeders these days for spring and fall feedings (sometimes they leak, sometimes they don’t) because I can fill them up and leave them for a long time, which is what I have to do now that I no longer have convenient access to my hives.