THE FOLLOWING WAS LAST UPDATED ON APRIL 19, 2012.
I’ve been using a Boardman feeder so our bees will create brood comb faster and build up the colony to a healthy size, one strong enough to make it through the winter. This is a Boardman feeder:
The Mason jar is filled with a honey-sugar mixture. (Nov. 15/10 update: Don’t use honey unless it’s from your own bees. Grocery store honey often contains spores for various Foul Brood diseases which you definitely do not want in your hives.) It sits upside-down on a round piece of perforated metal. The bees crawl onto the lip of the feeder from inside the hive and suck the mixture out of the holes. Here’s a photo of a feeder I made today. You can see on the left where the bees crawl in and get under the bottle to feed:
There are conflicting opinions on whether or not to feed bees, what kind of feeders and mixtures are best, when and when not to feed — there is no consensus. Some say feeding encourages robbing, especially with Italian honey bees (the kind we have); some say the colony will swarm when they’re fed too much; and then other beekeepers say it’s essential to feed bees from a nuc box at least until they’ve filled an entire brood chamber (that’s what I plan to do).
The problem for me is that beekeeping practices vary from region to region based on local climate and geography — and most of the information I read does not come from beekeepers in Newfoundland, or any place remotely similar to Newfoundland (being on island in the middle of the North Atlantic does pose unique challenges). There is only one professional beekeeper in St. John’s that I know of, and he’s busy running his business. So I’m pretty much on my own here. Everyday I go out and watch the bees doing their thing, and every day I see something new I don’t understand. I don’t think I’ve done anything drastically bad so far, but having a few local beekeepers I could meet with once in a while, even beginners like me, would be a great help.
So, hoping for the best, I built my own Boardman feeder today because I noticed how the bottle doesn’t fit snugly into the feeder hole. This attracts ants (that you can see in the top photo) and allows bees to take up the feed from outside the hive from the space between the feeder and the bottle’s lip — which I think defeats part of the purpose of having the feeder in the first place. If other bees from outside the hive can get at the feed easily, it’s no wonder they get the idea to start robbing. Here’s my homemade Boardman feeder in action:
I made my own perforated cap from the Mason jar lid, then shoved the outer lid into the feeder hole, nice and tight (see the second photo above), so now when I put on the jar of feed mixture, it screws on tight so the bottle can’t tip and spill sweet liquid all over the place (which would attract more ants). It also makes refilling the feeder much easier and less messy.
But more importantly, it’s working for the bees. I’ve checked the feeder every couple hours today. I’ve seen only one ant instead of 10, and there are no bees trying to get at the feed from outside the hive.
Way to go, Phillip! I’m in the process of making a second Boardman feeder for the other hive. The next big event will be our inspection of the hives about a week from now. We haven’t pulled out any of the frames for inspection yet. That’ll be a big day. I want to see tons on brood and honey and no swarm cells. That’s exactly what I want to see, because if I see anything else, I don’t know what I’m going to do.
UPDATE: Boardman feeder plans — here are the pieces for the second Boardman feeder I made, with measurements written right on the pieces (in inches). I stuck it all together with carpenter’s glue. Click the image to biggify.
UPDATE #1 (Aug. 10/10): I gave up on my home-made board feeders because the glue I used wasn’t the best. The feeders began falling apart in the rain. I’ll stick to my store-bought feeders with a some minor modifications instead.
UPDATE #2 (Aug. 23/10): One of our hives was slow to grow, and the season is getting short, so we pulled one of the homemade feeders out of retirement and gave the weak hive two feeders. All the Boardman feeders, though, attract ants and wasps. We’re hoping frame feeders will reduce the number of pests attracted to the hive.
UPDATE #3 (Dec. 19/10): Judging from our first summer of beekeeping, we’ve decided not to use Boardman feeders if we can help it. The Boardman feeders attract wasps, ants and encourage robbing from other bees, and they can get messy. We’ll probably use frame feeders for hives started from nuc boxes because once they’re installed, they’re easy to refill. To kick start our hives in the spring and top them up in the fall, we’ll probably use a hive top feeders, inverted jar feeders or a combination of both.
UPDATE (April 19/12): I get more hits for this post than anything else on Mud Songs. I don’t know why. Perhaps because Boardman feeders are the easiest of all the feeders to make. I still recommend frame feeders for building up nucs. I don’t use Boardman feeders anymore. However, I do suggest to anyone who installs a Boardman feeder to place a piece of wood, 3 or 4 inches long, against the side of the feeder. It reduces the hive entrance but mainly it will block immediate access to the feeder from wasps and robbing bees. If I had to use a Boardman feeder, that’s how I’d do it.