A Screened Hive Top Feeder

Brief April 2019 Introduction: I have no doubt about it now. This is how I use my hive top feeders, with the screen over the middle portion of the feeder, not the reservoirs. I also have screen stapled down in the reservoirs to prevent the bees from getting into them once the feeders runs dry.

Last year I posted a video of a simple modification I make to hive top feeders that prevents bees from drowning in them. I staple screen over the syrup reservoirs and along the bottom edge inside the reservoirs so there is no way the bees can get into the reservoirs and drown.

If the screen above the reservoirs extended over the entrance area of the feeder (the part where the bees come up to access the syrup, whatever part that’s called), then the bees would also be contained inside the hive. I didn’t have enough screen to do all that recently, but I did add some screen to the entrance area of the feeder so it looks like this:

Hive top feeder with screen stapled over the area where the bees comes up. (Oct. 02, 2016.)

Hive top feeder with screen stapled over the area where the bees comes up. (Oct. 02, 2016.)

And guess what? It works.
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Dry Summer → Less Nectar → More Pollen → More Brood?

I bought three nucs from the Newfoundland Bee Company in mid-July and today, two and a half months later, each of the subsequent hives are overflowing with bees. Here’s a not-so-great photo I snapped during a marathon beekeeping session that shows what I found in one of them when I opened it today. I even found two frames of capped brood in the top deep of this hive. I’ve never had nuc-hives so full of bees at this time of year before.

A hive packed with bees after reducing it to 2 deeps four days ago. I found 2 frames of capped brood in the top box too.  That queen is on fire.  (Sept. 30, 2016.)

A hive packed with bees after reducing it to 2 deeps four days ago. I found 2 frames of capped brood in the top box too. That queen is on fire. (Sept. 30, 2016.)

I have to applaud the Newfoundland Bee Company. The queens that came with their nucs are incredible. I probably could have gotten a honey harvest from these hives if I had thought to super them up. My only concern is that there are too many bees in the hive and they’ll eat through their winter honey stores too fast. I know the cluster will reduce in size by the time November rolls around, but at the moment it would be one seriously gigantic cluster.
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A Simple Way to Mix Sugar Syrup

Here’s a demonstration of my quick and easy method of mixing sugar syrup for honey bees. I’m posting it because I keep hearing from people who do things like boil up a syrup mixture on their stove tops at home. That’s a big bag of crazy beans if you ask me, much more time-consuming and complicated than it needs to be. Probably a great way to make a mess of one’s kitchen too.

I don’t measure anything. I fill a bucket about half way with white granulated sugar (not raw sugar or anything with a high ash content). I add a drop or two of anise extract to get the bees interested in the syrup. (It’s important to note the difference between anise extract and anise oil.) I add water from a garden house until the bucket is almost full. Then I mix it with a stick for about five minutes until the sugar is dissolved.

The result is a thin syrup that works for spring feedings. I add more sugar if I want to make a thick syrup for fall feedings. How can I tell when it’s a thick syrup? Because it’s thick. Thin syrup (1 part sugar, 1 part water) more or less has the consistency of water. Thick syrup (2 parts sugar, 1 part water) takes on a goopey appearance. It sounds goopey.

I know that doesn’t seem very precise, but I don’t think a precise syrup mixture matters much to the bees.

Sometimes I add about a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to help prevent the syrup from going mouldy, though I can count on one hand how many times I’ve bothered with that. Sometimes I put the syrup aside for a day or two so any left over sugar is more likely to dissolve, but even if some undissolved sugar settles to the bottom of the bucket, is that a problem? I don’t think so. Sometimes the temperature of the water in the hose is warm from being in the sun, though most of the time it’s cold and that works out okay too. While I understand the reason for boiling up sugar syrup and using precise weights and measures in the recipe, and I respect that, I’m just putting it out there that nothing really bad happens when the process is simplified by dumping sugar and water in a bucket and mixing it with a stick.
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Honey Leaking From Hive

I noticed some honey or sugar syrup on the bottom board of one of my hives this morning.

Watered down honey or syrup on bottom board. (Feb. 02, 2016.)

Watered down honey or syrup on bottom board. (Feb. 02, 2016.)

I’ve seen this before. It usually happens in the winter when open honey comb contracts in the cold and then expands in the sudden heat of a warm spell and drips out of the cells. That’s all that’s happening. The first time I saw this, I thought a mouse got in the hive and chewed open some honey comb, which is not unheard of. But there’s no way a mouse could get through my quarter-inch mesh.

Uncapped Syrup Creates Moldy Comb

A beekeeper on the island of Newfoundland recent said:

    I fed my bees sugar syrup until it was too cold for them to take any more of it, which isn’t always the smartest thing to do because even though the bees are able to store the syrup, they may not have time to cure it (evaporate most of the water from it) and cap it like they would with honey during warmer weather. Subsequently, as in my case, the ole beekeeper discovers a top third deep filled mostly with uncapped syrup — or as we like to say in the real world, moisture. Not enough moisture to drip down on the bees and kill them, but enough to dampen the frames and allow some mold to grow.

I wholeheartedly agree with that beekeeper. He seems like a smart guy.

Uncapped sugar syrup → moisture → damp → moldy comb. (Nov. 7, 2015.)

Uncapped sugar syrup → moisture → damp → moldy comb. (Nov. 7, 2015.)


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Switching Out Hard Insulation for Moisture Quilts

In a previous post, Moisture Quilts vs Hard Insulation, I argued that hard insulation over the inner cover is a cheap and easy way to keep a hive relatively warm and dry over the winter. And it is. I used hard insulation in my hives for several winters with no problems. Even though I’ve since switched to moisture quilts, this year — as in a couple of weeks ago — I set up two of my five hives with hard insulation as a demonstration that I planned to report in on over the winter. But I pulled the plug on that experiment because I discovered moldy frames in the top boxes of those two hives yesterday.

Slightly moldy capped and uncapped honey. (Nov. 07, 2015.)

Slightly moldy capped and uncapped honey / syrup. (Nov. 07, 2015.)


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Insert Feeders Spell Disaster For Nucleus Colonies

In my experience, plastic insert feeders that fit inside medium or shallow supers are dangerous because they don’t provide the bees convenient access to the syrup. Using an insert feeder to build up a nuc could be disastrous, especially in a cold climate like Newfoundland.

Plastic insert feeder in a medium super (June 1, 2011).

Plastic insert feeder in a medium super (June 1, 2011).

I bought an insert feeder during my second spring of beekeeping in 2011 because it seemed like a cheaper alternative to a hive top feeder. But I could never get the bees to take syrup from the feeder. (I’ve heard the same from numerous beekeepers over the past four years.) My bees would have starved had I kept trying to feed them with the insert feeder.
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A Kill-Free Hive Top Feeder

July 2019 Introduction: I’ve removed the video that I originally uploaded with this post because I don’t think it’s a good idea anymore. Screen stapled over the middle of the hive top feeder, for me, is the way to go now. I also staple screen inside the reservoirs on the bottom to prevent the bees from getting into the reservoirs when they’re empty. See Screened Hive Top Feeder for more details.

Hive top feeder screen in the middle so the bees are contained inside the hive. (Oct. 10, 2016.)

Hive top feeder with screen in the middle so the bees are contained inside the hive. (Oct. 10, 2016.)

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.

How to Install a Jar Feeder

April 2019 Introduction: I could delete this post because there’s really not much to it. I give specific instructions on how to use a jar feeder as if I’d been doing it for years. I should have just kept my mouth shut. I’m not sure the instructions I give are good instructions. For the most part, I think I make it sound more complicated than it needs to be. There isn’t anything wrong with placing a jar feeder directly over the inner cover as long as the inner cover is in the winter position and the bees still have a top entrance.

jar-feeder-DSC01139A jar feeder, by the way, is a Mason jar or any jar with little holes poked in the metal lid. The jar is filled with honey or sugar syrup (in this case, for spring feeding, a thin 1 part sugar, 1 part water mixture), tipped upside and placed inside the hive over the inner cover (but sheltered inside an empty super). Got it?

Tip #1: Don’t place the feeder directly over the inner cover hole when night time temperatures can still hover around freezing. The syrup can expand and contract with the temperature fluctuations and leak all over the bees (speaking from experience here), and not just any bees but the baby bees that are right in the middle of the hive — the brood nest — directly underneath the inner cover hole. It may be easier for the bees to access the syrup when it’s directly over the inner cover hole, but I’m not sure it’s worth the risk. I don’t use jar feeders until nighttime temperatures are above freezing, which sometimes doesn’t happen until near the end of April. Tip #1-B: Place the jar between the inner cover hole and the top entrance (not between the hole and the back wall of the hive). That way if the syrup does leak, provided the back of the hive is tilted up a bit like it should be, the syrup will drain out of the hive or at least to the front of it — and not down the inner cover hole and all over the bees.

Tip #2: Rest the jar on two pieces of wood. When I first installed a jar feeder, I put it directly over the inner cover hole and blocked the hole. You don’t want to block the hole. Here’s a photo of a jar feeder sitting on two pieces of scrap wood. You can even see the path from the top entrance in the background, to the jar feeder, to the inner cover hole (some call that a beeline).

jar-feeder-DSC01140

I probably shouldn’t even feed the bees now. I think they have plenty of honey, and if they eat their honey, it will free up space for the queen to lay more eggs. But until I can do a quick non-invasive inspection and I know for sure they have enough honey, I’ll play the paranoid card and feed them.

P.S.: This is one way to install a jar feeder. If I find a better, safer way of doing it, I’ll update this post with that information. I’ve been known to be wrong on occasion.