Leaking Hive Top Feeders

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.

27 thoughts on “Leaking Hive Top Feeders

  1. The top hive feeder on Hive #1 is leaking. Great. I can’t do anything about it today. I’ll check again tomorrow and then decide what to do.

  2. I just checked. One of the top hive feeders is leaking. At least it looks that way. NOTE TO SELF: Check the top hive feeders for leaks before installing them. The bottom board is coated with syrup now. It could be spilled syrup, but I don’t think so.

    I’m not sure what I’m going to do about it.

    What a royal headache this has turned into. Does everything in beekeeping have to be fraught with complications? That’s how it seems at times.

    I may remove the top hive feeder and replace it with an inverted jar feeder — which was my original plan to begin with. I should have stuck with my original plan. Blah.

  3. I just made the final update to this post, or what I hope is the final update. It’s been the messiest biggest headache of our beekeeping experience so far. We won’t be buying top hive feeders again.

  4. The times my bees have made the crackling noise, I have looked inside the hive to find the entrance reducers totally rounded–almost like they had been “eaten” away. Since then I’ve associated the sound with a sort of honey bee carpentry, although I don’t know how they do it.

  5. I have seven of those plastic inserts I never use. Each time I’ve tried the bees have found a surreptitious way to get between the screen and the plastic into the syrup. Absolutely thousands have drowned. I have tried re-bending, re-shaping, and re-fastening the screen to no avail. The whole experience was heart-breaking.

  6. I looked further into it and read similar explanations. Though I’m not sure what the bees could have been chewing on because the sound was coming from the top of the hive. They didn’t do it for long and they’re acting like normal bees since I installed the jar feeders.

  7. Hello Phillip,
    You have to put caulking all along the seams on the bottom board..I make top feeders for Donna and I varnish them as well as add caulking, hope this helps….
    Cheers Harold

  8. Poking around online, it seems leaking top hive feeders — well, it seems that leaking is what top hive feeders do. (I also noticed they’re called hive top feeders most of the time. I’ve been saying it the other way around.) What annoys me is that I used these feeders only once for a brief time last year. And they’re already full of leaks? I question the quality of the craftsmanship.

    I’ll try to fix the leaks as soon as I can. I’ll caulk up the leaks and maybe put on a little coating of bees wax. I can think of a few other modifications to prevent excessive drowning. My Popsicle sticks idea is simple and probably effective (I didn’t get a chance to test it).


    There should also be a barrier at the bottom of the well to stop the bees from getting into the main reservoir. Perhaps a screen down there. The screen on top of the reservoirs will prevent wasps from getting in while refilling, though a flat removable screen in a frame would make it easier for fixing leaks, instead of having the tear the screen off every time. Anyway, it can’t be that hard to come up with a better feeder.

    The plastic insert feeders — there must be way to prevent drowning in those too. I’ve read that some bees don’t take to them because they don’t like crawling up over plastic. If that was the case, I’d brush the plastic with some melted bees wax. The bees seem to like bees wax.

  9. what is a good flavouring agent for sugar syrup to get the bees into eating some of the sugar substitute. I meant to purchase anise but ended up getting vanilla instead. What are my options?

    Thanks Phil.

  10. Don’t get artificial flavouring. The other flavouring besides Anise that supposedly drives them wild is peppermint / spearmint.

    My bees didn’t really touch the syrup from the hive top feeder, though they didn’t have much time to check it out. And they were probably happy sopping up all the leaking syrup. My syrup has natural vanilla added. Anise seems more pungent. I can see how it would get their attention.

    Rusty says, “Whenever I have bees that won’t drink their sugar syrup, I place one or two drops of anise oil in the feed. The next morning the feeder is empty. It never fails.”

  11. It’s listed on their website, so I assume they do. I’m sticking with the jar feeders for now, will mix up some syrup with Anise seed oil if I can fix up the hive top feeders.

  12. On a side note the boxes are made. I still have to build the covers and bottoms. Didn’t get to finish those Saturday for other reasons.

  13. That’s excellent. I look forward to checking them out.

    I’m thinking about building a screened bottom board for one of my hives this summer just to see how the bees react to it. I don’t think anyone uses them in NL, but I get the impression that’s because no one’s ever tried them. I’ve got plenty of screen and they don’t look too hard to build. My only concern is that they might attract more wasps, and I get plenty of wasps as it is. We’ll see.

    I’m impressed with the bees in both hives these days. They were coming and going the other day like it was the middle of summer, and there were lots of them, all small and fuzzy, which means the queens have been laying.

    I won’t know until the first inspection sometime in May, but if their populations are bouncing back this fast, making splits may not be an option — it’ll become an necessity.

    Or I might just let the brood nest of each hive expand into a medium super, and then combine the two mediums into a single hive. That’s only if the populations explode.

  14. 8°C outside. 12:30pm. Sunny. I just checked on the hives. They’re both moderately active. But neither has taken down any syrup yet. It looks like they haven’t even touched it. They didn’t get into the hive top feeders when I had those on too. They went for some of the syrup dripping down all over everything, but none were in the actual feeder.

    I wonder what that means.

  15. Still may be to cold for the bees to break cluster. Especially if there is any amount of brood. I still have teh candy board on then the inner cover on top. Then the boarman feeders inside a super and they are yet tome up to those feeders. I am afraid to place teh jar over the hole in case some of the syrup drips down onto the bees below and chills them. It is still to cold to allow syrup to drip down over for my comfort. Unfortunatly I dont; get home until late afternoon so I miss most of the activityes with the hive.

    Once the ambient temperature warms up enough I am going to install a thrid super with some empty foundation and some frame feeders in the hope they will start laying down some fresh comb for the new hives this year. If that happens then the new hives will be off to jump due to having comb ready to lay brood. Or at least I hope.

  16. Hive #2 has no candy cakes or pollen anymore. Just the jar feeder. I may have to change that up if I don’t see them taking down any of the syrup soon (though the A-man says he’s been feeding his for the past few weeks with hive top feeders).

    I don’t think a drop of syrup has been taken from the jar feeders yet, so I’m not worried about the syrup dripping down on them. They’re inside sheltered and insulated supers anyway. I don’t think there’s a huge risk of the syrup contracting and expanding and dripping on the bees.

    I’ll try to fix up the hive top feeders ASAP, but I may not have much spare time for the rest of the month. We’ll see.

  17. I also have a 5-11/16″ shallow super for you if you are interested. I made two. The shallow superis good for making honey comb. One for you and one for me. I also have the 3 medium supers for you too.

    My plan is to work on the covers the weekend. Then I have to get the bottom boards done. If I can get the correct bit for the router I’ll get at that before I come in.

    Also this year I’m going to take some standard super frames and put the 6-5/8″ shallow foundation in so the bees can draw drone comb below. That way I can get a good number of female workers without to many drones per hive. That way down the road there should be suffiecent drones for virgin queens. What do you think?

  18. I also have a 5-11/16″ shallow super for you if you are interested.

    Thanks man. Yeah, I’m interested. Where can we get shallow frames, though?

    I also have the 3 medium supers for you too.

    Really? Wow. Thanks. I can’t wait to see them.

    If I can get the correct bit for the router I’ll get at that before I come in.

    Man, I wish I had your equipment — and the skills to use it. And a basement to build things. Building your own hive parts will save you so much on shipping, it’s insane.

    Also this year I’m going to take some standard super frames and put the 6-5/8″ shallow foundation in so the bees can draw drone comb below. That way I can get a good number of female workers without too many drones per hive. That way down the road there should be sufficient drones for virgin queens. What do you think?

    I think that’s a good idea. I’ve read about that technique. You’d probably get enough drones anyway (nature finds a way), but as far as I know, whenever they bees get a chance to build natural comb, they load up on drone comb first. We hand hundreds of drones late year when we put in our first foundationless frames.

    The tricky part while you only have a few hives is the shallow gene pool. If I end up doing a split this year, I’ll probably order a mated queen ahead of time to save myself the worry.

    In other news, I saw some bees bring in some pollen today. I’ll try to post something later tonight. I’m on lunch break now. I gotta run.

  19. I haven’t had time to repair the hive top feeders, but the bees in both hives are drinking syrup from the inverted jar feeders now. Hive #1, which seems the most active, has only taken down about half a litre. Hive #2 has taken down about a litre.

    I had time to add some pure anise extract to a 1-litre jar feeder in Hive #1 today. The jar used to hold dill pickles and still has some of the dill pickle smell. I poured in a small amount of anise extract into the bottle first (maybe half a teaspoon), then I poured in the syrup. The syrup had strings of cloudiness throughout it once inside the jar. I’m not sure if it was reacting to the old pickling flavour or the anise extract.

    Today is Monday. I won’t have time to check the hives again until Saturday. Hopefully my life will have returned to normal by then. I’m curious to see how much syrup is gone.

  20. Hello Phillip. I do not know if you are still using them but the plastic type hive top feeders have pros and cons also. The pros are the amount of liquid it holds before refill. It provides ventilation for warm weather to keep from fermenting. Cons are as you found out, the bees manage to squeeze under screen when getting empty. if you put the plastic edging that is on some of the band saw blades to protect when new over the edges of the wire it keeps the girls in. When filling one that is empty I found that if you cut some hardwood dowels and lay behind screen, as you fill it pushes the bees up as you fill to keep from drowning. In spring when in the peak of comb building they tend to build in the middle opening to hive. Them Bad Girls.

  21. I’m not particularly pleased with either of my feeders. The regular top hive feeders leak too often, and the plastic insert feeders are virtulally ignored by the bees. I’m not sure what it is about the plastic feeders, but only a small number of bees ever go into them. Not very useful.

  22. HeyPhil,

    I was ripping plywood today for double mating nucs or swarm traps. I cut enough for 8 double mating nucs and 3 6 – 7 frame swarm traps.

    I’ll hook you up with a couple of swarm traps and one of my top hive feeders. I have two made this weekend and working on a third.

    This is a good link for making swarm traps that accept frames. THis is what your’s will be like.



  23. Cool, man. Thanks. I’ll trade a few frames of drones for them.

    One of the people I’m hoping will host a few hives for me this year is a contractor. I think he can get plenty of cheap wood and he knows how to build anything. (It’ll be great if he agrees to let me set up a few hives on his property.) I could show him your feeder and swarm trap designs so he can copy them.

    And maybe next year I’ll set up a band saw in my shed so I can start making my own components (my handheld jigsaw is a bit limited).

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