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).


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.

11 thoughts on “How to Install a Jar Feeder

  1. Funny Phil,

    I did an inpection of the top box only and since there is still so much capped honey in the hive I decided not to put the bottle feeders on so they can eat through some honey and free up some frames so I can remove some of those frames. By the end of April if they do not have some frame all empty I plan to take out the partially filled honey frames and let the bees remove it externally so I can I can get those empty frames.

    Also I am amazed how far along the bees are and how much pollen they has stored up. I’d say that if you combined it over all the frames in a colony there is easily 2 – 3 frames of pollen present in some colonies. Much further ahead then last year.

    By the way, good post.

    • I don’t know where they’re getting it, but our bees are bringing in a steady supply of pollen too. We have rain for the next two days, but I hope I get a chance to see some of the those frames over the weekend. They must be packed with pollen.

  2. take a look at a quail feeder. it has a shallow lip all around and lots of bees can feed at once. they hold gallon of sugar syrup and don’t seem to leak hardly at all. bees drowning is not a problem either.

    they are available at most farm supply stores.

  3. I only have jar feeders on two of our four hives, and by the looks of it, the bees are taking down the syrup.

    The two hives with the hive top feeders (HTFs), however, didn’t show any interest in the syrup from the feeders. A small cluster of bees moved into each feeder, but they didn’t go for the syrup.

    Poking around like I shouldn’t be, unable to leave well enough alone, I decided to remove the feeder from one of the hives this afternoon to see if I could figure out why the bees weren’t going for the syrup. The only thing I noticed was some condensation underneath the feeders. It’s possible the syrup is getting too cold at night for them, and they just shied away from anything cold. I didn’t like seeing condensation in the hive either.

    So I removed the HTFs from both hives. I’ve decided not to bother with HTFs until after the first frost for now on, or until I know the night time temperatures aren’t hovering around zero. If I really need to feed the bees this early in the spring, I might just stick with jar feeders placed away from the inner cover hole.

    I took the time to look more closely at the frames in the top box of each hive. I’d say 7 or 8 frames of each box are loaded with bees. I don’t think they’re running low on honey either, though it was difficult to see with all the bees in the way.

    I suppose I could lift the hives to see if they’re light, but I think they’re probably fine. I’d like to get a hive scale for next year so I don’t have to bother guessing about how much honey is in the hive.

  4. Hey Phillip,
    You’re the only other beekeeper that I’ve seen feed like this. This is how I feed. Only I push my jars to the side of the lid and keep 2 or 3 jars per hive. My other Bkeeps friends always ask what I’ve got going on with the extra hive bodies. They think I’m supering early. Till I show them.

    I feed till the bees don’t take it anymore. Or it’s time to super.

    IF the bees end up with full frames of honey still in the hive right before I super, I’m gonna pull a few and use those for splits.

    My bees are pulling in nectar already, there are honey flows here in Montana now (this is early, normally they start in mid-may). But I like to feed to be sure the girls have nourishment. My breed does some rapid spring build-up and the risk in that is starvation, so I like to make sure I feed.

    Good post. I’ll post some picts of my hive feeder on my site if you wanna get a gander.

    Don John

    Oh and PS, thanks for the advice on the camera. I actually have a powershot sx120 IS. I just always tried to use my big commercial cameras not even thinking about the point and shot (its the family camera). But its great for shooting the bees, so thanks!!

    • Thanks, Don. I’ll check your site now.

      I like the multiple jar idea. The biggest jar I use in a 4-litre pickle jar. I’d love to get my hands on more of those.

      I was just looking over my records from last year, and I noticed that my bees ignored the hive top feeders but took plenty of syrup from the jar feeders — exactly what happened this year too.

      Perhaps the bees don’t like leaving the brood area too long to access syrup in the hive top feeders, at least when it’s still cold at night.

      Jar feeders are my favourite because they’re the easiest to refill and changing them up doesn’t disturb the bees. For building up nucs, I like frame feeders (with bee ladders). Out bees take syrup from those faster than anything.

  5. Great post….I have heard that if you put your entrance like you show, that the bees could end up building comb in the feeder box, off the ceiling….so mine is under the upper cover..I did have the pickle jar directly over the hole and they used 1 gallon in 5 days. Just put a 3 pound box in buy the way….I will be moving the jar off to one side though as that makes perfect sense. ( now that you pointed out the possible problems…I’m here in Northern Wi, so still in the 40’s here….

    • Hey Charlie — You said, “have heard that if you put your entrance like you show…” I’m not sure what you mean by that. Are you referring to the upper entrance?

      I’ve seen bees build inside an empty super with no frames (or inside a feeder box) and make a mess of everything (not in any of my hives, thankfully), but from what I understand, it usually happens with packaged bees that haven’t built any comb yet. Bees that have comb available will work the comb before they go anywhere else.

      If I put the jar feeder directly above the top bars with no inner cover in place, the bees would have no problem eventually building up into the empty space. I’ve seen this happen with my bees. If they already have an established hive space, removing the inner cover (and installing a jar feeder) gives them more space and they’ll naturally want to fill it up, just as they do when a honey super full of frames is placed on top.

      However, the inner cover directly over the top bars (or the frames) will usually prevent that. The bees will perceive everything beyond the inner cover as being outside the hive body and won’t be compelled to build comb there — unless they absolutely have nowhere else to go.

      But my bees have plenty of empty drawn comb beneath the inner cover and are not likely to abandon all that great real estate and spend a huge amount of resources building brand new comb outside the established hive space.

      I’m curious what you’re referring to as to my entrance. Do you not have an upper entrance? The inner cover is in the “summer” position so the bees have go through the inner cover hole to exit the hive through the upper entrance. Yeah, I’m not sure what you mean.

    • Hi again, Charlie — I think I get what you’re talking about now. I think you’re saying you put the jar feeder directly over the inner cover hole but you’ve kept the inner cover in the winter position.

      Yeah, I can see how that would work. The bees wouldn’t have to leave the hive body to access the syrup. They’d barely have to break cluster. The syrup would be directly over the brood nest and could leak with fluctuating temperatures. Still, as long as it’s not a steady leak, a healthy cluster can handle that. I can see the advantage of that set up.

      I suppose the advantage of my set up, with the inner cover in the summer position, is that the bees have to leave through the inner cover hole to exit the hive (at least on top), and with a jar feeder between the entrance and the inner cover hole, they’ll immediately discover the syrup and go for it. They can’t miss it.

      I’ve seen bees completely ignore syrup inside the hive in frame feeders but go for it closer to the brood nest with a jar feeder. The same with hive top feeders. At this time of year, when the weather is still pretty damn cold, the bees seem not to want to travel far from the brood nest — and the jar feeder brings the syrup closer than any other method.


  6. The last comment Phillip is hitting the nail on the head…That’s what I have done…I just installed two packages of bees and they have no comb…I put two frames with foundation in the middle, under the jars and the other 8 cobs are foundationless with a starter strip…..They do cluster right under the jar, as I have pulled it up to refill, and they are hanging on it, clustered…

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