The day you decided to be a beekeeper marks the beginning of responsibility. You are legally and morally required to take care of the bees as you would any member of your household. The bee feeder is an important part of bee colony management. You can never afford to stay without one. Feeders are used for supplying the bees with sugar syrup when sources of nectar are minimal of non-existent. They are also used for providing medicine to the bees. These are medications that can be dissolved in sugar syrup and offered to the bees.
Types of Bee Feeders
There are many types of feeders out there and each has its pros and cons. You can actually do it yourself (DIY) and get a perfectly working bee feeder. Most of them are quite easy to design and require little knowledge. As a matter of fact, most hobbyists and professional beekeepers design their own feeders.
The Pail bee feeder, Baggie bee feeder, and Frame bee feeder are the most popular in the market today. They are easy to design and you can DIY without the need to call a professional. Before we delve into how you can make these bee feeders, we will review the types of bee feeders available:
1. The Open air Feeders
As the name implies, these are simply feeders that are constructed out in the open. They are the most insecure and tend to attract all types of wildlife including: wasps, skunks, bears, birds, possums, raccoons, and many others.
In terms of safety, these feeders are not safe for the bees since it encourages the transmission of diseases, parasites, and pests. There is also a tendency for bees on open feeders to fight. This drastically weakens the bees and eventually leads to weak hives. Though this types of feeders are effective, they should be avoided by all means possible.
2. The Entrance Feeders
These are the most popular with beekeepers. They are made up of two parts: an inverted syrup container placed outside the hive and a tray for feeding placed at the hive entrance. They are quite easy to monitor and does not disturb the bees when checking or refilling the syrup.
One of the concerns with entrance feeders is that they hold very little syrup and during winter season the liquid will freeze. It can also be invaded by robber bees since it lies on the entrance to the hive.
3. The Division Board or Frame Bee Feeders
These are simply plastic bee feeders that are the size of a brood frame and normally take the place of one of the frames. They are ingenious designs that are situated inside the hive. They are ideal for keeping robbers and invaders off the bee syrup. They also have a bigger capacity and that means it takes longer to refill. They can also be refilled easily. However, their design is meant for the bees to crawl out easily without drowning. Nonetheless, bees still drown in these feeders. The various designs that have ladders, floats, or rough sides still drown bees.
One other challenge associated with division board feeders is that the bees will build comb inside the feeder when left empty.
4. Internal Hive-Top Feeders
This type of bee feeders is popular with most beekeepers since it is well secured against invasion. They are normally fitted on top of the brood boxes just beneath the cover. They have a bigger capacity and are easy to fill. Different models of internal hive-top feeders have their own unique way of preventing the bees from drowning.
One of drawback associated with this type of feeder is that when you are forced to move it when full for whatever reason, the syrup will splash everywhere.
5. External Hive-top Feeders
These types of feeders have a simple design. They are basically a container inverted over the entrance in the hive’s inner cover. They can simply be placed on top of the hive or alternatively be enclosed in an empty super. It is prudent to keep the feeder closed so as to prevent it from getting displaced by wind or animals. They hold plenty of syrup and since the syrup is not exposed to the air, it does not mold.
One of the problems associated with external hive-top feeders is that they are extremely heavy. They pose a great risk of slipping during rainy days and this may spoil the entire hive. You can use plastic pails instead since they are easier to use. This type of feeder is mostly used by commercials beekeepers.
6. Baggie Feeders
This type of feeder is simply a spacer rim that allows you to place a plastic zipper bag full of syrup for the bees. Once this bag is in place a slit is cut on it for the bees to sip the syrup. It is the safest method of feeding the bees. As a matter of fact, no bee dies when this type of feeder is used in the hive. It is also extremely difficult for the syrup to freeze since cluster of bees keep it warm even during the cold seasons. It is also easy to add mite treatments with the syrup since the rims are expansive.
On the downside, the plastic bags in baggie bee feeders are used once and need to be disposed. This is not environmentally friendly. This can also be expensive since you buy a new one every time.
How to Make a Pail, Baggie, and a Frame Bee Feeder
You have two options if you need to setup a bee feeder – DIY or just buy one. You’ll save a bit when you decide to do it yourself. Beside cost savings, you also get a sense of fulfillment when you setup one. You can as well setup one for your neighbours and show off your skill. If you’d rather just buy one, check out our article on the best bee feeders available today.
1. DIY: Make a Pail Bee Feeder
The pail feeder can be compared to a jar feeder. It is however bigger and therefore require minimal refills. However, one has to exercise caution when handling this type of feeder. It is heavier and that means it will create a lot waste if it spilled. They are the easiest to maintain and at times leads to bee drowning even with precaution.
To make your own pail bee feeder, follow these steps:
- Take a 5-gallon bucket or pail and put it within a convenient place from the hive. It should be easily accessible for you and the bees.
- Fill the pail with food or syrup of about 1 gallon and install a float through which the bees can consume the syrup.
- To minimize the number of bees that drown on the syrup, prepare a circular plastic float that fits the pail tightly.
- Drill a few holes on the plastic so that the bees can sip the syrup through the holes.
Alternatively, you can use an inverted jar to feed the bees. This is similar to the pail bee feeder but it is easier to design. All you need to do is drill holes on the lid of a jar and turn it upside down for the bees to suck the syrup. The jar allows some tiny amounts of food to come out and hence prevents wastage. The lid should be punched from the top so that the sharp edges of the holes remain inside the jar. Once this is done, you can suspend the jar inside the hive or simply hand it outside the box.
- To refill the pail feeder you must open the hive and that means you are vulnerable to stings.
- You need to smoke and disrupt the bee colony before refilling.
- The 1 gallon capacity needs to be refilled once or twice every week.
- Allows a few bees at a time to feed.
2. DIY: Make a Baggie Bee Feeder
This is one of the best DIY projects for your bee colony. It simply entails filling a plastic baggie with syrup to ¾ then zipping it up before placing it on the top hive bars. The bag is laid flat and directly on the bars. Those who would like to attract wild bees to their yard using this method should place the feeder outside. 2 or 3 slits are then cut on the bag with each about 4 inches in length. The slits should be away from the baggie edges and should be parallel to the hive entrance.
The baggie feeder should be positioned in such a way that an empty super is around it. This will make it impossible for other insects to find it. It also gives enough room for the bees to get access to the syrup.
- The baggie bee feeder is the most cost effective. The bags are cheap but not permanent. They need to be replaced every time.
- It makes it impossible for robbers to steal the syrup.
- Allows the bees to get an easy access to the food since the feed lies directly on top of the bees.
- It is almost impossible for the bees to drown when fed using baggie feeding.
3. DIY: Make a Frame Bee Feeder
The frame bee feeder, in simple terms refers to a narrow vessel that looks like a standard frame. It is normally placed on the upper deep-hive body and takes the place of one of the wall frames. It has a low capacity and is filled with syrup to which the bees get direct access. This type of feeding is quite impractical. It has to be refilled daily and you are forced to forgo one frame when the frame is installed. You also disturb the bees when you want to refill the feeder. This will also expose you to stings. Furthermore, bees often drown in this type of feeder.
The frame bee feeder is also referred to as the division-board feeder. To DIY this, follow these steps:
- Check out the width of the frame feeder and take out the number of frames that will create sufficient space for the feeder.
- Place the frames removed aside.
- Place your frame feeder in the empty space created.
- Take a container and mix the syrup.
- Pour the syrup into the frame bee feeder. Close the hive and take away the frames removed.
- The frame feeder is easy to install and maintain.
- Since they take up frame space, you need to calculate the space required before you set it up.
- You need to remove it for cleaning and this disrupts the bee colony. You also have to open up the hive when you want to refill the feeder.
- This type of feeder makes it impossible for robbers to steal the syrup.
- The division-board feeder are cheaper when compared to other types of feeders.
- Drowning is common with this type of feeder. More sophisticated designs that come with floats and ladders are available. These minimize drowning though it can still occur.
- Since these feeders are made of plastic, one has to be careful when inspecting them so as to avoid damaging them.
- The frame feeders have a capacity of between 1 to 2.5 gallons and therefore they can provide sufficient syrup to carry through a number of days. They come in handy whenever a lot of syrup is required within a short period of time.
A Final Word
The bee feeder is essential for sustenance during the hard times. The bees are capable of catering for themselves through all seasons but the feeder acts as a supplement when help is required. Such times include: when a new colony has just been introduced to an area and just before the onset of winter when resources are limited. You should choose a bee feeder that will meet your needs. Each of the bee feeders has its pros and cons. Check them out before you choose one.