What is the best way to feed your honey bee colony?

This is a very common question we receive here at MSH.  Feeding our bees is an important task and not all feeders are best due to the temperate zone, elevations, and low temperatures.  Feeders also can be easy to use and also difficult.   Let’s start with the external feeders.

 

Boardman Feeder 

Let’s begin with exterior feeders.  The most common external feeder is the boardman feeder.  The boardman feeder is placed at the entrance of the hive.  The feeder is excellent in that you will never lose the heat within the hive during a feeding of the hive during the winter months.  The boardman feeder uses the following jars: pint, quart, and 5lbs jar.  The boardman feeder works as a vapor lock allowing drips as needed.

Pros –

  1. No heat loss in refilling the jar of sugar water.
  2. I highly recommend a quart or 5 lbs jar to eliminate trips to the hive.
  3. These are very good feeders for those who see temperature lows during winter not going below 5 degrees.
  4. These feeders last for 5 years or more.
  5. If the vapor lock fails the sugar water rarely flows into the hive.

Negatives –

  1. I normally use duck tape to cover half of the holes punched in the cap. The boardman feeder comes in plastic or in metal/wood.
  2. I have found the metal/wood boardman feeders not able to properly function after one season. Because the wood splits and rots.

 

Top Feeder 

There are many types of top feeders.  Top feeders are placed on the top of the hive just under the hive cover.  This is an ideal way of feeding your bees with limited heat loss in the coldest conditions.   Most top feeders contain 1 to 3 gallons of sugar water or dry feed.  Most manufacturers make thin plastic feeder bins that only last a season or two.  I will state Ceracell food grade feeders do not have this problem as they are the industry leader in top feeders.  These feeders also allow quick access to feed your bees.

The bees can feed at will and have multiple access points to the feed.  The important feature is to have “ladders” available for the bees to crawl down and feed and if they fall into the feed they can grab a ladder to get back to the colony.

 

Pros-

  1. Excellent feeding source for feeding in cold winters under 20 degrees.
  2. Large amount of feed allows minimal feeding trips.
  3. The Ceracell Feeder is built to last for a minimum 5 years usage without cracking.
  4. Feeder should feed the colony for two months during the winter months.
  5. Good to use in any state.

Negatives –

  1. Most top feeders will eventually crack and must be inspected routinely.  Any crack that happens could result in sugar water pouring down the hive and chilling your bees and losing a significant amount of brood.
  2. Many companies do not offer ladders in their feeders which result is bees dying when they fall into the sugar water.
  3. You will have to look inside the hive to see if it needs to be refilled.
  4. Minimal heat loss within the hive.

 

Bucket Feeder

The bucket feeder is essentially a top feeder.  The bucket feeder is a vapor lock feeder and the feed mix must be 1:1 sugar water ratio or better for the proper vapor lock.  The bucket feeder is placed above the inner cover.  Once the bucket feeder is in place you will need a empty deep super to put over the bucket so the elements cannot destroy the inner cover.  The bucket feed has two holes on the cover along with a refill plug.  The bees will come up thru the center vent hole and feed from the feed that is upside down with the top facing downward.  When you receive your bucket place the cover on and the cover will never be removed again.  Only pull the center plug in refilling the feeder.  These food grade bucket feeders should last 5 plus years.

 

Pros –

  1. Easy to use and easy to refill.
  2. Contains 1 gallon of sugar water feed.
  3. Very unlikely to leak if used properly.
  4. Should be refilled once per month during the winter months.
  5. Good to use in any state.

Negatives –

  1. Some heat loss occurs when refilling the bucket.

 

Frame Feeders

Frame feeders are normally made of plastic and contain 1 gallon to 2 gallons and can be placed in the deep super or in the medium super.  Frame feeders also require space within the super and will take one or two frame spaces within the super.  Frame feeders are convenient for the bee colony to feed quickly and to get back in the warmth of the colony.  Frame feeders need to have a very solid cover such as a wood cover.  There should also be a solid ladder system to allow the bees to grab on the ladder as they go down and come back up from feeding.  The frame feeders must be made of food grade plastic and thick plastic.  Many manufacturers make thin plastic feeders and these feeders will quickly crack and flood the hive which will result in dead bees.  Quality frame feeders will last 5 years or more.

Pros –

  1. Feeder is close to the colony for easy and quick feeding.
  2. Need to only feed once per month during the winter months.
  3. Good feeder for beekeepers in the South.

 

Negatives –

  1. You will lose the warmth within the hive by having to completely open the hive. High degree of chilling the colony during mid-Fall to early Spring.
  2. Can leak within the hive and kill some bees.

 

There is no perfect feeder.  The real way to determine the best feeder is by where you live and what best suits your climate.  Feel free to call our experienced staff to find the best feeder for your bee hive!