Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Feeding Bees

I am really not a big fan of feeding my bees. Often times it is necessary for various reason especially to get them a good start on building up the reserves they need to survive nature's ups and downs but I try and avoid it if at all possible.

There are many reasons for my reluctance to feed my bees.

For one thing feeding sugar syrup isn't exactly the best all around food for them. Many a "purest" will say it changes the chemical balance inside the hive and removes some beneficial parasites and bacteria. I don't know how true all that is but I do know that combs full of sugar syrup are not really honey in a strict sense that's for sure.

Sugar syrup is however great to feed to a newly captured swarm as it really promotes comb building.

My largest problems with sugar syrup however is the delivery system. I have found the small outside containers (known as boardman feeders) tend to drip alot of syrup on the ground and therefore waste it, and also soon become a free lunch buffet line for a multitude of parasites, scavengers and enemies. Ants especially like the dripping messy gravity fed outside feeders. The most dangerous aspect of a gravity fed outside feeder is that it promotes robbing from neighboring hives. Eventually a large mammal will find the feeder hanging outside the hive as well and steal it.

The large top feeders that hold a gallon or more of syrup cause problems all their own. They are enclosed inside the hive so do not promote outside predators or robbing activity but also because they are big reservoirs they need rather complicated access ports and screening inside to keep the bees from drowning in the syrup. What happens is either the screens get messed up and allow access to the syrup or the top parts of the feeders become perfect ant colony protection zones that the bees cannot do anything about. Also during Spring and Summer the foragers will work the outside flowers while the inside bees usually grab the syrup and the big top feeders end up wasting syrup or promoting fungus growth. Again wasted syrup.

Last year I tried melding the two types of syrup feeding methods together by placing a normally outside feeder inside an empty super. This placed the feeder inside the hive in an area the bees had total access to and removed the thief/scavenger/robber problem. However it caused other issues (of course). For one the outside feeders were gravity fed and had drip holes which allowed the syrup to run down into the hive. The other problem was I had to watch for the bees building comb in the mostly empty super as well.

I then discovered another type of boardman or entrance feeder that had flow channels instead of drip holes. It was also low enough to fit inside the added top super. I have been using these feeders inside the hives that need feeding with great success (or at least not as many bad side effects) until yesterday. I discovered a full quart of syrup in these feeders will make the bottom fall of from pressure if you attempt to hold it with one hand while placing it inside the hive.

Let's just say the new swarm got a sugar syrup shower yesterday afternoon and I doubt they were very pleased with it.

Feeding bees is such a pain.

Oh I tried feeding honey for a while as well. Open honey inside a hive leads to full scale conventional and non-conventional open hive warfare. The results were not pretty.

Keep Prepping Everyone!!!


  1. Just an idea, but have you looked at chicken nipples? They are used for watering chickens and they only allow a drop at a time. You just drill holes in the bottom of a 5-gallon bucket (or any container), and insert the nipples then hang from a tree.

    1. Anon - That would be like open feeding which would be the same buffet line to the pests. I do that in Winter for the days the girls can get out but I doubt it would work well in Spring/Summer.

  2. I lost two hives this winter due to a combination of robbing and varroa mites. I am using the gallon buckets with the screens as hive top feeders and am also fighting ants. So far they don't seem to be bothering the bees though. I heard that if you sprinkled cinnamon around on top of the inner cover, it would discourage the ants and the bees don't mind. Lies! The bees most certain do mind. Cinnamon turned one of my most gently hives into little attack dogs. When I put my hand in the hive with a slight ammount if cinnamon on my glove it was like sticking a magnet into a bucket of nails. I had a dozen bees hit my hand like torpedos. I had to keep walking away from the hive to let them settle and then come back to reassemble the hive. One more thing to add to the list of items that will really piss off a hive of bees.

    1. Gracie - The issue I have with the top feeders is so much of it goes bad and as you said the ants. Plus it adds alot of moisture tot he hive.

      LOL That encourages me to NOT use cinnamon :)


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