I am endlessly fascinated by how self-sufficient bees are, especially colony bees. Their system of scouting, foraging, and packing food is one that humans still don’t fully understand. It’s incredible, but sometimes it’s not enough.
Every now and then, the bees struggle with a shortage in nourishment. When situations like this arise, we use bee feeders to temporarily provide extra resources to them. Bee feeders are handy, so here’s how to make the most of them.
When Do You Need A Bee Feeder?
It’s always great to have a bee feeder handy for when you need it, even if you’re only just starting a beehive. A sad reality is that, more often than not, if you need to use one, there’s something wrong with your colony. Bee feeders should only be used when absolutely necessary, and this is mostly seasonal.
Some beekeepers choose to use feeders all year round, but this can harm your hive. The idea behind bee feeders is that they’re used in life or death situations—to prevent your hive from starving. They’re not meant to atrophy your colony’s ability to feed itself.
It doesn’t all have to be doom and gloom though. There are other instances when bee feeders are useful. They’re handy when a new colony is bought in, and they’re unacquainted with their surroundings. You can also use them in preparation for winter, just to give your bees a boost while they prepare for overwintering.
How to Use a Bee Feeder
You can use your feeder to supply your bees with nectar (as honey), sugar (as syrup) or even pollen. There is some protocol here. Using your feeder senselessly could destroy your colony.
- Don’t use dark, unrefined, or thick sugars, like brown sugar, raw sugar, molasses, or bottled syrup. You could make your bees very sick this way.
- Do stick to white sugar. Your bees will live longer (and stay healthy) if you do.
- Never, ever, feed your bees honey from a different hive. Feeding them honey that didn’t come from them could spread disease throughout the colony.
- Do feel free to feed them their own honey (so long as it’s disease free and harvested from that exact same colony).
How to Make Syrup
There are two ways beekeepers measure the amount of sugar added to the syrups. The first is the ratio of one part sugar to one part water. This is mostly to supplement their honey as it’s the weaker formula.
The second is to measure two parts of sugar to one part of water. This is used when the bees are low on resources and need a stronger dose of sugar provisioned for them.
Boil your water before you add the sugar, but no matter what, do not boil the mixture. If you do, you might caramelize the sugar, which could poison your bees. Serve your syrup to them at room temperature.
Types of Bee Feeders
Before you learn how to use a bee feeder, you should know that there are various kinds out there for you to experiment with. Each will have its pros and cons, so it’s ultimately up to you to determine which one suits you best.
Entrance, or Boardman, feeders are the most affordable feeders. They consist of two parts—a syrup container and a feeding tray.
The main advantage is that they fit well into hives. They also make it easy to gauge how much food is needed and when refills are necessary.
Disadvantages, however, are that they’re not designed to last in the cold months, and they can’t hold as much food as other feeders. Sun exposure can make your feed spoil faster, and there’s also a risk of contamination due to other bees or insects having ease of access.
Internal hive-top feeders fit between the brood boxes and the cover of your hive. They can hold a great amount of syrup and can be refilled with ease. A problem here, though, is that bees can drown in them. They’re also quite heavy and can make a big, sticky mess.
An external hive-top feeder is inverted over the entrance hole. You’ll have to keep it covered if you don’t want intruders, or if you want to hold it in place. They’re large containers that can also hold a lot of food but can be heavy and difficult to move. Regardless, they’re the best choice if you have large or numerous hives.
These are simply plastic bags that are placed inside a spacer rim in your hive. You slit it open and bees can easily feed on it without drowning. These feeders are brilliant in their simplicity but they do have some heavy downsides.
For one, they’re only good for one use each. This makes them expensive over time and it’s not a green choice. You also can’t move them once you’ve made the slit.
Also known as division board feeders, these are simply plastic that you use in place of a frame. Although their design is awesome, they’re often not worth the trouble.
One advantage is that they fit perfectly inside your hive and remain completely covered. They’re not subject to the elements or intruder insects, they’re large and they can store a lot of food.
Disadvantages include bees drowning in them all the time. If they’re left empty, bees will overtake them and fill them with comb. Leaks are a common occurrence, and they’re difficult to move.
Open Air Feeders
These are simply the worst ever and you shouldn’t even think about using one. As the name implies, these are left out in the open, the idea being that bees can forage by them. The intention might be noble, but the consequences are dire.
Leaving feeders exposed means that they can become contaminated and infect your entire hive. They can breed parasites, and they’ll attract unwanted wildlife: everything from birds to raccoons to bears.
Bees will also fight over open sources of food. These feeders are absolutely not worth the disharmony they can (and probably will) cause.
When to Stop Feeding
You’ll know it when you see it. Generally speaking, feeders should be used in place of natural food sources, when bees have no (or limited) access to their usual resources.
It’s not difficult to notice when bees lose interest in feeders and return to their usual behavior. You can also tell by your environment, season, or colony strength. Keep an eye on your bees. They’ll let you know when it’s time to stop.
Bee feeders are handy (and often necessary) tools that can make a world of difference in your hive’s health. Don’t overdo it, though. They’re not meant to replace a bee’s natural food. Rather, they’re used to supplement or provide nutrition when resources are scarce.
Like most beekeeping equipment, bee feeders come in various shapes, sizes, and designs and it’s up to you to figure out which ones are best for you. Avoid those that are open air or types that bees could easily drown or get stuck in. It’s important that you use them properly. Incorrect usage could kill your bees.