My favorite method of feeding bees


There are times when we need to feed our bees. It’s usually when bees either need to produce wax to draw out frames as is the case with a new package, or are short on stores before going into winter.

If you’re not up to the task of making your own feeder, there is wide range of commercially made feeders available. Prices range from about $2.50 for a small plastic entrance feeder to $20 or so for a variety of hive top feeders. I’ve tried a number of methods and have settled on one.

Let’s look a some that are available:

Boardman Feeder

The Boardman feeder has been around for a very long time. It costs around $3.50 to $5  It’s usually made of wood and sheet metal and basically holds an inverted jar with small holes punched in the cover where the bees access the syrup. It slips between the landing board and hive body. The advantages are that you can see how much syrup is left, and can slip it out and refill it without opening the hive. You can also use it as a water source. The downside is it doesn’t have a very large capacity, and having that food right near the entrance can incite robbing from other hives.

Division board feeders are usually plastic and take the place of a frame in your hive body. Prices range from around $4.50 to $7, cheaper if you buy five or more. On the upside, they are inside the hive and easily accessible. If you put it in place of the last frame, you can slide the inner cover over just enugh to check and fill it, or it can be placed right next to the cluster. The downside: they tend to break after a while, especially the ears. Although designs have changed quite a bit over the years, they still tend to drown a number of bees, especially if the floats get stuck which often happens when the bees build some comb inside the feeder.

Hive top feeders are usually the most expensive, and they range from styrafoam to wood or molded plastic. I don’t have a photo to show you. The challenge for this type of feeder has always been letting the bees get at the syrup without falling in and drowning, and all sorts of way have been devised to try and accomplish this. The upsides of hive top feeders: Again, you are feeding them inside so robbing is prevented, and they have a large capacity so they don’t need to be filled as often. The downsides: There is still possibility of drowned bees. Everytime you want to get into the hive you have to remove  the feeder and if it’s  still 1/2 or 3/4 full, it’s very hard to take it off without spilling syrup.

Screens used in Bucket Feeders

Pail feeders are just a bucket with a screened insert in the cover. You fill the bucket with syrup, flip it over and place it on two sticks on the inner cover and the bees access the syrup through the screen.  The cost for one is $5.75, five or more $5 ea and the capacity is one gallon. Upside: It works well and has a large capacity. Downside: you need an extra empty hive body to place over it. Sometimes if it’s empty for a while the bees will propolize the screen. If you lose your seal, syrup can leak out quickly.

Container and Base of an Entrance Feeder

The method I’ve come to use the most is the  plastic entrance feeders, but I don’t put them at the entrance. I place them on the inner cover like you would the bucket feeder. The small ones hold 1 quart and cost$2.95 ea or $2.50 ea for 10 or more The large ones hold almost 2 quarts and range in price from $3.75 for one to $3.35 each for 10 or more. I use the large ones and can easily put four in a hive giving them almost 2 gallons of syrup at once. The down side is they are more expensive than a bucket feeder, and also need an empty hive body. The upside is large capacity and you can lift the lid and see how much is left without disturbing the hive.

Assembled Entrance Feeder

Everyone has their favorite and I’d love to hear yours. Happy Beekeeping.


About Beekeeping in the Berkshires

Here at Berkshire Farms Apiary we've been keeping bees and making honey since 2005, with hives in most of the surrounding towns. We also make pure beeswax candles, lip balm, and hand salve, as well as give presentations. As secretary of the Northern Berkshire Beekeepers Association, I am very active in the local beekeeping community.
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4 Responses to My favorite method of feeding bees

  1. Alethea says:

    I haven’t ever drowned bees in my hive-top feeders. The design that Betterbee sells must have a good damming system. Always enjoy reading your posts!

  2. Julie White says:

    Wow, what a good idea using the entrance feeders in the top, how creative of you. I’ve been using them in the front and it’s worked fine this summer with just three hives, new, and no other hives within miles, so no robbing. But I was wondering what to do next year when I add another three. This might be just the thing. Do you close up the upper entrance? Do you see any disadvantages? Also, do you need a deep or would a medium do?

    • Hi Julie, The feeders are about 7 1/2″ high, so if you used a medium, you would need an additional spacer about an inch or more high. I’ve had them on hives with upper entrance holes in the ocupied hive body, But the one you cover the feeders with should be free of openings that robber bees could get into. I’ve also used this method on my topbar hive and it’s working very well. I haven’t seen any disadvantages to using this method

  3. Alethea, It’s good to hear that they’ve come up with an effective hive top feeder that doesn’t drown bees.

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