At some point, you may find it necessary to feed sugar syrup to your bees. Some examples are when a package is newly installed, if there is a period of dearth in nectar, if poor weather prevents the bees from being able to forage, or when the beekeeper underestimates the amount of honey the bees will consume through the winter and early spring. Ideally enough honey can be left in the hive to cover their appetites, but it is a good idea to be prepared just in case the need to feed arises.
With Langstroth hives their are plenty of options available on the market, but with top bar hives it requires a bit of creativity to feed your bees. More than likely, you’ll need to make something yourself or adapt an existing device to be used in a top bar hive. The good news is that there is no shortage of ways to do this. A quick internet search will bring up a variety of methods and designs to cover any situation, budget or ability. But since you’re already here, we may as well show you our solution for feeding syrup to our bees.
Inspired by some homemade feeders that we’d seen on some forums, we decided to go with inverted-jar feeders. This entails poking some holes in the lid of a jar filled with syrup and then turning it over so the bees can lap up the syrup through the holes. The tricky part was figuring out a way to make it accessible for the bees. Fortunately, when we were building our hives we saved any and all bits of scrap wood during the process – some of it had to be useful for something, right? As it turned out it (along with some bits of screen we had leftover from our bottom boards) was perfect for cobbling together some feeder assemblies.
The piece of wood that is the base of the assembly is wide enough to hold everything about an inch above the bottom of the hive, which left enough space above so that we could still put the roof on the hive without interfering with the jar of syrup. The three small pieces of wood that form a “U” shape hold the jar above the the base, this allows space for the bees to congregate beneath the jar of syrup to feed. Then we attached some screen (~8 squares per inch, a.k.a. #8 hardware cloth) around the edges to keep the bees contained to the area below the jar making it “bee-tight”. We also put one more small piece of wood on top of the front of the feeder assembly to form an entrance to the feeding area – all of the pieces on this side are flush with each other so that they can be placed against the follower board, again keeping everything bee-tight. Lastly, after the assembly was completed we cut a hole in a follower board (at the same position as the feeder entrance) to allow the bees to reach the feeder entrance from the hive by passing through the hole in the follower board.
The hardest and most expensive part of the entire process was eating enough sauerkraut to have a few 2 litre jars to hold the syrup – that is a whole lot of veggie dogs with kraut!! Oh, and I did lie a little bit about one thing, we used temporary follower boards made from cardboard as feeder entrances at first. We don’t recommend this.
One of our colonies kept chewing up the cardboard and mostly ignoring the syrup (yeah, guess which colony that was!
), whereas the other colony was smart enough to realize that the syrup was the food, not the cardboard. So go with a wood follower board with a hole in it, you can cover the hole when the feeder is not in use.