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Our Top Bar Hive Syrup Feeders

2011 July 15
tags: ,
by Jeff
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.

 

Inverted jar feeder inside a hive

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.

Holder/rest for our jar feeder

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.
Chewed up cardboard follower board

 

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.
12 Responses leave one →
  1. August 22, 2011

    That cardboard is CRAZY!

  2. Kathleen permalink
    January 8, 2012

    That is the best idea I have seen yet. We devised a top feeding system, but it doesn’t work as well as I think yours will. We drilled 5 holes with 2 top bars pressed together, drew the outline of a mason jar lid, drilled the 5 holes in the lid, put the syrup in the jar, screw the lid on and turn it upside down over the holes. The holes are between the comb inside giving the bee’s room to get to the syrup. I think we’re going to use your plan instead…hope you don’t mind. Brilliant!

    • Jeff permalink
      January 9, 2012

      Hi Kathleen,

      Thanks for the feedback! No, I don’t mind at all. The feeder assembly was inspired by others I saw online, so it is quite likely you would be able to find a number of feeders that work in a similar way.

      I’m curious about the system you are using now (do you have a photo?), if I am picturing it correctly then I wonder how you get the roof of the hive on if the syrup jar sits on top of the top bars? An advantage of feeding from above is that if you need to feed with a pollen patty, or do an emergency winter feeding of dry sugar, then the holes on top should work well.

  3. Janine permalink
    September 8, 2012

    Fab idea. Putting it into practice to help the bees through the winter.

  4. March 13, 2013

    How big are the holes in the lid? I assume u poked them from the bee feeding side

    • Jeff permalink
      March 13, 2013

      I used a push-pin (for bulletin boards, hanging posters, etc) to make the holes in ours, but a small thin nail would work too.

      And, yes, I poked the holes from the side that the bees would be feeding from so that the rough edges would be inside the jar. Some people also try to smooth the sharp edges with sand paper (or something similar) to try and minimize the possibility of the bees cutting their tongues (proboscis).

  5. March 13, 2013

    Thanks for the info…….I am new at this built my hive a year ago and am waited for my package bees to show in next month. I also assume you put the feeder at the back of the hive opposite the entrance? I looks like the real value of your feeder is that u can keep the bees out of the section, thus making it easier to refill without too many bees around!

    • Jeff permalink
      March 13, 2013

      Yep, if you have end entrances then put the feeder on the end opposite the entrance. We have centre entrance holes on our hives, so we just place the feeder on one side or the other.

      For the last bunch of feeders I built I didn’t leave an opening (like the one in the photo) in the screen that the jar sits on – the screen covers the entire area. This way the bees don’t have an opening to come out of, and I don’t end up having to brush a bunch of feeding bees off the lid when I refill the feeder.

      Good luck, I hope your bees do well!

  6. Snowbee permalink
    April 19, 2013

    If the temperature drops down in the teens (or lower) after a package is installed the bees will not access syrup that is on the floor of the hive. Much as top bar beekeepers want to promote the advantages of their equipment, there is a HUGE problem with feeding the bees in cold weather when they are clustered. Sad but true: the bees will die.

  7. Yvonne Wagner permalink
    January 22, 2014

    I use a chicken waterer with rocks in it to keep the bees from drowning- works like a charm and is inexpensive.

    http://www.kittycooks.com/how-to-raise-baby-chicks-into-chickens.html

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