What are the best honey bee feeders depending on the time of the year?
There are so many different types of bee feeders on the market today that sometimes it can be very hard to understand which style to use, and at what time of the year certain feeders may work better than others. Different considering factors usually include bee population, weather conditions and temperatures. We're going to go over the types of feeders to use due to these conditions, and explain why they work better at different times of the year.
Top Tank Bee Feeders
These are a large quantity feeder that are generally used for hive populations of 1 or 2 full boxes of bees. Many bee keepers try to provide their bees with a large supply of syrup or sugar water, when in reality they have a small population in their hive. Most times this makes it very difficult for the bees to consume the feed before the liquid ferments (turns bad). Top tank bee feeders are best used in later spring and early fall, when temperatures are warm enough for the bees to be out foraging. *Please note* Honey bees need warmth and humidity to raise their brood. Top tank feeders can create a problem with this if the bee population is too low during cooler or cold weather. Heat rises in the bee hive just like in a house. If there is a top tank feeder on with a low population of bees, the heat will rise up into the feeder, while the brood frames down below will be cooler. The bees will have to stay on the frames of brood to keep them warm, and will be unable to go up into the feeder to get the feed.
Top Bucket, Jar or Barrel Bee Feeders
These are feeders that sit on top of the telescoping lids, or are enclosed within an empty hive body on top of the inner cover. *Helpful Tip!* If using the empty hive body method, the inner cover must be used as a separator between the empty box and the box the bees are in, to keep the heat down with the bees. These types of feeders work by gravity feed, right above the cluster. Since the feed source is close to the bees, they are able to consume it easily, with the least amount of travel. These feeders work best in early to mid spring. They should be removed as soon as the bees stop consuming the feed in warmer weather, because they can leak out the front of the hive, which could cause a robbing issue. These are exceptional feeders for early spring and will help to build your bees up quickly!
In Hive Frame Feeders
In hive frame feeders take the place of 1 - 2 frames inside your hive. They are usually placed on the outside wall of the top brood box that the bees are in, which gives the beekeeper easy refilling access. Benefits to a frame feeder include it works well with any quantity of bees at any time of the year; safest method of feeding in that it won't leak out and cause robbing issues; can be filled with the appropriate amount of feed depending on your bee population. With the frame feeders, it is crucial to use a ladder system (a mesh plastic grid) to reduce drowning, instead of leaving the tank open. The ladder system is beneficial to the bees by providing them with a way to crawl down to the syrup and then back up.
Front Entrance Bee Feeders
These feeders are widely used because bees come in contact with them when they are foraging. *Helpful Tip!* Front entrance bee feeders work best during warmer weather, when the bees are able to fly out to forage. During colder weather, the bees won't break cluster to reach the feeder most times. The entrance reducer will need to be modified to accommodate these feeders, and it works best if the feeder is on the opposite side from the entrance on the front of the hive, to reduce robbing issues. Since they are on the front of the hive, the front entrance feeders are easy to refill, but syrup consistency needs to be correct.
Open Honey Bee Feeding
This type of feeding method is widely used by commercial beekeepers who need to feed large amounts of hives. Any open container works for this type of feeding, as long as the bees can get back out after getting the feed, so some type of ladders need to be constructed so the bees can get back out without drowning. Some examples of containers that can be used are 55 gallon drums and 5 gallon buckets. Reasons for open feeding include feeding large amounts of hives during warmer weather; attracting attention as a food source away from bee hives during nectar dearths (best if done at least a half mile away from your bee hives, putting the feeder too close can cause a robbing issue); and open feeding also can simulate a honey flow to the bees, which will encourage them to let the queen lay brood.
Lappe's Bee Supply is dedicated to helping beekeepers understand the fundamentals of how the various styles of feeders work and what the best times of the year to use them are, so that you can have an enjoyable and successful beekeeping experience!