Time to treat for Varroa Mites

After you have harvested honey or determined that you will not be harvesting honey – it is now time (July) to treat your bees for Varroa mites.  If you have not yet obtained your treatments you need to order them right away.

For what it is worth I personally plan to use Apiguard at this time of year – because it is hot, and Apivar works better in hot weather while some other treatments become harmful at high temps.  But any of these will work if used correctly.

One word of caution – Stinky treatments like Apiguard, and Mite-away-quick-strips produce smelly fumes.  Hives need proper amounts of ventilation and must have a strong enough population to fan and ventilate the hives.  Not enough ventilation or not enough bees to fan can result in absconding (apiguard) or queen death (Miteaway) – an interuption in brood production or some brood death is not unusual or cause for alarm.

The main thing is to do something – don’t let confusion or inability to choose keep you from acting.  If you want to go the simplest/easiest route then Apivar – synthetic amatraz – is definitely the silver bullet at this time.  If you want to use naturally occuring treatments then any of the others.

Treatment free – failing to make a choice and then not applying any treatments is not the same as treatment free beekeeping.  Being a treatment free beekeeper requires proactive action, and if anything more knowledge than treating.  If you don’t know what I am referring to then you probably need to treat.

If you don’t do anything about mites there is an excellent chance that your bees will be dead by next spring.  Mites spread viruses – viruses make your hives sick – sick bees can’t feed and care for offspring in good numbers – compromised fall buildup results in weak hives with  health issues because of malnutrition and disease – weakened hives are more subject to robbing which weakens them even more while spreading mites to other hives – normal winter/late spring stress is too much for weakened hives – dead colonies are incorrectly  blamed on winter weather.

There is a fairly extensive article on all of the options for varroa mite treatments available at this link – but at this time (mid summer) the mainstream options for mite treatment are limited to…

EPA regulated naturally occurring mite treatments

  • Miteaway Quick Strips / formic acid ***– can kill mites inside of capped brood as well as phoretic mites – Only 1 treatment required.  Requires careful application with attention to temp and hive strength to avoid bee and brood mortality – can result in queen loss if miss used. Daytime Temp of 50 – 90 F specified on day of treatment, but bee/brood mortality increases with temp. $4.70 per treatment. Miteaway Instructions
  • Apilife Var / Thymol and other EO – Very safe time release delivery.  Requires 3 treatments to be effective if brood is present – Use when average daytime temps are between 59 and 69 F.  About $3.65 per treatment. Apilife Instructions
  • Apiguard / thymol ***– Safe, low bee or brood mortality – but does cause bearding and interruption of brood rearing for a few days.  Requires 2 applications at warm to high temperatures – 60 /100° F.  Requires a spacer – About $3.60 per treatment. Apiguard Instructions
  • Hop Guard / add HopGuard® II to hives at the rate of 2 insert strips per 10 frames.  Strips should be hung between frames. HopGuard® II is most effective when used during the pre-pollination period (before sealed brood), mid-summer, and at the onset of winter brood development. HopGuard® II may be applied up to 3 times per year,

 EPA regulated Synthetic mite treatments 

  • Apivar/amitraz – currently reported to be extremely effective.  One application of 2 strips required. About $6.00 per treatment. No evidence of resistance after more than 15 years – no application temp recommended (that I know of)  Apivar Instructions and Info

Please read and educate yourself to make a choice.

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Queenlessness is probably the main cause of hive death during the beekeeping season – but it doesn’t have to be.  A hive can lose its  queen for several reasons – swarming, supersedure, beekeeper error,  etc.  Any time a new queen flies out to mate there is a significant chance that she won’t make it back.

When a strong hive becomes queenless for any reason you have about 4-5 weeks to take action to save the hive, but the sooner you do something the better it will be.  This is one reason that we do inspections.

What to do when you are queenless.

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Package Bee demographics

As you are probably aware one of the disadvantages of a package (or swarm) of honey bees as compared to a nuc is that while a nuc should be growing in population from the very first day, a package actually loses population until eggs laid after it is installed begin to emerge.   Here is an estimate of how the population of a package falls and rises after installation day…

  • Day one – package installed in hive.
  • Day 23 or 24 shows lowest bee population.
  • Day 30 shows return to package initial population.
    Growth continues.
  • Day 40 shows twice initial package population.
  • Day 42 marks the point when all bees in hive are truly your bees.
  • Day 50 shows three times initial bee population.
  • Day 59 marks beginning of population stabilization as deaths offset births.

So, as you can see a package takes about a month before its population grows past the initial size – while a nuc grows from day one.

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Counting Mites

“If you can’t measure it, You can’t manage it…”  Varroa mites are  the scourge of honey bees and beekeepers – success is unlikely without some strategy to manage them.  Unfortunately many beekeepers – especially new ones – come under the impression that they will somehow get a pass or that their bees don’t have mites.

Since they are almost never seen during inspections mites are out of sight and out of mind until a colony mysteriously dies at which point the mishap is often blamed on weather, wax moths or Small Hive Beetles when the truth is often (usually even) that mites brought disease into the colony weeks or months before it died.

If you don’t measure mite loads, you can’t know when you need to take action, or if your treatments were effective.  “I treated and my bees died anyway…”  Did you treat before the hive was so infested that it was too late?  Did your treatment work?  If you don’t do mite counts you simply can not answer these questions.  You are only guessing.

And another video showing and alcohol wash…

The following video shows a brood frame with symptoms of Parasitic Mite Syndrome caused by a severe infestation of Varroa…

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A Beginners Guide to Essential BeeKeeping Equipment

This post has been previously published on Cookevillebeekeepers.com but contains seasonally relevant information.

Honey bees are cavity nesters, and they will make their home inside of all kinds of things – hollow trees, walls, empty oil drums, water meter boxes – almost any enclosed space that they can get into.  And through history (and even today) people have used all kinds of bee hives.

However, in TN – and most other states – beekeepers are required to use hives that allow full inspections of the colony. “All hive equipment should be of the modern Langstroth type with hanging, movable frames…”  However, Mike Studer the TN state Apiarist says “Top bar hives are legal in Tennessee as long as you can remove the frames to inspect for pests and diseases. Actually, Honey bees can be kept in any type of structure or configuration as long as the frames can be removed for inspection…”

But, this article is only about Langstroth style equipment – the recommended type for new beekeepers.

A typical Langstroth hive

A typical Langstroth hive – note that the top super shows a special comb honey “Ross Round” frame – which is not all that typical.

Langstroth type hives – named for L.L. Langstroth the American clergyman who invented the design – are the box shaped hives that we are all familiar with.  The basic principal behind the design is that bees will fill up large spaces with comb, and small spaces with propolis, but will mostly not fill spaces that are just large enough for them to crawl through – between 1/4 and 3/8 of an inch.  So to prevent the bees from gluing everything together into a solid mass of wax and propolis the Langstroth hive is designed to maintain that “bee space” between all of the parts.  Some “burr comb” will still be deposited in places, and they will use propolis to glue everything together somewhat, but in general none of that will be too much of a problem in a properly designed hive that doesn’t violate bee space.

Hive Bodies and Supers

The standard Langstroth hive body will hold 10 frames of comb.  Some bee keepers are using 8 frame equipment because it is 20 percent lighter than equivalent 10 frame equipment, but most professional beekeepers use 10 frame equipment.  An extremely small number of beekeepers use hives that hold more than 10 frames.  Whatever you do it is highly recommended that you plan to stick with one configuration for the foreseeable future so that your equipment will be interchangeable as your apiary develops.

There are basically 3 standard depths for hive bodies – deep, medium and shallow.  In the past most beekeepers used “deeps” to contain the brood nest – the area where the queen lays eggs and brood develops – usually the boxes at the bottom of the stack.  And when it came time for the bees to store honey “shallows” were used as honey “supers” – super just means that you put it on top of the hive instead of on the bottom.  Mediums – sometimes referred to as “Illinois” – when used at all could be used for either brood or honey.  Some beekeepers with really strong backs – or hired help – use deeps for everything.  But be aware that a deep hive body full of honey can weigh almost 100 pounds, and can be on top of a stack higher than your head – most hobbyists don’t want to deal with that.

The different depths have corresponding non-interchangeable frame and foundation sizes.  The frames, foundation, and hive bodies all have to match and because of minor manufacturing differences it is recommended that you get all of these from the same supplier.

Keeping it Simple – All Mediums

In recent years there has been a trend for non-commercial beekeepers to use all medium depth hive bodies – for several reasons:

  • Standardization – having one size for everything makes it much easier to grow your apiary because drawn comb can be used for any purpose that you want, and you only have the one size for spares.
  • Weight – a 10 frame medium full of honey weighs about 55 pounds whereas a deep weighs more like 95.

These reasons are so compelling that many beekeepers are actually going to the trouble and expense of converting their equipment to all mediums.

Hive Body/Super – What’s the difference?

Until recently most bee keepers used 1-2 deep boxes and frames on the bottom of the stack for brood – the queen was kept in these lower boxes with a queen excluder.  These boxes would often be called brood boxes.  Then they would used shallow boxes above the queen excluder for the bees to store honey – that way there was never any brood in the honey boxes – these boxes were called supers or honey supers.  Super actually just means on top.

Any size box that you use below a queen excluder is a brood box, any box that is above an excluder is a honey super.  But “old timers”  (no offense) often are referring specifically to deeps and shallows when they use those terms.

Any box is a hive body.

Queen Excluders

A queen excluder is a device which has holes or slots in it which are large enough for worker bees to go through, but too small for a queen to go through.  The main purpose of an excluder is to keep the queen from laying eggs in honey supers.

Worker Bees don’t seem to like to go through an excluder unless they Really have to.  As long as there is any room at all left for them to work below the excluder they probably won’t go through one – especially if there is not any drawn comb on the other side.  In other words it’s hard to get them to build comb on the other side of a queen excluder – very hard if there isn’t ANY drawn comb already above the excluder.

Some people don’t use excluders, but just about all professional bee keepers do.  If it’s your first year keeping bees you probably don’t need to use an excluder because you won’t be making a lot of honey anyway. So for your first year a queen excluder is not essential.

Bottom Boards

The hive bodies sit directly on the bottom board which acts as the entrance for the bees. In the past solid bottom boards were standard equipment, but in recent years screened bottom boards have become very popular, because they improve ventilation and they allow varroa mites to fall through to the ground instead of staying in the hive to crawl back onto your bees.   If you use a screened bottom board you should get one which can be closed if needed – most can.

You will also need an entrance reducer/mouse guard to go with your bottom board.

Hive Covers

telescoping bee hive cover

Telescoping Cover


migratory bee hive cover

There are 2 popular styles of hive covers – “migratory” and “telescoping”.  Telescoping covers extend past and down onto the hive bodies on all four sides while migratory covers only overhang the hives on the front and back and are flush on the sides.  Telescoping covers are more secure from wind and rain, but migratory covers allow hives to be stacked tight together on the sides – a big plus if you are putting them on a truck to migrate to a pollination job.   Telescoping covers should used in conjunction with an inner cover or the bees will glue it on with propolis, and because there is no access for a hive tool it will be hard to pry off.  An inner cover is not really required if you use migratory covers.

Frames and Foundation

Remember that your frames and foundation must be the same size as the hive bodies that they are to go into.  There are basically 2 types of frames – wooden frames which have separate foundation, and one piece plastic all in one frame and foundation combo.  Some people love plastic frames and some people hate them.

If you use wooden frames you have 3 main choices in foundation – plastic, wax, and foundationless:

Plastic foundation is probably the easiest for the beekeeper to work with, but the least favorite of the bees.

Advantages of Plastic Foundation

  • It is easy to install and not at all fragile.
  • It is pretty much trouble free to extract.

Disadvantages of Plastic Foundation

  • It is the most expensive of all options, and while it doesn’t seem like all that much it adds up when you are growing your apiary and perhaps need to buy hundreds of pieces at a time.
  • Bees like it the least – nonetheless a strong hive with a good flow on will draw comb on it.
  • It is difficult to remove a queen cell from plastic without damaging it.

Advantages of Wax Foundation

  • It’s economical
  • It’s more readily accepted by the bees than plastic foundation.

Disadvantages of Wax Foundation

  • It can be relatively fragile when it is cold or until it is fully drawn into comb and attached by the bees.
  • The wax it is made of may contain trace amounts of agricultural chemicals or hive medications – The wax may have been produced in another country that allows the use of chemicals that are banned in the U.S.  This may have implications for bee health, or for the use of wax foundation in the production of comb honey.
  • It may need to be wired into frames – especially deep frames – for extra strength.
  • If wires are used they may interfere with removal (for use) of queen cells.
foundationless frame of honey bee brood

A medium frame of foundationless comb – click on the image (and use ctrl +) for a much more detailed view – the lower left area is capped brood, the white cells are open brood ready to be capped – the band of cells adjoining the brood are filled with pollen, and the upper right corner contains uncapped honey and a small patch of capped honey – notice that the comb is only minimally attached to the frame along the sides and bottom.

Foundationless is a more hands on option and not at all fool proof.  It is good for comb honey but may be tricky (at best) to extract – nonetheless when Langstroth designed his hive in 1852 there was no such thing as manufactured foundation, so for about 25 years it was the only way to go even for commercial beekeepers.

Advantages of Foundationless

  • Bees will build a natural comb size and will build drone comb as they need them. BTW drone brood comb is much bigger than worker brood comb, but both can also be used to store honey.
  • Because there are no wires it is very easy to cut out queen cells or to produce cut comb honey.
  • You know exactly where your wax came from.
  • Bees will very readily build foundationless comb because it is the natural way that they build.
  • You don’t have to buy or install foundation.
  • Any style of wooden frame can be used for foundationless with the simple addition of a comb guide to the top bar – a Popsicle stick for example.

Disadvantages of Foundationless

  • Comb will often be built crooked or not even in the frames especially if there isn’t any existing comb to guide the bees.  In most cases it is quite easy for the beekeeper to straighten out anything like this, but in other cases you might have to cut out badly built comb and tie it in to your frames.  Either way the bees will quickly fix up any damage caused by straightening.   It is rare for bees to  build between frames when foundation is used.
  • Foundationless comb might be tricky or difficult to extract honey from – it can be done, but some “blown out” comb is likely to happen.  This is not a problem for comb that will be used in the brood nest.
  • Bees will build drone comb where they want instead of where you want.


So, there are a lot of options to consider but after discussing this with the other association officers we are going to recommend that if you are just starting out you seriously consider using the following:

  • 10 frame medium depth equipment – 10 frame because it is the industry standard, medium depth because of the flexibility you get from using one size frame for all purposes.  If you planning to start with package bees you will (hopefully) need 3 or 4 medium depth hive bodies full of frames and foundation for each hive for your first year.
  • Wooden frames, and pre-wired wax foundation.
  • Wooden framed Screened Bottom Board with an option to easily close it off for cold weather or mite counts.
  • Wooden Telescoping outer cover and a wooden inner cover.

In other words something like this beginner kit  except with a wooden outer cover.

honey be hive kit

These are just our suggestions – by all means feel free to exercise your own judgment and get whatever you want, but this will serve you well for your first year of beekeeping.

In addition to woodenware you will also need at least a veil, gloves, a smoker and something to use as a hive tool – I like an old slot screwdriver with a bit of a hook bent in the end.  A full bee suit would be nice but in my opinion it’s not really necessary, however it will give you more confidence.

There’s all kinds of other paraphernalia that you will probably eventually try out or at least consider – feeders, slatted racks, queen excluders,  landing board/hive stands, pollen traps, nucleus hives, beetle traps, robber screens, swarm traps, queen rearing and marking equipment, honey extraction and packaging equipment – but trust me you won’t have to have any of that during your first year.


Hive Kits from Kelley Bees in Kentucky

Hive Kits from Mann Lake – Mann lake always has free shipping for orders over $100

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Emergency Feeding – Don’t let your Bees Starve!

Mountain Camp Sugar Feeding

This article has been previously published, but contains seasonally relevant information…

dry sugar emergency feed for honey bees

To ensure your bees don’t starve over the winter you can very simply pour plain sugar onto a sheet of paper towel or newspaper  laid directly on the top bars of the hive. leave room for the bees to get around – that’s just about all there is to it. A useful addition is a piece of  half  inch mesh wire under the paper so that when you need to inspect you can easily lift the whole thing off and replace it.

If you have any suspicion whatsoever that your bees might be low on food – or even if they have food but the cluster might not be able to get to it.   You can insure that your bees don’t starve by “mountain camp” feeding.  It is very easy, doesn’t require any special equipment, and doesn’t require digging around in the hive – you can even do it when it is pretty cold.  There is no reason to let your bees starve.

If you don’t wet the sugar a bit the bees will often carry it out of the hive as if it were refuse – or when they eat through the paper it will trickle down into the hive and make a mess.  Using a spray bottle of plain water wet down the paper, add a layer of sugar about 1/2 – 1″ thick, wet it down, continue adding sugar in layers and wetting them until you have added all the sugar you want to apply.  If you are worried about adding so much moisture to the hive – don’t the sugar will quickly absorb all of it as it hardens up.  It will not hurt anything.  4-5 pounds of sugar  is not too much to use.  Be sure to leave space for the bees to go around the paper.  Add an empty super or a feed shim to make room for everything.  An empty super may seem too roomy, but it works fine – I have been doing this for 5 years now, and a medium super does the job with no problems.

this honey bee hive has eaten almost all of the mountain camp sugar.

This hive needs more sugar.

bees out of sugar

Now even a complete novice can tell that this hive will starve without immediate action. No guessing, very simple judgement, and a good excuse to go out and visit your bees on a winter day.

It will now be easy to tell just by peaking under the cover if your bees have used up the sugar yet.  If you feed like this and the cluster is at the top of the hive – which they often are by now – they Will Not Starve unless you let them.

A common spring occurrence is that colonies will have a good amount of open brood in them during a late cold snap.  The hive will cluster on the brood to keep it warm, and the bees and open brood will consume all of the food stores withing reach of the cluster.  Within just a few days of cold weather under these conditions a hive can starve to death with honey stored less than 3 inches from the cluster.  If the cluster is at the top, and you apply mt camp sugar this will not happen unless you let them run out of sugar.

An additional benefit of feeding like this is that the sugar absorbs moisture and helps to prevent condensation from dripping on the bees and freezing them.

maountain camp honey bee emergency feed with pollen sub candy.

As the bees consume the sugar feed you can replenish it with bee candy – I start feeding pollen sub candy in mid January.  As you can see in this picture the bees often hollow out the sugar from the bottom as they eat it.

As the food is used up you can either add a layer of paper on top of the old feed and just give them more granulated sugar or you can give them chunks of home made bee candy.

By the time you are ready to remove any remaining feed the sugar will be set up into a solid chunk that can easily be removed.  You can make syrup out of the scraps and nothing goes to waste.

There are two drawbacks to this system that I know of:  Sometimes during long spells of bad weather or if the bees have nosema a few of them may defecate on top of the sugar feed – they normally would not do that inside of the hive unless conditions were really bad.  This can’t be a good thing as far as hygiene goes, but I have never lost a hive due to nosema as far as I can tell despite routinely using mt camp sugar feed. On the other hand the signs of nosema are very clearly apparent when you see them on top of the white sugar, and that could give you the notice that you need to take timely action if you plan to treat for such things.

The other drawback to feeding like this is that you can’t add supers until you remove the feed – you can actually, but it won’t do much good if the weather turns cold and there is a box of empty comb between the emergency feed and the cluster of bees.  Of course you don’t need to add supers until there is nectar coming in anyway, but I thought I should mention that it can cause a conflict in certain weather/hive conditions.

I always feed like this in the winter, because I think that the benefits outweigh any downsides that there may be, however this does not mean that you can or should rob excessive honey, or fail to feed syrup in the fall if they need it.  But if your hives are light this will save your bacon.

Posted in Evergreen, Honey Bee How to, Learn about Bee Keeping, Seasonal | 1 Comment

Beekeeping Phenology – Important blooms in mid TN

When you begin keeping bees you start to notice flowers like never before.  Certain blooms are especially significant…

  1. Maple – Rapid increase in brood production – Begins in Feb/early March and lasts several weeks as different varieties bloom at slightly different times.  Weather is often fair enough for inspections during the maple bloom, and hive conditions may indicate that it is time to reverse brood chambers.  Maple can produce plentiful pollen and nectar, but weather usually limits the bees ability to take full advantage of it.
  2. Dandelion – time to begin adding supers, reversing brood boxes, and other swarming counter-measures – late March/Early April.  Swarm issue begins about 3 weeks later.
  3. Apple – Start of swarms issuing – Early/Mid April
  4. Poplar, Black Locust – Main nectar flows in mid TN – May – these produce most of our local honey.
  5. Fireworks – Time to harvest honey – July
  6. Goldenrod – Begin getting colonies ready for winter – September

Dates are approximate and weather dependant – and of course bees don’t read calendars.

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Feeding Pollen Substitute in Winter

Broadly speaking Honey Bees need 2 major nutrients – carbs  in the form of sugars (nectar, honey) and protein – which they normally get from pollen.  Adult bees mostly need carbs for their own energy needs while protein is mostly used for producing brood and growing younger bees to maturity.  Pollen  is not fed directly to brood – it is first processed into beebread, then eaten by nurse bees.  The nurse bees bodies process the pollen/protein and secrete high protein “jelly”  from their hypopharyngeal glands – this secretion is then fed to larva, queens, drones and young worker bees.

In a nutshell – honey bee colonies need protein to produce brood and grow.

Many beekeepers never feed supplemental protein (pollen substitute) especially non migratory beekeepers who only produce honey.  In many areas naturally occurring pollen is usually sufficient for those activities – our area of middle TN has plenty of pollen.

However migratory beekeepers who need big strong colonies to take to California for almond pollination in February, and commercial bee producers who need to sell bulk bees in late March to demanding customers (and others) have learned that feeding pollen sub can greatly improve their productivity and profitability – by stimulating lots of early brood production.

How does that apply to the hobby beekeeper in middle TN?

If you are trying to make increase then coming out of winter with large hive populations is exactly what you want – and the same goes for anyone who would like to produce nucs for sale.  If you don’t plan to do something productive with all those bees then feeding pollen sub in winter may just make it harder to prevent swarming in the spring.

Personally I do feed pollen sub – because I would rather have the problem of  too many bees than too few when spring rolls around.  Also I have started producing a few spring nucs for sale.  And honestly it gives me a reason to get outside and do a bit of beekeeping during the winter.

In the past I have usually made hard candy with pollen sub – which is convenient to feed, but a good bit of work to make.  This year I have been trying a much easier recipe that you might be interested in…

No cook Pollen Patty – 40 pounds


Mix the dry ingredients, then mix in the water – I make this in a shallow plastic storage bin and mix it with a short handled garden hoe.  It is not too much work to mix by hand and since there is no cooking involved you can take your time.  You can use it immediately, but it will smooth out if you cover it and let it sit over night.  The result will be a thick paste which you can spoon right onto the top bars of the hive…

Home made pollen “patty”

You can also make patties between waxed paper sheets similar to what you can buy from the bee suppliers.

I transfered it into a bucket to make it easier to go from hive to hive.

This hive has eaten more than half of the Mt Camp Sugar that I applied a few weeks ago.  Notice the 1/2″ wire mesh – that helps to prevent feed from falling through the hive, and makes it much easier to remove and replace the feed at inspection time.

I placed the pollen sub into the spots where sugar is used up – after smoking the bees down a bit.

In a day or two you can see that they are all over the pollen sub.  Clearly they like it. Looking pretty good for mid January.

Mixing your own pollen patty like this costs about 50 cents per pound while the same store bought product cost upwards of $2.00 per pound – depending on the size of the package.

BTW – It is much cheaper for me to buy a 50 pound bag of sub and make this myself than to buy pre-mixed pollen patty, but I always end up with more dry pollen sub than I need.  So I have several (approx) 5 pound bags of fresh Mann Lake ultra bee that I would be happy to sell for $10 each.  Just right for mixing one batch like this – or several smaller batches. Sold out!

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Syrup Delivery: an overview of honey bee feeders

So let’s say that you’re now convinced that you do need to feed your honey bees.  You go buy some sugar, mix it with some water, and you want to feed it to your bees.  But how do you get it to them?  That’s actually a slightly more complex question than you might think.  Let’s take a look at some of your options (listed in no particular order) for delivering liquid syrup to your bees along with the pros and cons of each.  NOTE: The more stars given in a category, the better that feeder is in that category.

Summary Chart:

FeederEase of useRobbingDrowningInspectionsCapacityCost
Bag Feeder4stars5stars5stars1stars3stars3stars
Hive-top Mason Jars3stars5stars5stars4stars3stars3stars
Boardman Entrance Feeder3stars1stars5stars5stars1stars3stars
Division-board Feeder3stars5stars2stars3stars4stars3stars
Hive-top Feeder3stars5stars3stars1stars5stars1stars
Bucket Feeder5stars5stars5stars3stars5stars4stars
Open Feeding5stars1stars2stars5stars5stars4stars

1) Bag Feeder

baggie_feeder  baggie_feeder2

Method:  Take a gallon ziploc bag, fill it with sugar and water (at ratios to make your desired consistency of syrup), zip closed, shake to mix.  Place the bag of syrup on top of the top-bars of the top box on your hive, use a needle to make holes or a razor blade to make 1-2 inch slits on the top of the bag.  The syrup will stay in the bag, but is accessible for the bees to drink from.  Put a 2 or 3 inch spacer on top of the hive to make room for the bag.

Ease of use: beebeebeebee Bag feeders are very light-weight and easy to setup and use… if you’re feeding lots of hives, mix syrup on-site w/ a hose if possible to save on lugging full bags around.  Cleanup is fairly easy too… just throw it away when you’re done.  Not that great if you have much concern for the environment though.

Robbing: beebeebeebeebee Robbing is pretty much a non-issue with bag feeders.  They’re internal to the hive and generally do not cause or initiate robbing.

Drowning: beebeebeebeebee It’s fairly rare for bees to drown from a bag feeder simply because there are no open pools of syrup for them to drown in.

Hive Inspections:bee You pretty much can’t do inspections while you’re feeding with a bag feeder.  You have to wait until the bag is empty (or mostly empty), then take if off to do your inspection.

Capacity: beebeebee If you put much more than 3 qts. of liquid syrup into a bag feeder, you’ll start having leakage problems.

Cost: beebeebee Gallon ziploc bags are cheap, but not permenant… so you’re always buying more as you go through them.  Using them also requires you to have a spacer or an empty super on top of the hive.

NOTE: In early spring, bag feeders require the bees to “break cluster” in order to climb up on top of the bag to get syrup.

2) Hive-top Mason Jars

Close up of Inverted Canning Jars used to feed bees syrup over winter in Backyard Beekeeping   mason_jar_feeder_hivetop02

Method:  Fill a mason jar (any size you want) with sugar & water and mix to create syrup.  Use a hammer & a small nail to poke aprox 10-15 holes in the top of the lid.  Invert the jar over the hive so that the bees can access the holes in the lid.  Cover with an empty super so that robbers cannot access and so that the sun does not shine directly on the jars.  Syrup is “licked” out by the bees over time… it does not continually drip out of the holes because of a vacuum is created above the syrup in the inverted jar.

Ease of use: beebeebee Mason jars can be a bit awkward & clunky to tote around… I’d recommend carrying them in a 5 gallon bucket if you’re going to be moving more than 2 or 3 at a time.  But they are easy enough to setup and use once on-site.  Be sure you hide them from direct sunlight or they’ll get hot and squirt syrup out.

Robbing: beebeebeebeebee Robbing is pretty much a non-issue with inverted mason jars.  They’re internal to the hive and generally do not cause or initiate robbing.

Drowning: beebeebeebeebee It’s pretty much impossible for bees to drown from an inverted mason jar feeder simply because there are no open pools of syrup for them to drown in.

Hive Inspections:beebeebeebee In order to do inspections you must remove the mason jars from the top of the hive.  This is a fairly small inconvenience but still of note.

Capacity: beebeebee Quart jars are the most common size jar for feeding.  For small amounts of feed this is perfect (i.e. when feeding nucs), but when you’re wanting to deliver several gallons of syrup in a short amount of time, quart mason jars just a little more trouble than they’re worth.

Cost: beebeebee Mason jars aren’t terribly expensive, and you can frequently find used jars for sale on craigslist… but they’re still a notable up-front cost.  Using them also generally requires you to have an empty super on top of the hive.

NOTE: Mason jars can be set directly on top of the top-bars of the frames… therefore the syrup can be in direct contact with the cluster.  In early spring this can be a huge advantage.

3) Boardman Entrance Feeder

boardman_feeder  boardman_feeder2

Method:  Fill a mason jar (any size you want) with sugar & water and mix to create syrup.  Use a hammer & a small nail to poke aprox 10-15 holes in the top of the lid.  Place the filled jar into the boardman entrance feeder, and slide the feeder into the entrance of the hive.  This also works on the inversion-vacuum principle and does not allow syrup to continually drip out.

Ease of use: beebeebee Again, mason jars can be a bit awkward & clunky to tote around… I’d recommend carrying them in a 5 gallon bucket if you’re going to be moving more than 2 or 3 at a time.  But they are easy enough to setup and use once on-site.

Robbing: bee Robbing is one of the worst problems with boardman entrance feeders because they’re located right at the entrance of the hive – a place robbers already frequent.  Boardman entrance feeders can initiate larger-scale robbing, not only of the hive you’re trying to feed but of other hives in your apiary (once bees get going, it can be hard to get them to stop).

Drowning: beebeebeebeebee It’s pretty much impossible for bees to drown from a boardman entrance feeder simply because there are no open pools of syrup for them to drown in.

Hive Inspections:beebeebeebeebee Boardman entrance feeders are a non-issue when it comes to inspections because they’re all the way on the bottom.  However, if you’re going to be taking the bottom box off you’ll need to make sure to take the feeder off first… or it will likely fall.

Capacity: bee You’re very limited in terms of capacity with a boardman entrance feeder.  You’re pretty much stuck with quart jars or smaller… one at a time unless you buy multiple boardman attachments so you can feed multiple jars simultaneously.

Cost: beebeebee Mason jars aren’t terribly expensive, and you can frequently find used jars for sale on craigslist… but they’re still a notable up-front cost.  Also, you’re going to have to purchase the boardman feeder attachment for every jar you want to feed, but they’re not too expensive either.

NOTE: Boardman entrance feeders are not useful for early spring feeding as bees have to break cluster to run down to the entrance to get syrup.

4) Division-board Feeder

division_board_feeder       division_board_feeder2

Method:  Division-board feeders take the place of frames inside your hive.  Take 1 or 2 frames (depending on the width of your feeder) out of your hive and set to the side.  Place the feeder in the hive in the empty space.  Mix up syrup in another container (make sure it has a spout or something to pour with) and pour into the division-board feeder.  Close up the hive and do something with the extra frames.

Ease of use: beebeebee Division-board feeders aren’t terrible to get setup initially or maintain.  They do take up frame space, and this must be considered when calculating the size of the hive.  Cleanup and movement of the feeder between hives is quite disruptive to the colony since it always involves removing or adding frames to a colony.  Refilling also requires opening up the hive.

Robbing: beebeebeebeebee Robbing is a virtual non-issue with division-board feeders as they are internal to the hive and no syrup is ever required to leave the front door.

Drowning: beebee Drowning has historically been a problem with division board feeders because of the open pools of syrup they hold.  Many designs now employ ladders or floats to help with this, but drowning can still occur.

Hive Inspections:beebeebee Division-board feeders are not in the way too much when you’re doing inspections, but because most are made of plastic you do have to be careful not to damage them while prying propolized frames and feeders apart or moving boxes around.

Capacity: beebeebeebee Most division-board feeders hold between 1 and 2.5 gallons.  They can give some fairly decent capacity if you need to deliver a lot of syrup in a short period of time.

Cost: beebeebee Division-board feeders are mid-range in terms of cost (usually between $8-$15 plus tax & shipping), but when you consider capacity they do end up being cheaper than some other options.


5) Hive-top Feeder

hive_top_feeder01 hive_top_feeder02 hive_top_feeder03


Method:  There are lots of different styles of hive-top feeders, but they all have in common that they hold a reservoir of syrup that rests on top of the top box, and they cover the entire top of the hive.  You set the feeder on top of the hive, pour syrup into the reservoir, and the bees come up via some apparatus to drink it.

Ease of use: beebeebee Hive-top feeders aren’t terrible to get setup initially or maintain.  Refilling is not disruptive to the bees at all, and can be done without opening up the hive.  The feeder will get propolized down to the hive, so be prepared to do some prying to get it off.

Robbing: beebeebeebeebee Robbing is a virtual non-issue with hive-top feeders as they are internal to the hive and no syrup is ever required to leave the front door.

Drowning: beebeebee Because most all hive-top feeders are designed differently drowning rates can vary greatly.  Some hive top feeders have eliminated almost all drowning issues whereas others still have problems.

Hive Inspections:bee Hive-top feeders are about the worst in this category simply because they’re right on top of the hive, which is exactly where you need to get to in order to do your inspections.  Some hive-top feeders can be quite difficult to work with when they’re still holding syrup and they’re propolized to the top-bars.

Capacity: beebeebeebeebee Most hive-top feeders hold between 2 and 5 gallons and usually provide easy simultaneous access for a large number of bees.  They almost always give very decent capacity if you need to deliver a lot of syrup in a short period of time.

Cost: bee Hive-top feeders are pretty costly compared to most feeders (anywhere from $15-$30 plus tax & shipping)… you’re really paying for capacity + speed of feeding.

NOTE: Please note also that hive-top feeders tend to squish a variable number of bees when you’re doing inspections and replacing the feeder (some feeders are worse than others).  Also, they’re not a good early-spring feeding option as bees will have to break cluster to crawl up and get the syrup.

6) Bucket Feeder

bucket_feeder01  bucket_feeder02

Method:  Fill an empty bucket with sugar and water to make syrup.  Use the smallest drill bit you can find to drill 20-30 small holes in the lid of the bucket near the center.  Put the lid on the bucket and invert it over the top of the hive – directly on the frame top bars or over the top of the inner cover (both work just fine).  Cover with an extra super or hive body.  The syrup does not leak out because of the same vacuum principle that is employed with the inverted mason jar feeders.

Ease of use: beebeebeebeebee Bucket feeders are about as easy as it comes.  Simple to work with, carry / transport, fill, and clean.  They do require an extra super or two to cover them up though.

Robbing: beebeebeebeebee Robbing is a virtual non-issue with bucket feeders as they are internal to the hive and no syrup is ever required to leave the front door.

Drowning: beebeebeebeebee Because there are no open pools of syrup, drowning is a non-issue with bucket feeders.

Hive Inspections:beebeebee Bucket feeders are a small inconvenience when doing inspections as they must be removed from on-top of the hive, but this is almost always a very minor task.

Capacity: beebeebeebeebee Bucket feeders can hold 2-5 gallons depending on how big of a bucket you decide to employ.  They provide easy simultaneous access for a medium number of bees.  They are one of the go-to feeders if you need to feed a lot of syrup in a short period of time.

Cost: beebeebeebee There are commercial 1, 2, and 3 gallon bucket feeders available that usually run around $5-$7, but my walmart sells used 2 and 3 gallon icing buckets at the bakery counter for $1 so I always go that route.

NOTE: Because bucket feeders can be set directly on the frame top bars, it can put syrup in direct contact with the cluster in early spring for stimulative feeding.

7) Open Feeding

open_feeder  open_feeder02

Method:  Fill one or more very large containers (5 gallon buckets, a feed trough, livestock watering tub, a children’s swimming pool, a large hole in the ground lined with a tarp) with syrup, then ensure that drowning will not be a problem.  With large pools this is typically done with a layer of straw, hay, or styrofoam peanuts on top of the syrup.

Ease of use: beebeebeebeebee One of the huge advantages to open feeding is that it’s really easy.  You’re not messing with each hive individually… you can feed everyone at once.

Robbing: bee Open feeding both initiates and perpetuates robbing behavior in bees.  This is a huge draw-back to open feeding.

Drowning: beebee This varies based on what method of open feeding you’re employing, but in-general anything with an open pool of syrup is going to cause a good bit of drowning no matter how well you cover it.

Hive Inspections:beebeebeebeebee There is nothing at all to remove or replace for an inspection when using open feeding.  The structure of the hive’s woodenware is completely unaffected.

Capacity: beebeebeebeebee How big of a container do you want to use?  You’ll likely be limited by the amount of syrup you want to make / buy before you run out of capacity.

Cost: beebeebeebee Per hive, you usually can’t beat open feeding.  A $15 kid’s swimming pool is a cheap way to feed 100 hives.

NOTE: Most hobby or small-scale commercial beekeepers simply don’t run the numbers of hives that would demand open feeding.  Also… note that you end up feeding more than just your bees with open feeding – wasps, yellow-jackets, bumble bees, and all kinds of other insects love to eat your syrup too.

Posted in Bee Keeping Equipment, Honey Bee How to, Learn about Bee Keeping | 2 Comments

Time to feed!

This has been a pretty good year in my bee yard as far as nectar flows go, but when I started inspecting a few days ago to decide which hives need feeding I was surprised that there is less honey in my hives than I thought there would be.  You might also find that you need to feed some of your hives to prepare for winter now that our nectar flows are pretty much all over for the year.

Experienced beekeepers can get a fair idea of which hives need feeding by picking up on the back of the hive to see if it is “light” or not – but if you do not yet have this skill the best thing to do is to inspect.  How much honey you want to find is going to depend on the size of the hive configuration and the population, but a strong single box colony of any size from nuc on up to 10 frame deep needs to have about 2/3 of the comb filled with stores – BTW in our climate colonies as small as 5 frame mediums can overwinter just fine if they are in good shape.  More honey stores certainly won’t hurt anything, but when cold weather rolls around your bees actually need some empty comb in the center to cluster on – so don’t feed to the point of all available space being filled.

You will want to be feeding heavy syrup at this time of year – it will be less work for you and your bees to get it in the hives and cured before the weather turns cold.  So 2-1 or perhaps 5-3 sugar syrup.  Those numbers refer to weight of sugar/water so…

  • 2-1 syrup = 2 pounds of sugar per each pound of water.
  • Conveniently a pint of water weighs about a pound.
  • You will usually need to use hot water to mix heavy syrup.
  • It takes about 3 pounds of sugar mixed into syrup to fill one medium frame with cured winter feed.

This is not the time to feed a little at a time – put as much of the required feed on your hives at one time – and keep it on – as is practical so that they can go ahead and get it in the hives and configured how they want pretty quickly.  You might want to give them a little bit of top ventilation to facilitate curing the feed and to prevent excessive hive moisture – but don’t accidentally create an unguarded top entrance which might aggravate robbing.

Robbing is very possible and even likely at this time – populations are large, and forage is quickly disappearing from the environment so…

Don’t spill syrup

  • Reduce hive entrances.
  • Don’t expose the interiors of hives any more than you have to.
  • Don’t leave burr comb, frames or any other sources of honey exposed in the apiary to be robbed out.
  • Consider installing robber screens – here is a simple how to build robber screens resource.


Posted in Evergreen, Honey Bee How to, Seasonal | Leave a comment