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There are three different types of feeders used in beekeeping.  An entrance feeder sits right outside the entrance of the beehive. A frame feeder goes in the hive, replacing one of the frames.  A top feeder sits on top of the upper box of the beehive, with an empty hive box placed around it.  

Each type of feeder has it’s own benefits and disadvantages, so different beekeepers prefer different feeders.  The top feeder for bees is good because they are protected from the sun and they usually hold a lot of syrup.  

What is a Top Feeder for bees?

There are different designs for top feeders for bees, but they all have this in common – where it is placed.  A hive top feeder goes on top of the upper box. It should be aligned with a hole in the inner cover. 

An empty hive box is then placed around the feeder.  This is to protect it from the sun,wind, rain, and robber bees.  Unlike the entrance feeder, which is located outside the hive, you do need to remove the box to check the syrup level of a top feeder. 

How Much Syrup Does a Top Feeder Hold?   

Luckily, top feeders can usually hold a good amount of syrup.  The Ultimate Hive Feeder, for example, holds 1 gallon of syrup.  Other top feeders, like the Rapid Bee Feeder, holds ½ a gallon. I’ve seen top feeders that can hold anywhere from ½ – 4 gallons of syrup at a time.  Top feeders typically need to be refilled every 1 – 2 weeks.  

Benefits of Using a Top Feeder

Prevents Robbers

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One of the worries beekeepers have with using feeders is that they may attract robbers.  That is a possibility, especially if you are using an entrance feeder. However, using a top feeder will reduce robber bees.  That is because the top feeder is placed inside a box, protected from robbers. To understand more about where a top feeder is placed, read below to learn how to use a top feeder for bees. 

Keeps Syrup Out of the Sun

The fact that the top feeder is placed inside the hive also means that it is protected from wind, rain, and most importantly, sun!  If you need to medicate your bees you can do so using a top feeder because it is not exposed to sun. You cannot do this with entrance feeders because the sunlight will weaken the medication. 

Less Invasive 

Checking a top feeder is much less invasive than checking a frame feeder because the top box will be empty. That means that you won’t need to use a smoker and you have very little chance of getting stung. 

How to Use a Top Feeder for Bees 

It’s important for all beekeepers to use a top feeder for bees, as it’s something you’ll likely need to use eventually.  To use a hive top feeder, simply place it on top of the upper box, aligning it with the hole in the inner cover. Some top feeder designs even allow you to use more than one feeder at a time.  

Next, you want to make sure your top feeder is protected. To do that, place an empty hive box around the feeder.  Check your top feeder regularly to see it if needs to be refilled or cleaned. 

How to Make Sugar Syrup

In the Spring, make a 1:1 sugar syrup solution by mixing 1 lb water (2 cups) to 1 lb sugar.  In the Fall, make a 2:1 sugar syrup solution by mixing 2 lb sugar for every 1 lb of water. The water must be heated for all of the sugar to dissolve.  Cool the mixture before feeding it to the bees. You may also want to use an additive like Honey Bee Healthy to reduce mold growth.  

When to Feed Bees

Most of the time, bees can forage for food on their own.  Other times though, they could use some help being fed. The following situations are times when bees could benefit from being fed sugar syrup.         

With a New Colony

Any time you establish a new colony you should consider using a bee feeder.  While nucs will arrive with some resources, package bees have nothing to eat.  Either way, your new colony will be hungry.  

If you choose not to feed your new colony, they will go to forage for food, but they will do so in a brand new area, hungry.  That puts them at risk in case they aren’t able to find food fast enough. For those reasons it is common for beekeepers to use bee feeders when establishing a new colony.

During Winter

Bees spend summer and fall building  stores of resources to use during the winter. Under favorable circumstances they will have enough to last through the winter.  However, depending on the weather and honey flow, the bees may not have had the chance to collect adequate food. In that case, they will need to be fed as winter approaches. 

Comparison of Top Feeders for Bees 

Ultimate Hive Feeder

Homestead Essential’s Ultimate Hive Feeder is able to hold 1 gallon of sugar syrup.  This package comes with 2 feeders that can be used at the same time. The tanks are removable, drip free, and translucent.  That way you can see into the tank to know when it needs a refill.  

This top feeder has a special valve that maintains a uniform syrup level at all times. It also has a large feeding area, so lots of bees will be able to eat at once.  2 Ultimate Hive Feeders can comfortably fit in a 10 frame medium super.   

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Rapid Bee Feeder

The Rapid Bee Feeder fits in either a medium or shallow 8 or 10 frame super.  Measurements are 10.5 inches diameter and 2 inches deep. It is a smaller top feeder, so it holds less syrup than the Ultimate Hive Feeder.  The Rapid Bee Feeder can hold ½ a gallon of sugar syrup at a time.  

This top feeder for bees is made of durable plastic that will not leak into the hive.  It has ridges and a clear cap to prevent bees from drowning. This is a good choice for beekeepers who want a smaller top feeder.  

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10 Frame Hive Top Feeder

This top feeder for bees fits any standard 10 frame Langstroth bee hive.  The construction is sturdy. It is made out of wood with food grade silicone to seal the joints. You may want to paint the outside of it to protect it from the elements.  

There are 2 large compartments to hold sugar syrup.  This feeder holds 2 gallons of syrup. That is twice as much as the Ultimate Hive Feeder and 4 times as much as the Rapid Bee Feeder.  

To use this feeder simply fill both compartments with sugar syrup.  It comes with floats to prevent bees from drowning. Instead of syrup, dry sugar or pollen substitue can be used to fill this feeder as well.  

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Summary

A top feeder is a type of bee feeder that sits on top of the upper box.  The benefits of using a top feeder is that it is protected from the sun and robber bees.  It is important for beekeepers to know how to use a top feeder for bees because they will likely need to feed their new colony, or feed their bees during winter.  

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