Beekeeping Supplies

How to Use a Sugar Water Feeder For Bees

Feeding bees can be somewhat of a controversial topic among beekeepers.  Some feel that it’s best to leave bees to their own devices and let nature take it’s course.  The weaker bees would die off, leaving a colony of stronger bees. However, there are definitely times when it is appropriate for beekeepers to feed bees. In those times it is extremely helpful to have a sugar water feeder for bees.

A new colony of bees would require feeding, as well as bees recovering from illness. If for some reason there are no flowers around for bees to get pollen and nectar, they may need to be fed as well.  This article will discuss what bees eat, the different types of sugar water feeders for bees, and includes a sugar water for bees recipe.

What Do Bees Eat?

Everyone knows that we eat honey made by bees, but have you ever wondered, what do bees eat?  Bees eat pollen and nectar that they get from flowers. Pollen is an amazing substance. It may not look like much, but it contains protein, carbohydrates, sugar, enzymes, vitamins, and minerals.  Everything a bee needs to survive. Bees also consume nectar, a sweet liquid from flowers by sucking it up through their proboscis. The nectar is later converted into honey

Bee larva eat royal jelly, a liquid secretion from nurse bees.  After a few days they are then fed a diet of pollen and honey. Queen bees however, are fed royal jelly exclusively.  It is this special diet that makes the queen bee fertile.  

Sugar Water for Bees

If you buy a new package of bees it is a good idea to feed them.  They arrive with nothing and may have little time to prepare for winter.  Feeding bees sugar water can help them get off to a good start. However, do not feed bees sugar water if there are honey supers on the hive.  Reason being, that bees need nectar to make honey. “Honey” made from sugar water is not honey at all. Remember, you should only feed bees as needed. Once your colony gets stronger they will not need to be fed sugar water. 

Sugar Water for Bees Recipe

Follow this simple sugar water for bees recipe to feed your bees year round.

Late winter/early spring – 1:1 sugar water mixture

2 cups water 

1 pound sugar

Fall – 2:1 sugar water mixture

1 cup water

2 pounds sugar

Heat water on stovetop and add sugar.  Stir until sugar is completely dissolved.  

Types of Bee Feeders

Sugar water is easily made at home and is then fed to the bees by using a bee feeder.  There are 3 different types of sugar water feeders for bees to choose from.  

Entrance Feeder

The entrance feeder is used for Langstroth and Warre beehives. It sits on the entrance of the beehive and consists of a jar on a platform.  There are small holes in the jar for bees to access the sugar water. Beekeepers like that the entrance feeder is placed on the outside of the hive, making it accessible and easy to monitor.  However, entrance feeders have also been known to attract robber bees.  

It is easy to use an entrance feeder, as you simply fill the jar with sugar water and place the feeder at the entrance of the hive. It is not recommended to add medication to this type of feeder, as exposure to sunlight may weaken or alter the medication.

The jars of the entrance feeders aren’t usually too big, so you need to check on it to see if it needs to be refilled. Entrance feeders sometimes need to be filled daily.

Hive Top Feeder

The hive top feeder is placed on top of the beehive with an empty box placed around it for protection.  There are different designs of hive top feeders. Simple designs are made from mason jars, while other feeders have additional features.  The hive top feeder isn’t as visible to the beekeeper as the entrance feeder, but it is easy to remove the top box to check it. 

To use a hive top feeder, place it on top of the upper brood box, under the outer cover. An empty hive box is often placed around the feeder for added protection from the weather and robber bees. Because hive top feeders are protected from the sun you can add medication to the syrup if necessary.

Hive top feeders can typically hold 1-3 gallons of sugar water, so you can go longer between refills. Beekeepers usually need to refill hive top feeders every 1-2 weeks.

Frame Feeder

Used in a Langstroth hive, the frame feeder replaces one of the hive’s frames. It looks like a frame, but it is filled with sugar water instead.  Bees can sometimes drown in this type of feeder, so be sure to get one with a built in float for the bees to rest on. Frame feeders are safe from robbers, but they are also impractical because you have to open the hive to refill it.  

To use a frame feeder you must first remove one frame from your hive. Fill the feeder with syrup and place it into the hive. Frame feeders do not hold a large amount of syrup, so they may need to be refilled daily.

Recommended Bee Feeders

4 Pack Plastic Bee Entrance Feeder

BeesNise’s Plastic Honey Bee Feeder is a great standard entrance feeder.  It comes in a 4 pack, so you can use 2 feeders on 2 hives, or use them on 4 separate hives. 

All you need is your own mason jar. Just fill the jar with sugar water, screw the provided lid onto your jar and you are ready to go.  The vacuum in the jar prevents leaking. This sugar water feeder for bees is easy to use and easy to clean.  

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Ultimate Hive Feeder

The Ultimate Hive Feeder is a popular hive top feeder.  It’s tank holds 1 gallon of sugar water and is translucent so it’s easy to see when it needs to be refilled.  The syrup level in the tank stays uniform thanks to an automatic valve.  

One of the best things about this sugar water feeder for bees is that it has a large feeding area, allowing many bees to feed at once. 2 of these top feeders can easily fit into a medium frame super.  This feeder works best in a level box, so check how level your beehive is before purchasing.

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Little Giant Farm Frame Feeder

The Little Giant Farm Frame Feeder holds 3 quarts of sugar syrup.  It fits into a standard deep hive body box, replacing one of the hive’s frames.  This sugar water feeder for bees contains grooves on the sides and inner ladders to prevent bees from drowning.  

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Rapid Bee Feeder Hive Top

This hive top feeder fits in a medium 8 or 10 frame super. It holds about 1/2 gallon of syrup at a time. The feeder is made of high quality durable plastic that is completely safe for bees. The clear cap reduces the risk of bees drowning in the syrup. Measurements for this feeder are 10-1/2 in. diameter and 2 in. deep

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While bees can usually forage enough pollen and nectar to sustain themselves, sometimes the need help.  Feeding bees sugar water is a great way to feed new colonies or bees unable to forage enough on their own.  Now that you’ve learned about the different types of sugar water feeders for bees you should be able to pick the best one for your hive.