Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Feeding Bees In A Top-Bar Hive

We have had bad luck keeping bees these last two seasons. Out of the four colonies we have bought and installed in our hives, we have one colony left. And that colony is not very robust. I believe part of the reason is the bees we buy come from Georgia. Our local bee supplier drives down to Georgia every spring and brings back hundreds of colonies. These bees are acclimated to a southern climate with mild winters. I have yet to get one of these colonies through our more aggressive mid-west winters.

I am planning on trying to capture locally adapted colonies this spring. I have done a lot of research and I feel confident that I can build swarm traps this winter and catch some swarms this spring. I will do a more detailed post on swarm traps and the process of catching swarms after I build the traps.

I have reservations about feeding bees sugar syrup as a general practice. My feeling is if your colony grows accustom to getting some of their food inside the hive they will be less robust foragers and you will breed this trait into them over time. That said, the hive I have left this year has completely eaten through its honey reserves for the winter and if I do not feed them I might as well just empty the hive. I will not buy another colony again. I will try to get this one through the winter, but if they do not make it, they will be the last hive I pay money for.

If you need to feed your hive you can do it very easily. The only equipment you need is a couple mason jars with lids and something to hold them upside down. I bought a couple holders made for this purpose from my local bee supplier, they were cheap and very good at what they do. I took the plastic holders and screwed them to a piece of wood. The mason jar lids need tiny holes in them to let the sugar syrup slowly drip out.

The sugar syrup is pretty simple to make. It is a 2 : 1 ratio of white table sugar to water. This will be thick and will slowly drip out of the holes in the lid when turned upside down. Once the bees find it they will constantly harvest it until it is gone.

The reason I screwed the jar holders to the board is so I could use them in my top-bar hives. The plastic holders are specifically made for Langstroth hives, but with a little modification and they will work in top-bar hives. The bees will find the sugar syrup pretty quickly and start to bring it over to the comb in the hive. I have drilled holes in my follower boards to let the bees come and go through them. However, there is a gap below the follower boards that the bees use instead. That is a design flaw in the way I constructed the follower boards. No big deal in the long run though.

I put one pint of sugar syrup on each side of the main hive. You can't see it in these pictures, but the top-bar next to each of these feeders has a board hanging down similar to the ends of the hive, the follower board. This keeps the center of the hive small making it is easier for the bees to keep themselves warm through the winter. I will have to replace the sugar syrup a couple times throughout the winter if I want the colony to make it. I will only open the hive on the warmest day in the forecast so I do not freeze the bees out. Here is hoping they make it through this winter.


  1. Dear fellow TBH beekeeper. I just fed mine 7 days ago with two QUART jars of syrup and two pollen patties the size of the lid of Jiff peanut butter (large). Both quarts were empty and the "cookies" very well gnawed. Clearly they are in a starvation mode already. Plan on much more syrup feeding and yes use quarts. Then check their usage every couple of days until you can find their needs. This is Sept 1 2015.
    Anyway you are on the right track, I recommend Megabee Tucson diet by Dadant for your pollen/bee food. I used this to make the candy cookies. John L

    1. Thanks for the info. I plan on insulating the hive this winter and feeding them. The bees I have now are a swarm I caught this year so hopefully they are locally adapted and will make it through the winter.