Feeding

The best way to feed.
The best way to feed.

A newly stocked top bar hive needs continuous feeding until it makes a living. And eventually, a beekeeper will encounter hungry hives that need feeding.

Failing to feed a hungry hive always impacts colony growth. Extended hunger demoralizes a hive and threatens its survival.

When feeding:

  • put all feed inside the top bar hive
  • bee stored honey/pollen combs are the best feed
  • sugar can substitute for honey
  • pollen substitute can augment but not replace pollen
  • don’t block or interfere with hive ventilation
  • don’t let any feed push or rest against comb

Bees can sense how much surplus feed they have. If that surplus drops below a critical amount, the bees:

  • curtail brood rearing
  • cannibalize drone brood
  • cannibalize worker brood
  • curtail colony activity
  • decrease foraging

Feed Combs

The best feed is honey and pollen in a beeswax comb. Prudent beekeepers sets aside enough comb for emergency feeding. Combs

  • can be fed when it’s too cold for other methods
  • don’t drown bees
  • won’t ferment
  • when surplus, aren’t hauled out as trash
  • aren’t messy
  • don’t require preparation

Feed frames are simply inserted into a top bar hive next to the cluster. Expose a very small amount of honey using a cappings scratcher. The bees discover it and uncap more when needed.

Sugar

Granulated Sugar

Granulated sugar is usually fed when the bees can fly. Just dump the sugar inside the hive, away from the entrance. The bees will gather water and liquefy what they. Don’t feed too much sugar this way as the bees haul it out as trash once nectar becomes available.

Baker’s Sugar

Bakers sugar is a finely crystallized granulated sugar. It isn’t confectioners sugar. The bees still need water to liquefy it. But they won’t it out as trash like they do with coarser, granulated sugar.

Bee Candy

Bee candy is a sugar water mixture cooked to the soft ball stage. As it includes water, it’s fed when the bees can’t fly:

  • there are recipes for bee candy on the web
  • it’s easy to prepare and use
  • keep the ingredients simple – water – sugar – heat

Fondant

Fondant is another form of solid sugar. It’s a creamy bee candy softened by whipping in air. Again, recipes are on the web.

Bakers Fondant

Bakers fondant are large blocks of a sugar, water, air product sold to commercial bakeries. It’s often used in place of bee candy or fondant.

Sugar Syrup

Sugar syrup is best used when the bees can fly.

If it’s cold and the bees aren’t flying, a thick, 2:1 sugar syrup is best. For warmer weather, a thinner, 1:1 sugar syrup works. Minimize disruption and feed sugar syrup using methods that conserve a colony’s warmth.

Syrup not consumed ferments. Fermented syrup is repulsive to bees. Some beekeepers add stuff that inhibits fermentation. It saves syrup. But what  does it do to beneficial gut bacteria?

Containers

There are several ways sugar syrup to feed sugar syrup in a top bar hive. If the bees aren’t clustered and there’s room away from the entrance:

  • fill a container with syrup
  • use a quail or dribble type feederor
  • place floats in the container to prevent drowning
  • in bad weather put the feed inside a hive where the bees can get at it

Two litter pop bottle

Build a special top bar that accepts the capped end of a 2L pop bottle:

  • drill a hole, through the top bar, that admits the cap but is smaller than the bottle’s collar
  • drill three or four small holes in the bottle cap
  • completely fill the bottle with syrup
  • tightly, screw the cap on the bottle
  • set it in the hole in the special top bar
  • place this top bar close to the cluster in cold weather

There’s no need to open the hive when feeding this way. Just replace the empty bottle with a full one. Commercial migratory beekeepers and some queen rearers feed through a migratory covery, using this method.

Baggie Feeders

Baggie feeders work for some:

  • loosely fill a plastic ziploc type baggie with syrup
  • lay the baggie inside the top bar hive near the comb
  • cut several slits in the top of the baggie

I’ve tried using them, but found them leaky and unsatisfactory.

Division board feeders

My friend Barry, has a top bar hive with room for a deep frame beneath the top bar. He screws a standard division board feeder to a top bar and uses it to feed his bees. Don’t forget that division board feeders need floats to prevent bees from drowning.

Pollen Supplement

I haven’t found a good way to feed pollen supplement inside a top bar hive.

Pollen supplement is marginally fed as patties inside the hive. The patties must be thin and pushed directly beneath the broodnest. Unlike sugar, pollen supplement aren’t readily consumed below the broodnest. The bees, unless starving, will treat it as trash. And haul it out.

There’s no room for thick patties under the comb. Thick patties placed behind the broodnest aren’t consumed.

And thin patties dry out fast as the bees ventilate a hive using the same space. Once the pollen patty is dry, the bees stop working them.

Mixing pollen supplement into a bee candy or fondant might work.  But I’ve never tried it.

-bW

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