There are mainly four types of feeding styles when it comes to syrup and feeding your bees:

  • Top feeding (internal or external)
  • Internal feeding
  • Front feeding
  • Bulk/exterior feeding

Each of these may have their own benefits or drawbacks, depending on your situation and scale. Let’s look at each individually.

Top feeding

This is a convenient way of providing feed to an individual colony that doesn’t require much interaction with the colony. You can either have an external or an internal top feeder. Here is an examples of an external top feeder:

Here the idea is to have an inverted container (usually some form of bucket) on top of the hive, completely exposed to the elements. Sometimes this exposure is limited by placing an additional box on top with another outer cover. The container has some form of mesh, or holes that allows the syrup to escape, while the hive cover also has a hole that allows the bees access to the syrup. “But how does this work?!”, you ask. Wouldn’t the syrup just pour out the bottom once you invert the bucket? No. Why? It relies on a vacuum that forms inside the bucket from the escaping syrup. There’s some spilling once you invert the bucket, but once a vacuum is formed it actually keeps the syrup from pouring out continuously. You can try this yourself – take an empty yoghurt container, put some water in it, poke holes in the lid with a nail and turn it upside down… perhaps in the shower, to avoid getting your kitchen floor all wet.

Another method of semi-external feeding puts a syrup bag on top of the top bars of the top box of frames. Small holes are poked with toothpick or knife to allow bees access to the feeding syrup.

You’d place an additional shim or box on top to provide room for the syrup bag.

An internal top feeder usually forms a more integral part of the hive construction. The most common of these are the miller-type feeders:

They usually provide some form of insert or a tray that contains the syrup, an access point where the bees can climb through to drink the syrup and a containment or ladder device that prevents the bees from going swimming and drowning, or help those climb out of the syrup if they do end up swimming. Bees aren’t like fish.

Exterior feeders are convenient because you can replenish them without disturbing the bees much. Since they rely on a vacuum, they are subject to leak with large temperature swings, and leakage when the vacuum is broken just before the syrup is completely consumed.

Internal feeding

The most common form of internal feeding is through frame feeders:

Frame feeders usually take up the width of 2 regular frames and provides a trough that can be filled with multiple ladders to support travel down into the feeder to drink.

These feeders provide close access to food and can be placed close to the colony just by moving the frame to where its needed. However, they’re cumbersome to refill because you have to break the hive apart to gain access to them and may have to remove them in order to refill them.

Front feeding

Front feeding has the convenience of top feeders, but provides closer access to a high-traffic area. It’s similar to top feeders in that it uses an inverted container, possibly with a feeding trough, like this:

They’re easy to make yourself. However, one drawback of this is that the location of feeding is usually exposed, requiring bees to defend more frequently. It could result in robbing, if the colony is not strong enough to protect the resource.

Bulk/exterior feeding

Sometimes you’re restricted by the amount of equipment you have, or just don’t care as much about the particulars, yet still want to provide a source of feed for your bees. Such individuals may resort to bulk feeding – providing an exterior source of feed that is accessible to any colony, like this tub full of straw and sugar syrup:

This type of feeding allows you to have your beer and watch all the bees enjoy theirs as well. However, it aids in the spreading of disease between colonies, since both weak and strong colonies gain access to the same resource. As such, it is banned within BC:

A person must not feed bees by leaving food exposed or by any other method that is reasonably likely to cause robbing behaviours.

Article 10(2) of the BC Bee Regulation