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Frame feeders: making a no-drown top

5289 Views 11 Replies 10 Participants Last post by  Mountain Bee
So I've got a ton of plastic frame feeders my brother gave me. Robber bees are now hovering about my hives, and putting feed inside nucs and splits makes sense to me. But drowning bees in the syrup do not. Last time I used them (2013) even with a window screen "ladder" I put inside the frame feeder I still ended up with a bunch of drowned bees, which I do not want to repeat. So, is there a simple way I can make some sort of top that allows the bees to feed freely without drowning? :scratch: Trying to use what I have on hand to the best of its ability. Many thanks for your suggestions and photos! My only idea? Take a piece of luan (assuming it'll float in the syrup), cut to fit the feeder, drill some holes in it and attach hardware cloth on the underside of it, sort of like a floating top (except the feeders taper from top to bottom!).
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Use Styrofoam "peanuts" in the feeders. Works for me when I use them.
Take a look at the "Cap & Ladder" design used by the Mann Lake Frame Feeders.
I have had no drowning issues with that design.
We use window screen fan folded and opened up in the frame feeder. The folds are wide enough to span the width of the feeder. This arrangement when opened up in the feeder gives V shaped feeding areas. We still get some drowned bees, but nothing like we used to with the unmodified feeder. The screen is tall enough to go clear to the bottom of the feeder and still stick out of the top 1/4 inch.
I use baggies in a top feeder on mine. Drownings are very rare. My buddy uses frame feeders that incorporate a molded plastic ladder/tube design, but even with the ladder we had a lot of drowning with them. We now use packing peanuts or pieces of closed cell packing sheets in those tubes with good results. The sheet type can be cut to size to fit with just a bit of clearance around the edged of the hole into the feeder. Very few drowned bees.
My best luck so far is a wooden top fitted inside the plastic tanks. The tops have 4 holes drilled in them, each hole has 1/8" mesh hardware cloth rolled into a tube and stuffed into the bottom, extending almost to the bottom of the tank.

Roll the hardware cloth on a dowel about 1/8" smaller than the hole, giving it at least 4 squares overlap. You can wire the bottom end together. They don't have to be perfect, but they seem to help keep the bees from drowning in great numbers, and from getting comb built in them if they go empty too long. Fill them through the holes with a clear vynyl tube on your feed hose.
I have the plastic inside feeder too but because it drowns a lot of bees I don't use it anymore.
Instead, I use a quart canning jar with a #8 window screen wire mesh and a piece of plastic to poke
some holes with a fork. A piece of rubber band to hold the wire mesh and plastic in.
The jar is inverted on top of a piece of dish washing cloth inside a shallow dish. I have been using this
method for almost 2 months now with good results. I use 2 jars instead of one for better result. Only feed
enough for the bees to take them in.

Inverted jar feeder inside another empty hive:


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SNL, I tried the packing peanuts method. A big plus is that you can easily see the level of the syrup. My big boomer hive, though, started breaking down the peanuts immediately. It was a bizarre sound. They sucked the feeder dry in a day and then proceeded to turn the peanuts into a powder. No drowned bees. I saw bees taking trash out of the hive granule by granule. Truly bizarre looking!

So then I cut a piece of bubble wrap off, the large bubble kind. That worked pretty well. No drowned bees there, either. The bubble wrap, though, floats up really tall out of the feeder, so you have to push it down when you put the inner cover back on, which is a pain. When I removed that, they'd begun propolizing the bubble wrap some. I then used Dave's idea, and cut a piece of screen to where it was about half an inch more narrow than the frame feeder and about twice it's height. I crimped "feet" onto both bottoms and brought them together, then inserted into the feeder allowing it to stick up about 1/4" above. The open gaps on both ends make it easy to refill the feeder and also for the bees to come and go. No drowned bees there, either. Definitely I'm a fan of the window screen "tent", as the bees seem to like using it!

I made the mistake of jamming too many frames in a small nuc with a frame feeder. The syrup swelled the sides out, which pushed against the adjacent comb, making for comb that the bees could not patrol and protect against small hive beetles. I quickly got those inner frame feeders out of there, and the damaged comb, before it was too late, thank goodness, and reverted back to baggies on top w/a 2-inch shim for my nucs and the inner feeders with a screened "tent" ladder for my regular hives. And I leave extra space between the frame closest to the feeder to allow for swelling and plenty of bee space as well. Everything seems to be working well with this system: inner feeders for regular hives, baggies for nucs.

Thanks for the ideas, everybody. Truly a fun experiment. My favorite part was watching the bees run over to the stream of syrup as I poured in a refill on the inner frame feeder, sticking their proboscises into the syrup stream. Another big plus on using the inner frame feeders vs. a hive top feeder that I discovered doing this experiment: ants are non-existent. They don't come in droves and try to get in when I use the inner feeder, but they sure do when I use a hive-top feeder. That makes for a lot less stress on my bees, which means happier bees and a happier beekeeper. :)
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Here's a couple photos of the successful screen dome idea from Dave. Bending a piece to cover both sides and the top seems to make all the difference. Last year I just extended screen on one side only, taping it secure, and I still got lots of drowning. The screen dome gives them a huge ladder-way to walk the entire length of the frame and down into the syrup, and any stragglers who make it into the drink can pull themselves out on either side. When refilling any bees caught in the pour that are floating to the top have no problem getting a foothold in either side and pulling themselves to safety. Definitely cut the screen a little more narrow than the frame so the bees have plenty of room to come and go and you have plenty of space to pour in refills. Thanks, everybody! :)

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Thanks for sharing Tom!
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Still like the FATBEEMANS NO-LEAK FEEDER. Patnent pending but thats another thread! lol :lpf:
Zero drowning. Contained, so no frenzy of robbing to contend with. A 10 frame size box can be adapted to fit anything with the addition of some wooden inserts where it meets the top of the hive box below. If you add some door weather strip along the top edges where the telescoping lid fits on....even ants or other small creatures cannot get in. IMHO...the perfect feeder. :thumbsup:


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I just got a order of frame feeders in from Mother Lode Products out of CA. I ordered them with the cap and ladders, anyone have any experience with them? I sure was glad to see Made In The USA on them.
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