If you have several colonies of bees in your yard, feeding a weaker hive during a dearth can set off robbing – which can totally wipe out weaker hives. One solution is to use an “open feeder”. This is a super easy DIY project and all you need is a plastic pail with a snap on lid and a drill.
I get some pails from a friend in the wall paper business and thoroughly wash them 2x before using them for feeding bees. You can also get food grade plastic pails from the bakery department at most grocery stores and sometimes they are already washed for you. Most of the time they are happy to give a few away rather than trash them. I’m a big believer in recycling and repurposing materials. So any time we can reduce the carbon footprint we should seize the opportunity.
Look for pails that have a lip that runs around the entire pail near the top. This lip will have little divider walls. This is very important. Without the lip, the feeder will not work. See the picture for details.Using a 1/8” drill bit, drill 1 -2 holes all the way around the pail just inside the lip. Then just mix your sugar feed water and fill the pail as high as possible without it leaking through the holes you just made near the top. Snap the cover on tight all the way around, then take it anywhere within 30 feet of the bee yard and turn it upside down on a flat surface.
Some sugar water will leak out at first and you might get a little bit on yourself so a quick flip should minimize any excess splashing. It will only take a few seconds for the natural vacuum seal to take effect and then you can walk away and let the bees discover the all you can eat buffet conveniently placed near their neighborhood.
Keep in mind that open feeders may also attract other bees from other apiaries within a few miles of your hives. They may not find it as soon as your bees do, but it’s just something to think about if you happen to live in close proximity of another bee yard.
I generally use the open feeders during dearths as I mentioned earlier, but I know other beekeepers that use them spring, summer and fall. Open feeders are nice because they are easy to make and you don’t have to worry about drowning which bees seem to be really good at when it comes to feeders, and you can feed a lot of colonies at once. I usually have to refill the 2 open feeders I keep in my yard of approx 40-50 hives every 2 days just to give you an idea of how fast they can consume the sugar.
As a rule, I never feed if my bees have enough stores. This year we had a really HOT and dry summer and almost 1/2 of my colonies ate up most of their stores by October so I placed the 2 feeders near the yard and kept them going the entire month or so right before it started to get cold in my climate.