After the wet British summer last year food stocks in the hive were always likely to be lower than normal. Add the terrible extended UK winter conditions which stamped all over the start of spring, and you end up with bees starving for want of new food sources right in to April, six weeks after they may have been flying in any other year.
So one of the challenges facing me and my new bees due to arrive in May, will be whether they have enough time and forage to get their stocks up this summer. That means finding a method by which I can introduce sugar syrup into the hive to supplement any shortfall. For now I’m not going to get into the debate about whether bees will go ‘down’ or ‘across’ to food, rather than ‘up’. In a Top Bar Hive (TBH), going sideways to a feeder is the most workable option, and given that in a TBH the bees build their honey stores to the side of the brood, providing additional food on that same side seems most likely to succeed.
Strangely, given the now extensive use of horizontal top bar hives, a commercially available feeder design is not easy to find (I haven’t found a single one despite scouring any number of web resources) although a few hive builders do offer one, making it leak proof seemed to be an issue. My solution is to build my own, and thanks to the good folks writing The Honey Beat blog, I found a design I could manage to construct myself even with my seriously limited DIY skills.
My one indulgence in this design was to source a spare follower board – normally used to seal bees into a section of a TBH – rather than making one myself. Thanks to Catherine at Bees’n’Blossoms for supplying one that is unsurprisingly a perfect fit for the hive they supplied earlier. I also needed to buy some mesh, the sort normally used in hives for varroa floors, but apart from these two purchases, all the other materials are salvaged, or were found lying around in the shed!
One of the first steps was to find an appropriate container for the sugar syrup. I have seen promising designs which use Tupperware style containers, but most designs use inverted jars with pierced lids, and as I already had one 700ml jar with the advantage of a squat & relatively stable design this formed the basis of what I built.
From the version I’d seen pictured I knew I needed to start by finding a platform to become the base and adding short lengths of timber to create a three-sided bay, a U-shape, the open end of which would face onto the follower board, with holes drilled to allow access into the bay.
In the design on The Honey Beat they added mesh corners to fit snug around the jar lid and prevent gaps from which the bees could escape. However someone in their blog comments had approached things differently by making a complete covering of mesh on which the jar stood, and allowing the bees to feed through the mesh layer. This meant the jar could be removed for re-filling without bees escaping through the circular hole. This seemed both more practical, and easier to achieve so I decided to try that approach first.
As soon as I started checking space in the hive, I quickly realised that even better I had room for two jars, side by side. This meant double the food supply, double the access for the bees to feed, less opening of the hive for frequent refilling.
Once the access bays were built, I stapled the mesh over the top, and knowing the combined weight of two full jars would put a strain on any fixings, I also cut a crude reinforcing block to fit below the platform and provide some extra support.
The next step was to test fit the platform against the follower board, marking its position, and from this simply mark where to drill the holes through the board to allow the bees into the feeding bays. I used a 5/8ths wood drill bit to make the holes, as this was close to the size of the entrance holes in the TBH, and also fit within the ‘height’ of the access bays.
Once the holes were drilled, I marked up several places to drill pilot holes for the screws which would attach the platform to the follower board. In the end I put in seven screws, probably far more than absolutely necessary, but I didn’t want the whole structure ripping off the board when fully loaded. I did also fix a thin strip of wood immediately above the point at which the mesh butted up to the follower board, this is purely precautionary, just to make sure there was no gap to encourage bees upwards.
I have one further thing to consider. Although the hive is level, and the platform on the follower board is also level, just for peace of mind, I’d like to find a way to temporarily secure the jars in position above the access bays. I don’t think I need anything substantial, it’s more a case of stopping me knocking a jar off while manipulating things inside the hive, or while topping one of the jars up. A simple retaining mechanism will also make sure I line up the jars in the optimum position when replacing them full.
My plan, yet to be implemented, is to staple a nylon cable tie to the follower board around the mid-point of the jar, thereby enabling a loop to be created, loose enough to lift the jars in and out, but providing just enough stability to stop a jar sliding out of position, or off of the platform.
I’ll try to post one more picture once this, or a better solution, is constructed.