DIY Hive Top Feeder Plan
Follow These Tips to Create a DIY Top Feeder of Your Own
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Bees are hungry little creatures that occasionally require supplemental feeding. Fortunately, feeding honey bees during the warmer months requires little more than selecting a feeder and filling it with syrup. For a simple, inexpensive feeder that holds up to a gallon of sugar syrup, is easy to refill, and requires no opening of the hive, look no further than the hive top feeder. While preassembled top feeders are available, for about $10 each, anyone with basic carpentry skills can DIY several in a single afternoon following a few simple tips that work for both 8- and 10-frame Langstroth hives.
Before we dig into the nitty-gritty of building a DIY top hive feeder, a few words on how it works and the pros and cons of this style are in order. A hive top feeder doubles as the outer cover and requires no inner cover. This unique feature means the feeder does not sit inside the hive and, therefore, does not require the opening of the hive to replenish the syrup. Rather, a jar is filled with syrup and fitted with a lid containing a few small feeding holes. The jar is then inverted into a hole in the top feeder, allowing bees to feed in the safety of their hive. Once the syrup runs out, a freshly filled jar replaces the empty one. As a bonus, because the feeding holes are fully enclosed within the top of the hive and no other entrance is near the feeder, hive robbing is avoided—an important feature during extreme nectar dearths. The only downside is the tendency of the jars to mildew. However, the addition of one of the essential oil-based feed supplements does wonders to keep the jars mildew free.
Select a Material
The beauty of most hive top feeder plans is the ease of selecting materials based on what is readily available. For instance, many beekeepers who’ve had hives for more than a couple of years tend to have extra outer covers hidden in their stash of equipment. These extra outer covers make the best DIY top feeders and require no additional cost. Any outer cover will work whether its a telescoping outer cover or a migratory cover. Just remember to remove any protective sheathing before modifying. Alternatively, a 2’ x 4’ sheet of ¾” exterior grade non-treated plywood works perfectly, provided the finished feeder is painted and sealed well against the elements and will yield 1-2 complete 10-frame hive top feeders.
If using plywood, measure your hive box—most are standard sized, but oddballs are definitely floating around—and allow around 1 ½” additional wood space around each side of the hive body unless you’d prefer the feeder to sit flush with the edges of the hive as when using a migratory cover. For our DIY top feeders, we make a one-size-fits-all feeder of 19” x 22½” for both 8- and 10-frame bodies which allows ample room to fit a hive tool underneath to pop the lid while still providing a little extra protection from rain. For our nucs, we follow the fashion of the migratory cover to make moving the tiny boxes around less cumbersome.
As for the sides of the feeder, either leave them naked and cut the cover to be flush with the hive body like a migratory cover, allow the edges to extend an inch or two past the hive body with no sides added, or cut sides from a 1” x 2” x 8’ piece of pine and add to the edges like a telescoping cover. All of these versions work just fine and are more a matter of personal preference than any major differences in functionality. We’ve used all three versions and personally prefer to add a bit of siding to help with tool leverage when popping covers, but others I know strongly advocate the naked sides of the other two styles.
Select a Jar
Any glass or plastic jar can work, with glass being the better option for both longevity and fit. Select which sized jar you’d like to use—pint, quart, or gallon—and locate the lid that fits best. The two key points to remember are to make certain the lids are tight-fitting and allow for the puncture of a few holes with a penny-sized nail in the center of the lid. Metal lids work best and don’t warp in extreme summer heat while plastic can soften and allow leaks from time to time.
Select a Hole Saw
This is the most important tool needed to create a good top feeder. The hole saw must be sized to allow a snug but not too tight hole in which the jar lid rests. If the jar wobbles or you can see daylight between the lid and the feeder the hole is too large. Practice first with a scrap piece of wood to determine the correct size. Once the selection is made, create a hole directly in the center of the cover and, if needed, sand the edges to create a smooth hole to allow the jar to slip in easily. Perfectly sized hole saws may be difficult to find as lid brands tend to vary on outside dimensions just enough to drive a DIYer crazy, so you may find you need to sand or otherwise remove just a tad more wood than your selected hole saw can manage. (Keep this variance in mind and know that you’re not imagining things if your jars suddenly don’t fit when you change lid brands!) If you’d prefer to not purchase a new hole saw, a simple jig also works well. It just takes a bit more time and effort and may be a little less precise.
Wrap It Up
Once the cover is assembled, give the outside portions a base coat of primer and a couple of coats of exterior latex paint or seal with weatherproof sealant to help your cover last as long as possible. Once dry, your DIY top feeder is ready to go to the bee yard and get to work.
Beekeeping often requires a bit of experimenting to determine what works best in your particular apiary, so don’t be afraid to look at various hive top feeder plans. And don’t be afraid to ask yourself, ‘What can I DIY next?’