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How to tame those baggie feeders

Although more art than science is required to use baggie feeders, they are still my favorite bee “service” because they drown so few bees and because I can use them in any type of hive, including a top-bar. Since many beginners will be using them this spring, I assembled a list of dos and don’ts that may help. Mostly it takes practice.

  • The very best zip-top bags are made from freezer-weight plastic. The worst (in my experience) are the double layer bags, which are made from two thin layers instead of one thick layer of plastic.
  • A ten-frame Langstroth hive can accommodate two one-gallon zip-top bags. If you are using a different size hive or a different size bag, lay some bags on your top bars to see what pattern will work for you. You don’t want to figure this out with full bags of syrup.
  • Make sure the spacer rim or shallow super you are using to hold the feeder is deeper than a filled bag. To test, just fill a baggie with water and lay it inside the rim. There must be bee space between the top of the bag and the inner cover or lid.
  • If you are going to label the bags with contents or date, write with a felt-tip pen while the bags are still empty.
  • To fill the bags easily, stand them in a high-sided bowl, open the bag as wide as possible, then pour in the cooled syrup.
  • Fill each bag only one-half to two-thirds full. If they are totally full, all the syrup will leak out when you slit the bag.
  • Squeeze the air out of the bag and then zip it shut all the way to the ends.
  • Lay the bag on a flat surface (such as a table) for a few minutes, then check for leaks.
  • If the zip top is leaking at the ends, fold a piece of duct tape over the zipper and press tightly all around. This stops the leak and holds the bag together.
  • Don’t stack the filled bags. If you are going to carry them in a bucket to the hives, put them in the bucket side by side. Too much weight on top can cause them to burst open. If the bucket is rough on the inside, line it with a towel.
  • Before you head out to the bee yard make sure you have a sharp knife or box cutter, some extra baggies, and a roll of duct tape.
  • Make sure the tops of your frames or top-bars are smooth. If you used nails to assemble wedged top-bars, make sure there are no nail-tips poking through the wood. These will rip your bag instantly. In hives where the top bars seem rough or splintery, you can cut thick brown paper the size of the baggies and lay these down first. (Cut paper in advance if you think you will need it.)
  • Hold a baggie by the top and place the bottom near the side of the feeder rim. Very slowly lower the baggie down over the bees. As the syrup flattens out into the bag, the bees will get out of the way. This is not as hard as it sounds and it’s kind of fun to watch the bees move away from the bag. Just go slowly.
  • Now, cut the slits. I usually cut the first one diagonally in the middle of the bag and about four inches long. Don’t slit the bag where it starts to curve downward–just do it on top. Make two more slits parallel to the first and about an inch away. These should be about an inch shorter. (Your knife needs to be really sharp. These plastic bags are really delicate until you try to slit them with a knife, at which point they become indestructible.)
  • Be very careful not to insert your knife too deep and cut the bottom layer of plastic. (This is more apt to happen if your knife is not sharp and you end up pushing down on the plastic.)
  • If you accidentally nick a bag you can patch it with a piece of duct tape. If things really go awry you can pour what’s left of the feed into a new bag.
  • If you absolutely must move a slit bag that still contains syrup, you can weave your hive tool though the slits in the plastic and lift the bag straight up.
  • When it’s time to feed more syrup, you can refill the bag by lifting the top part with your hive tool and pouring in more syrup. Or you can leave the old bag in place and put a new one on top of it. (This takes care of those sharp places.)
  • If the bees don’t drink the syrup, make sure the bag is slit. If it is, take a small dropper and add a couple drops of essential oil (anise, peppermint, tea tree, etc) or a little Honey-B-Healthy. The syrup will be gone in no time.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

 

Baggie feeders fit any style of hive
If a bag leaks at the zip ends, I use duct tape. It should extend beyond the ends, as shown.

Comments

Brett J
Reply

Would it still work if you used an empty medium super instead of a 3 inch spacer?

Rusty
Reply

Sure, any size spacer or super that is big enough for the baggie feeder will work. The only reason I prefer spacers is that they are easier to carry around and easier to store–but the bees don’t care.

Doug
Reply

I took some bags out to a yard that is about 20 miles away. I forgot my razor knife. No one around, no where to buy one, but I found a toothpick. I poked several holes in the top, being very careful not to poke too deep. It worked like a charm. Now, that’s all I use.

Rusty
Reply

Doug,

I like that idea! Why did I never think of it? I’m going to try it next time instead of the slits.

Casey Overland
Reply

greatly appreciate the detailed do’s /don’ts on baggie feeding – Thank you!

jayne
Reply

Thanks for the info.

Any reason not to use the inside cover and lay the baggie on that rather than across the top of the frames? I have been feeding small baggies in there on a plate, inside a small super box. But they go so quickly that I am wondering whether I can use a couple of gallon bags up in there? I too have been poking the baggies, with wooden skewers, but toothpicks, that’d be better.

Rusty
Reply

Jayne,

I place them on the top-bars to keep the syrup warmer in cold weather. Plus, the bees don’t have to traverse empty space to get to them–the top of the cluster can just sort of flow over the bag and get to the feed.

But my concerns are based on cold-weather feeding. In the spring and summer it shouldn’t make any difference at all if you place the bags on an inner cover.

Sarah
Reply

I used this baggie feeding method. I like it but when I go to take out the empty bag and put out a new one there are always one or two bees, dead, in the bag. Anyone else notice this?

Rusty
Reply

Sarah,

To have one or two dead bees in any liquid feeding system is nothing short of amazing. I’ve seen internal feeders with hundred–or perhaps thousands–of dead bees floating around. Consider yourself a bee-feeding wizard and let it go at that.

Sarah
Reply

Glad to know I’m not the only one who kills bees when I take it into my head that they need my help to live.

Nancy
Reply

Rusty (and Doug, too),
Thank you!

Back story: our region started nectar dearth early, thanks to 100+-degree June heat + no rain, that burned up the best clover flush in 5 years.

My friends’ 7 hives were into their super stores, but my little shook split had used up about all the honey in the corners of 7 frames of brood, and most of 1 & 9. And still hatching brood.

Baggie feeders, in an old comb shallow for a feeder rim, and Doug’s toothpick idea with a bamboo skewer – worked like a charm! NO drowned bees, and they emptied 2 gallon bags flat in 2 days. And, when I refilled the bags, they’d begun drawing comb in their expansion medium, which they hadn’t touched in a month.

Follow-up: grateful to say we have been blessed with 2″ rain in 2 weeks. The clover is coming back, and the Sericea lespedeza is budding, so we should survive till the goldenrod in late August. We’re better off than many folks (human and melliferan) and hope that beekeepers in less fortunate regions make use of this method. Thanks again, and this will be my feed method of choice in any syrup weather. Best to everyone coping with weather extremes!

Nan

Leon
Reply

Not much for the bees to eat here on the NW coast of Oregon this Sept. I started feeding the 3 hives using the baggie method. Filled 2/3 of a one gallon double zip-lock BAGGIE and laid it on a lawn chair in front of the hives. I poked a row of 6 to 8 holes 2 inches below top and then a second row of holes one inch below that. The bag was emptied in a couple of hours. Now just refill by opening top and pour in the sugar mix. Close-up and you are in business again. Note: zero drowned bees.

Rusty
Reply

Leon,

Thanks for the tip on using the little holes. Sounds good.

Lindy
Reply

Hi Rusty and other readers,

I tried the baggie feeder method in the last week, but I had so many bees making the slits bigger and climbing in and not being able to find their way out again. Even though the slits were only about 1 cm long. I am not going to do this anymore I think.

Yesterday I tried this other method I have not read about it anywhere on your site but an older beekeeper told me about it. You use an upended glass jar (the kind vegetables or beans come in about 700 gram size ((double the size of a jam jar then))). Fill this with your syrup and make two small nail holes in the metal screw-on lid. The two holes see to drops being let through and no vacuum occurring. You place the upended jar on two thin wooden strips (paint stirrer strips in this country) across the hole in the inner cover so directly above the bees. They can drink ad-lib (taking turns nicely as becomes them!!) and no one can possibly drown in sticky stuff.

I felt terribly guilty for all my drowned sticky bees when I found them. And the holes I made were really not too big. This story gets stickier too. I went on Friday 4 October to feed the bees with the baggies. I was congratulating myself on how cleanly and efficiently everything was going (always a bad move!!). I was working from the back of the car about 30 meters from the hives. The back of the car is where my dogs normally lie and there is a plush blanket in there for them. I had filled two baggies and was busy with number 3 when I noticed a dark stain on the blanket.

Baggie leak!!! Oh horrors now I had to get that out from under all other syrup feed jerry cans and tool equipment before bees find new food source and me!!!! Managed that okay, took blanket to other side of field for bee upholstery work. Carried on with what I was doing by the (safe) car, carried filled bags to hive in bucket… Took off lid and honey super with wood chips moisture quilt fandango off bees. I use a slightly higher rim than the 3 inches you talk about, Rusty. It is half a brood box high I cut old ones through the middle. I then lifted filled baggie out of bucket…. Yak, bag bottom split and syrup dripped all over top of next door hive and round the legs of the one I was working on…

Things didn’t get better after that either because this was when I found far too many drowned bees in the previous bags. Yesterday however the situation was slightly better but still too many (30-odd) drowned bees altogether. Like Sarah wrote, it’s an awful feeling to find dead bees when the whole thing you are trying to achieve is get them through winter alive and healthy. I hope with the jars method that I have more success. Really enjoy reading this site; it is addictive. I am going to look for hive wrapping advice now… bye for now Lindy (NL)

Rusty
Reply

Lindy,

Wow, that is quite a horror story. I’ve never had a bag split, or a bee make the slits bigger, or have any drowned bees in the bag. I’m wondering if the quality of the bag, or the manufacturing process, is making the difference. It is interesting.

The jar feeder is commonly used here. I prefer the baggies because it spreads the syrup out directly over top of the cluster which keeps the syrup warmer.

Lindy
Reply

Hi Rusty, I really did want it to work. I bought about 10 boxes of the freezer bags from our local agri-cooperative store. Normally they stand for high quality. I thought about going back to complain but haven’t done so yet. The jars are empty every two days so they are still taking it up. My jar lids are only slightly smaller than the hole in the inside cover so the up-going warmth does sort of gather about the jar I hope. Yesterday was more of a horror story. I saw something that looked like a flower bud on the landing plank. I picked it up to examine it and saw it was half a drone baby still white. Then a worker came wriggling out with a whole drone baby bee in her mouth and front legs and then she flew off with it to dispose of it somewhere else… I think this is sad, my sons were not always as diligent as my daughters but I found other ways for them to become useful in society than the bees are managing.

Rusty
Reply

Lindy,

You are funny.

Raul and Amber
Reply

Forgive my ignorance Rusty. But how in the world do you do baggie feeders on a top-bar hive? There is no space between my top bars. That is how I saw to build them. So do you put them on the bottom? Laying on the screen?

Rusty
Reply

Raul,

All top-bar hives are different. Mine has an attic under a gabled roof, which provides plenty of room to feed.

Raul and Amber
Reply

I have a roof as well and there is a gap for them IF they fly out of the hole and through the space between the side of the hive and the roof. Otherwise there is no space for them to get up there. Oh well. I will stick to your syrup in jars!

Aaron
Reply

Rusty,

Will it knock the bees out of a ‘comfort zone’ if I were to change feeding styles? I made a hivetop feeder and don’t like all the drowned bees I’m getting.

Rusty
Reply

Aaron,

No problem. They will figure it out.

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