feeding bees

A marble bar for bees


I watered the shrubbery in front of my house and got the concrete driveway wet in the process. Within a few minutes, dozens and dozens of honey bees congregated on the concrete to lick up the cooling drops.

Recalling that honey bees love saltwater pools, I made a wading pool for them from a flower pot saucer and a few handfuls of marbles. Then I added water and some table salt—nothing intense, just enough to give it a slightly brackish taste. I set the saucer on an industrial-size wooden spool in dappled shade and soon forgot about it.

They didn’t pay much attention the first day, but the following day I was amazed to see them climbing all over the marbles. Once they found the saucer, it became hard to keep it full. In the photo, the water is just about gone and so are most of the bees. Since then, I added more marbles so the water is deeper and I can fill it less often.

The bees around here have plenty to drink, so this isn’t a necessity but more of a “conversation piece.” They have streams, creeks, wetlands, and water seeping out of the hillsides. Still, it’s fun to be able to watch them up close. With so many hot days ahead, I think I will have lots to watch.


The honey bees finish their first bowl of water. © Rusty Burlew.


  • Any idea why they would like salt in the water? Does it provide some essential minerals for them?

    • Miriam,

      The sodium in salt is an essential nutrient for all forms of animal life. Sodium is critical for muscle contractions, nerve impulses, and water balance. In humans, sodium is an important part of blood plasma, lymphatic fluid, amniotic fluid, and many other systems. Most forms of life get plenty of sodium in their normal diet, but most animals are attracted to extra salt, which is why it is easy to attract deer, rabbits and other animals to a salt lick and why bees like saltwater pools.

  • When visiting a beekeeper with ground nesting bees (on the roof of his underground house — I know, I should post the photos and a story), I remarked on a congregation of bees around a patch of weedy grass with no obvious nectar or pollen source. He said that it almost certainly was a spot where his big dog had just peed. Oohh — makes sense. Butterflies are attracted to mud and pee puddles, so why not bees.

      • Rusty –
        Nope, this home is in the Tenino area (still in SW Washington, for all you out-of-area folk reading this). I can email you more details. I know of a couple more underground homes in the Puget Sound area, now I’ll have to check them all out.

  • My bees have never shown much interest in water provided for them, but I’ve not added salt. Will give it a go and see what happens. Your bowl and marbles make a very colourful display Rusty!

  • Love this idea, we bought a big saucer today for our bees, tomorrow we are going after marbles (having lost ours!) much nicer than the gravel/ pea shingle we were planning, I expect they will still prefer the dirty bird bath!

    Have considered using one of the hive entrance feeders for water.

  • Does the salt furnish a necessary nutrient for the bees that a plain dish of water does not? Just curious since living in Arizona, I don’t normally see salty water pools and it never occured to me that the salt might make the “wading pool” more attractive. In the desert, any water attracts bees (and wasps and other flying insects) in the heat of summer.

    • Steve,

      The necessary nutrient in salt is sodium, same as for all animals (see my response to Miriam). Most deserty areas contain plenty of salt so, as you point out, in those areas the water itself is attractive whether it contains salt or not.

  • Rusty,

    That’s an excellent idea for many situations. Our own bees are on a rather damp site, and I don’t think that’s all that good for them, but a human-made pebbly stream in a dish of marbles is a superb idea for many places.

    Eric Franklin (Wales, UK)

  • Thank you for all your posts.
    You can’t imagine how much I (and certainly many others) enjoy seeing Honey Bee Suite in our inbox.
    New to beekeeping, about 4 months now, and have gained a great deal of knowledge from your site.
    Thank you and God Bless!

  • Rusty,

    I give my goats a mineral mix with salt in it. My bees already have a fresh water drinking dish as part of my bird bath, but i was thinking of mixing a teaspoon of minerals in a quart of water for them. Our area is minerally depleted and I was wondering if they would like it. Have you ever tried a mineral mix?

    • Nancy,

      I used to put mineral salt in grease patties (although I don’t use grease patties any longer). I have never tried it in water, but I’m sure the bees would benefit from it, especially in an area that is depleted. If they don’t like it, they won’t take it.

    • John,

      It is my understanding that honey bees detect water sources by smell rather than by sight. In fact, some think that is why they are attracted to pools—because they can smell the chlorine and/or salt. They also may like water with algae and floaters for the same reason. So my guess is that clear marbles wouldn’t make much difference. If you try it, let us know.

  • To save a little time, I set out a large chicken waterer. Mine is red and holds about a gallon and a half. I put pebbles in the trough. Also, most are plastic, so salty water wouldn’t corrode. Am curious the amount of salt per gallon other folks have used successfully.

    • I didn’t measure. I just added salt until the water was just slightly salty. I will measure next time.

  • Dear Rusty,

    I’ve heard that salt can make bees’ life span shorter. But at the moment could not find it online yet.

    Will appreciate your comments / thoughts on this.


    • Terry,

      Nearly all animals, including humans, are dependent on salt to remain healthy. Salt is vital to a number of body functions, including nerve transmissions and muscle movement, and is necessary to a number of other systems as well. In short, animals cannot live without salt. Animals are smarter than people, in that they only eat as much as they need. Still, sometimes it is in short supply, which is why cattle, poultry, rabbits, and many others are routinely given salt supplements.

      If bees do not have enough salt, they will seek it out, which is why they have a huge affinity for saltwater pools and brackish water. And like butterflies, they will lick it off the ground if necessary. I see absolutely nothing wrong with providing a little salt water for bees, especially if it keeps them out of your neighbors’ swimming pools. Could an overdose of salt harm a bee? Probably yes. Are they likely to eat an overdose? No. They know what they need and what they don’t, and they know where to get what is lacking.

  • I put out a marble water dish but today half the marbles are gone and no where to be found. Would a bird or animal eat or take them for some purpose?? They were various colours. I’ve brought the dish inside. I’ll use natural coloured pebbles and will try this again.

  • Thank you for the wonderful info. Just ordered marbles from amazon, cannot wait to have our own bee bar!

  • Thank you so very much! I was just going to post an informational article in my Facebook group about a bee bath. This is a great bonus! I really appreciate this!

  • Great article, describes the creation of a marble bar for bees, highlighting the innovative ways people can support pollinators. The author’s project serves as an inspiring example of how small actions can make a big difference in conservation efforts.

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