Although more art than science is required to use a baggie feeder, they are still my favorite liquid feeder because they drown so few bees and because I can use them in any type of hive, including a top-bar hive. 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.
Prepare your baggie feeder in advance
- A freezer-weight zip-top bag makes the best baggie feeder. The type made from two thin layers of plastic instead of one thick layer tends to leak.
- 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 (eke) or shallow super you use 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 dates, write with a felt-tip pen while the bags are still empty.
How to fill the plastic bags
- 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 inside, line it with a towel.
Tips for placing the baggie feeder on the hive
- 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 use 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 the 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. Ironically, these plastic bags are 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. Those extra bags can come in handy.
How to move or refill a baggie feeder after it’s been slit
- If you absolutely must move a slit bag that still contains syrup, you can weave your hive tool through the slits in the plastic and lift the bag straight up. If you have at least two slits in the bag, it is easy to pick it up with a hive tool without spilling a drop.
- 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. The old bag pads any sharp or splintery places.
- If the bees don’t drink the syrup, make sure the bag is slit. (I have walked away without slitting the bag more than once.) If the bag is slit but the bees aren’t drinking it, take a small dropper and add a couple of drops of essential oil (anise, peppermint, tea tree, etc) or a little Honey-B-Healthy. The scent will help the bees find the syrup and it will be gone in no time.
The best thing about a baggy feeder: easy cleanup
I know this sounds complex, but once you get the hang of it, it’s easy. You can prepare a bunch in advance and distribute them all at once. My bees usually polish off a bag in two or three days, depending on how eager they are for food.
When you’re done feeding for the year, cleanup is easy. Just pull out any remaining plastic bags and toss them. Nothing to clean, nothing to store, and minimal disturbance to the bees.
Honey Bee Suite