feeding bees how to

Tricks for using a baggie feeder: it takes practice

I was frustrated with the number of dead bees I found in liquid feeders. But once I learned the tricks of baggie feeders, no more dead bees.

Inside: Although tricky to use, a baggie feeder is still my favorite liquid feeder. They seldom drown any bees, they fit in any style of hive, and you can put them in the warmest place.

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.)

  • 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 the leftovers into a new bag. Those extra bags can come in handy.

How to move or refill a baggie feeder after slitting

  • 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

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.

About Me

I backed my love of bee science with a bachelor’s degree in Agronomic Crops and a master’s in Environmental Studies. I write extensively about bees, including a current column in American Bee Journal and past columns in Two Million Blossoms and Bee Craft. I’ve endured multiple courses in melittology and made extensive identifications of North American bees for iNaturalist and other organizations. My master beekeeper certificate issued from U Montana. I’m also an English nerd. More here.


    • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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?

    • 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.

  • 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!


  • 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.

  • 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)

    • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

    • Raul,

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

      • 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!

  • 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.

  • Appreciate the baggie feeder advice. There are not many sites providing baggie tips.

    I’ve had bees for 4 days now. They already emptied a gallon bag. Concern: A few of my hives are building burr comb inside the top feeding shim. Any advice on reducing burr comb? Do I just need to fill the space with more bags or something else?

    • Chris,

      That’s what your hive tool is for. The problem never goes away until you get rid of your bees.

  • For lack of equipment I’m thinking of putting either a front loading feeder or the baggie method on top of my queen excluder inside of a medium empty box then the lid on that on top of my hive box. Trying to help a small swarm survive. Thoughts?

  • Hi! I don’t have hives and I live in an apartment on the 3rd floor. Can you tell me if I can feed the bees from here and if so, what kind of feeder should I use? I think this baggie feeder is genius; is there a way for me to use it?

  • Rusty,

    I tried top feeders a couple years ago and found a great deal of condensation inside the top cover. I think the open feeders contributed to this, along with our colder temps in spring. My logs show frosts regularly in May and even some into June (Fairbanks, Alaska area). I went back to baggie feeding, but added a home made “basket” made from 1/2 inch mesh wire laid directly on the frames to aid in lifting out partially filled bags.

    Sometimes the bees haven’t quite emptied the bag when I check and there may be some syrup left. Not wanting to open the hive again in the next day or two to see if they’ve emptied the bag, I just lift it out with full support from the wire basket and replace with a full one. I used a piece of mesh large enough to cover the frames with an extra 2 inches all around which is bent up to form something to grip while lifting. Works like a charm. The bees can come right through and the baggies are still down on the frame tops near the warmth of the cluster. I also cut a piece of fiberboard and placed on top of the baggie shim and covered with the top cover. A few holes drilled high around the shim to let out moist air finished the job. Didn’t see the first drop of condensation. Oh, be careful of the cut ends of the wire mesh…don’t poke yourself or the baggies. Maybe some heavy tape over those edges.


  • This is my favourite method of feeding my bees. One thing I always use is a surgical scalpel to cut through my bags. Anything else seems to catch the bags whilst cutting. If you are woried about cutting right through the bag, insert a sheet of plastic before filling and keep this face down (obviously). Very rare I get dead bees and fresh bags/no air means no mold.

  • For the frugal beekeepers, could we use propolis (or duct tape) to seal the toothpick holes or small slits in the used baggies, fill them again, put them back on the frames and make new holes or small slits next to the previous holes? Other than the leaking problem when refilling used bags, are there other problems with them? Do the bees damage them in any way?

    I really like your posts and have shared some of them on the Facebook page for the Omaha Bee Club.

    • Mark,

      I don’t see why not. I have found that the bags sometimes snag on the top bars, especially any that have splintery edges. I seal those with duct tape if I can find the leak. Sometimes I place a piece of paper on the bars before the bags, to lessen that problem. I haven’t noticed bees hurting the bags…it’s mostly me that damages them. Slow and careful works best.

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