A baggie feeder is nothing more than a 3-inch deep super—a perfect tool for the hobbyist. You can buy them, build them, or slice an existing super into several layers. Each feeder will hold two 1-gallon plastic zip bags of sugar syrup. If you prefer, you can use just one bag of syrup and use the remaining space for pollen patties, grease patties, or whatever else you like to feed your bees.
Done correctly, the syrup won’t leak out of the bags. Bags should be filled only about two-thirds full. Just hold the bag upright by propping it in a deep bowl or pan and fill with cooled syrup. At this point you can add any supplements you want, such as Honey-B-Healthy or essential oils. Then carefully squeeze out most of the remaining air and close the zip top. Make sure the bag is zipped all the way to the ends.
Handle these bags carefully. If you squeeze or drop one . . . what a mess! I usually make several and place them side-by-side in a bucket. When you go to your hives, remember to bring a sharp blade or box cutter. I also carry a roll of duct tape in case of a pin-hole leak.
The hardest part of the entire process is placing the bag on top of the upper frame of bees. Once you remove the covers, the bees will flow out between the frames. Brushing them away may help, but I usually hold the bag over the bees, lower it till it touches the frames and slowly lower it more until it’s lying on its side. If you go slowly, the bees will move out of the way as it comes down.
Once it’s in place, you can slit the top. Some people make an “X” but I like three parallel lines about 2 inches (5 cm) apart. It seems like all the syrup might flow out, but it doesn’t. The plastic just floats on the surface and the bees line up at the slits and draw out the syrup. Somehow, they get every last drop out of the bags. After years of doing this, it still surprises me to see the totally empty bags.
The thing to remember is this: don’t cut too deep or you will slit the bottom as well. Be careful because the syrup will find its way through the tiniest nick. Also, don’t forget to install the feeder frame before you replace the covers.
The bags are good because they keep mold away from the syrup, they prevent bees from drowning, and the warmth from the cluster keeps the syrup from freezing. When the bags are empty, just throw them away. I’ve heard of people re-filling them, but I’ve never tried.
I have read that a syrup mixture can only be utilized by the bees down to a certain temperature. I live in north Idaho where the winter temperature is below this mark. Our warmest winter day is below 40 and average is around 32. So does your experience tell you the same thing? Could my bees utilize a ziplock bag system?
What you have read is correct. Liquid feed like sugar syrup cannot be given to bees when the temperatures are low enough that the bees go into a cluster. Liquid syrup is great for spring feeding and fall feeding, but cannot be used in the winter.
Normally, sugar syrup is moved into the honey comb by the bees where it is dried by the bees fanning their wings. This is the same thing that bees do to the nectar that they collect from flowers. But cold temperatures make it impossible for them to dehydrate the syrup. So, instead, the syrup becomes moldy or freezes and the moisture from the syrup collects in the hive.
For winter feeding you can use candy boards, fondant, candy cakes, or granulated sugar in a mountain camp feeder. All of these are solid at room temperature (or very nearly solid) so the bees don’t have to dehydrate them and they don’t give off moisture.
Once the temperatures rise in the spring, you can use the baggie feeder.
From your question, I noticed you are beekeeping in North Idaho. Do you belong to a Beekeeping Club?
We are new to beekeeping and wish to communicate with others in the area.
Thank you, and happy beekeeping!
Thank you so much for the baggie idea. I just caught my first swarm, a very tiny one and worry about drowning too many of them.
Rusty – another salvo in the ongoing war (of words) between baggie and tray feeders. It’s gotten up in the 50’s here and my “guest” beekeeper still has tray syrup feeders on 3 of his hives. (A fourth was robbed last week and before I found it, the raiders had emptied that feeder, so I took it off and gave them a candy cake.)
Now it appears the other 3 are being raided – I see yellowjackets, flies and fighting bees. While the wet sheets are wringing out to put over them, just thought I’d ask: have you known tray feeders to encourage robbing? I have not had robbing with baggies, and I think it’s because the bags don’t diffuse enough of the sugar scent. He also puts lemon grass oil in his. I have no trouble getting mine (or his) to take syrup plain, from the baggies.
I’m not going to argue with him. As much as I love having 7 hives here, I’m starting to wish he’d just move them next spring, between all the drowning bees and now this. I can split mine, it’s doing fine. Our speaker last week said you don’t need a nuc, just put dummy boards at 1,2, 8 & 9 in a medium & put brood & honey in the middle. And lay some strips of plywood to cover the unused sides of the screened bottom.
Thanks for all the help. The sheets are done spinning.
Just a question. I’m new at this, just trying to learn, but can you use an inner cover and lay the bags on that instead on top of the frames? I am planning on getting my first package of bees this year and trying to find the best way to take care of the bees and myself at the same time.
Yes, you can lay the bags on an inner cover. But whether you lay them there or on the top bars, you will need to provide space for them. So you will need a spacer (also known as a shim or eke) wherever you are going to lay the baggie feeders.
“The hardest part of the entire process is placing the bag on top of the upper frame of bees.” I recently read an article about the “Sugar Camp Method” , which I use. They said to “lay a sheet of newspaper on top of the bees. The paper is not heavy enough to hurt the bees, but they will quickly move out from under it and go back between the frames”. Just cut some paper slightly larger than your baggies and take a few with you when you feed.
It is funny you mentioned this because I actually do lay down a piece of paper first, and I put the baggie on top. I started doing it to protect the baggie from sharp areas on the bars. And you are right, lay the paper down and the bees disappear. I have no idea why I never wrote about it . . . I probably assumed I already did. Thanks for a good catch.
Thanks for the great info. I couldn’t find in your article anything about how long each of the parallel slits on the baggie should be. Is half an inch enough?
I go about 2-3 inches on the diagonal.
I’d like to find out the average length of time a baggie full of sugar syrup will last?
Thanks for this informative article!
It depends on how big the bag is and how many bees are drinking from it. I’d guess somewhere between a half hour and two weeks.
Oops, forgot to mention that I’ll be using 1 gallon bags on newly established hives.
“It depends on how big the bag is and how many bees are drinking from it. I’d guess somewhere between a half hour and two weeks.”
Now THIS is funny, and so true!
I get my new bees this week and love the idea of the bag feeder. To be clear I can use one gallon zip lock bags, I can fill with a mixture or sugar water 1/1 ratio, I can lay the bag on the queen excluder if I want and use one of my shallow brooders where the bag feeder will be, then on top of that my inner cover then outer cover. Does all this sound correct? Thank you for this site it has been very informative.
Yes. That is correct.
Is there ventilation concern with the baggies laying on top? It sounds like the pros far outweigh the cons for feeding with baggies, but it felt weird to lay plastic over such a large area.
Thank you in advance. Brand new to beekeeping this year and love this site!
If you are uncomfortable using a large bag, use a smaller one. The one-gallon bags I use cover about 1/2 the area above the brood. There is plenty of ventilation all around the outside of it.
I have a frame feeder in the bottom box and at my last inspection, I did not fill it as they have plenty of nectar and capped reserves…BUT…I found new 2 – 3 day old eggs in the 2nd box… just 2 frames being worked there so I was gonna continue to feed to give them the resources to fill out the 2nd box for the queen to lay in but I did NOT want to disturb them further by going down to refill the frame feeder. I was thinking about this baggie method & I thought do I NEED a shim for over the frames? or can I place the baggie on top of the inner cover under my gabled outer cover. Thoughts?
The shim is used in order to supply space for the baggie feeder. If you have a gabled roof, you won’t need a shim.
I found that syrup leaks out sometimes. It seems the baggie may be too full. How much syrup should be put into a – say gallon bag?
I put two quarts in a gallon bag, just to be on the safe side.
For winter sugar feeding, what do you think of filling an empty drawn-comb frame with confectioners sugar?
I don’t fill empty-drawn comb with anything. I figure the bees know what they want in there better than I do. Also, confectioner’s sugar is really light and airy, so there isn’t much energy value in a whole frame of it.