Beekeepers who want to know if it would be best to open or closed feed their bees should definitely begin by examining their wants, needs, time availabilities, and budget before they come to a logical conclusion themselves. There is no guaranteed right answer to this query. It really all depends on the beekeeper's experience and partialities, as well as the bees' preferences. Hopefully, however, this article will show beekeepers some helpful thoughts about the pros and cons of picking one method over the other. If you are just starting out, you will likely want to do more research beyond this one article, but this is a good place to start.
Beekeepers who use either the open feeding method or the closed feeding method still make bee food the same way: by simply mixing together sugar and water. Where the two methods differ has to do with how the beekeeper presents the food to the bees.
For beekeepers using the open feeding method, the mixture is left outside near the bees in a noticeable, large container. Often, the food is left in a five-gallon bucket or a bird bath. Bees find the food and feed themselves as they need to throughout the day.
When implementing the closed feeding method, beekeepers attempt one of several ways to bring food inside the hive. Beekeepers have several tools at their disposal for containing food and feeding bees inside their homes. These tools include:
- A hive-top feeder – Placed on the top of the uppermost box.
- An entrance hive feeder – Screwed into position at the base of the hive’s entrance. This is a better option for warm months, as the device holds the food just outside the hive.
- An in-hive feeder – Stands at the inner cover or frames, so the bees can have easy access to it.
Beekeepers interested in closed feeding should explore all these options to see if any work for them. Every bee hive is different, and some respond more to one of the feeders than the others.
Open Feeding Pros
The major advantages to open feeding mostly pertain to the method’s time- and energy-saving benefits. It is the quicker method and requires very little commitment or strenuous activity on the part of the beekeeper. You just pour the mixture, put it in a location familiar to the bees, and walk away.
You don’t need to open your hives and make any adjustments—just let nature take its course. This could be an excellent option for a beekeeper who wants an easy method for feeding his bees. It is also great for low-maintenance hives that quickly accept the sugar water as a viable food source.
Closed Feeding Pros
Closed feeding is a method best suited for beekeepers who want to ensure no other animal can get to their food. Whereas with the open feeding method, any passing creature can drink from a five-gallon bucket of sugar water, closed feeding shuts those pests away from the hive’s food source. With only bees consuming the food, you will know for certain exactly how much of the food they need now and into the future.
Beekeepers who employ closed feeding practices can also treat each of their hives individually. You can deploy additives to maintain a hive’s health or fend off pests. If the hive has trouble with a hive beetle, for example, Wintergreen essential oils added to the hive’s food could deter them.
Open Feeding Cons
One of the major downsides of open feeding is it frequently brings other animals to your food. If you leave a bucket of sugar water out in the open, it is just as likely to attract ants, wasps, hornets, and even other bees just as much as it is likely to attract your own. These foreign animals can bring diseases along with them, which can infect and kill off your whole hive.
You did not start beekeeping to watch other animals eat the food you provide and kill the bees you protect. If your bee hive does die (either by disease or some other reason), you can purchase more nuc bee hives at The B Farm in Jennings, LA.
Furthermore, by giving pests something to rob, you create a setting that encourages robbery. If the pests know they can eat your sugar water, what will stop an animal from returning for more delicious fare, such as whatever is in your trash or growing in your garden? If you live in a woodsy area and are concerned about attracting animals to your home, consider avoiding the open feeding method. Nobody wants to call an exterminator just so they can feed their bees.
Closed Feeding Cons
People are deterred from closed feeding primarily because of the time commitment the practice entails. With closed feeding, every time you want to refill your bee’s food reserves, you will have to put on your beekeeping garb and feed each hive individually. Getting dressed for the job is enough of a time commitment. Depending on how many hives you have, this could add up to over an hour’s work—quite a bit more than just the few minutes it takes to fill a bucket with sugar water.
There are also extra expenses to this method. Beekeepers who use closed feeding have to purchase a hive top feeder, an entrance feeder, or an in-hive feeder. If you want to lower your expenses, you should probably avoid closed feeding.
There is no obvious answer when deciding if it would be best to open or closed feed your bees. Beekeepers making that decision need to ask themselves how much money they want to invest into the project, how much they want to guard their bees from other animals, and how often they want to open their bee hives.
Beekeepers should feel free to experiment with different methods until they find the one that works best with their hives. Also, if they have multiple hives, there is no reason a beekeeper cannot have different systems for different batches.