Feeding a Top Bar Hive

We try to manage our hives as naturally as possible. We don’t treat with chemicals or essential oils; we minimize intrusions into the hive; and we limit feeding as much as possible. I’ve spoken out against feeding previously and I still stand by that. In particular, we don’t want to engage in stimulative feeding to artificially increase the population ahead of a nectar flow.

But we do step in when a hive looks like it’s going to starve. Inspecting the hives yesterday we found significant differences amongst them:

  • Hive #1 has a big population and is running low on stores. But there’s enough for another couple of weeks, by which time hopefully trees will have started blooming.
  • Hive #2 is in excellent condition. It’s been very frugal with stores, yet there are still a good number of bees. They should have no trouble making it through spring on their stored honey. Incidentally, they are also really gentle compared to the other hives.
  • Our nucleus hive (swarm from hive #1) is in the worst shape in terms of honey. It’s packed full of bees with essentially no honey left. We gave this hive a fondant board to tide them over.

A top bar hive presents its own challenges for winter-feeding. You can’t just dump raw sugar or fondant on top of it Langstroth-style, because there is no gap between the top bars for the bees to access it. Our solution is to apply fondant to a follower board, which can then be suspended anywhere within the hive space.

Here’s  the step by step of how we made the fondant board:

IMG_5150Set up the carrier for the fondant

IMG_51511 part water, 4 parts sugar, 1 tbsp vinegar; boil to 240F

IMG_5153Before whisking

IMG_5154After whisking

IMG_5156Pour on to the carrier

IMG_5159Let it cool and set

IMG_5160Voila – finished fondant board

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10 Responses to Feeding a Top Bar Hive

  1. Hilary says:

    Hi Christy, where does the following board with the fondant then go?
    In the brood chamber? In the feeding chamber? Does it matter?

    • We simply placed it at the end, instead of a follower board.
      I should mention that we had a not so good experience with fondant this year though. We put it on in late fall; and when we looked again in late winter the fondant had absorbed so much moisture that it had partially melted into a sticky, bee-killing puddle on the bottom of the hive.
      I still think fondant can be useful, but remove it if the bees aren’t taking it.

  2. deweysanchez says:

    I had the idea of moulding the fondant onto chickenwire in an effort to provide structural integrity. In the end I decided to not try and be clever and just put in a dish under the cluster.

  3. Anonymous says:

    If there is a danger of it melting or dissolving and causing a puddle they could drown in…why can you just lay the fo dant on the bottom of a screened bottom? I have a bottom board for winter, but there is still enough room between the screen and board for it to dissolve if that happens and not be a danger. Anothernquestion, how many lbs. Of fondant to get through a winter?

    • I don’t have screened bottom boards, but that sounds like an idea. Though I think you wouldn’t have enough space under the combs and have to put it off to the side.
      How many pounds really depends on your weather, how much stores the bees had going into winter, size of the cluster, etc. Fondant is really just an insurance policy and shouldn’t be what the bees depend on to get them through winter.

  4. Chris says:

    Great instructions! How much sugar did you use in this case to fit the follower board so perfectly? Or did you have leftovers that you used in another hive? If you make extra, can it be frozen and used later? Thanks.

    • Honestly, I can’t remember exactly anymore. Probably 4-5 pounds. Depending on how much you have, it’ll just turn out a bit thicker or thinner.
      This year we’re managing things a bit differently for winter: we pulled bars of honey until there were only 12 left. We froze the bars and will be feeding those back in spring. Less honey for us, but hopefully better for the bees than feeding sugar.

  5. Gary DW says:

    doesnt boiling the sugar create Nosema in bees .. Better to boil the other stuff then just add sugar later when cool.

    • Yes, I have also read that boiling sugar results in byproducts that are harder for bees to digest. But as long as you don’t scorch or caramelize the sugar, you should be fine. I would focus instead on minimizing the amount of sugar you feed by leaving plenty of honey (or storing it and feeding it back).

      Nosema is a fungal disease, so I don’t see how feeding syrup – boiled or otherwise – would result in Nosema.

  6. Hugh crosswood says:

    I fixed thin plywood either side of a bar, so it was like a hollow closer board. Drilled holes in one side, so the bees can get at the fondant, and filled it with fondant. I suppose it could still melt and form a puddle, but ours didn’t.

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