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Well, many people might have only seen bees being fed one way or the other. But really, you should be well informed so you can make that decision for yourself as to which works best for you as a beekeeper.
Let's discuss two types of feeding: open feeding and closed feeding. And then let you make an informed decision as to which would be better for your bees.
So let’s get started.
Open feeding is when you make your sugar water mixture and then leave it out in the open for the bees to come to it and feed.
Now, this can be done by leaving out 5 gallon buckets of the sugar water. Or you can place the mixture in a bird bath or some other open container. Just as long as the bees can get to it to eat when necessary.
Open feeding is faster and easier to do. This is pretty self-explanatory but just in case, it is faster because you just pour the mixture out there and walk away. There is no digging into your hives to feed or anything of that sort.
And it is easier pretty much for the same reason. You don’t have to open your hives to feed. You just have to walk to the feeder and the bees do the rest.
So if you are looking for a feeding method that is easy and fast then this option might be a viable one for you.
The cons to open feeding are numerous. If you open feed you run the risk of feeding more than just your bees.
You could feed things like ants, wasps, hornets, and even other people’s bees. Obviously, attracting more pests around your hive is never a good thing.
But you also don’t want to spend your money to feed other people’s bees either, as sugar isn’t cheap, especially when you have multiple hives you are feeding regularly.
Next, it is commonly thought that you incite robbing when open feeding. This makes sense because you are creating an open food source. What is there to discourage pests and robbers from trying to feed on anything else that is close by?
So obviously, when you open feed you are going to attract others to your hives, which could certainly initiate robbing.
Finally, when you open feed and attract things other than your bees you are potentially bringing diseases from other bees and pests to your bees.
So keep this in mind too since the health of your hives is very important.
Those are the things you should really take into consideration when planning on open feeding. Really weigh out these options and consider wether convenience is worth risking the health of your hives.
Closed feeding simply means that there is a feeder inside the hive. This could be a hive-top feeder, an entrance hive feeder, or an in hive feeder. Either way, these feeders hold your sugar water mixture.
Now, you’ll need to view the pros and cons to decide if this is the better option for your hives in your particular situation.
The first pro to this option is that when feeding your bees you will have a direct view as to how much feed your hive is actually consuming. So you will know that they are not being robbed or attracting anything else which would be consuming their food. Note, by the way, that the robbing risk remains to some extent with the entrance feeder, which is still easily accessible by those outside the hive.
It also helps you to know if you have enough natural food around your home. If you are having to feed them year round that means that you might need to plant resources around your home, such as flowers so they will be able to forage for food.
Second, you will be able to treat your hives individually. This can be helpful if one of your hives has an issue with hive beetles, for example. Wintergreen essential oil is a great way to deter them. So you can specifically add some winter green essential oils to their feed mixture to deter that particular pest.
However, you wouldn’t need to do that for a hive that doesn’t have that issue. But you might want to add another essential oil to treat that hive for one of its own weaknesses.
So as you can see, closed feeding allows you to give each hive the individual attention that it may need.
The downside to closed hive feeding is that it is definitely more time consuming. You will need to suit up to do this job (which equates to more time.)
You also have to feed each individual hive, instead of just pouring out the mixture into a five gallon bucket or bird bath and walking away.
Secondly, there is more expense in closed feeding. You have to purchase either a hive top feeder, entrance feeder, or in hive feeder.
So if you are beekeeping on a budget then this might not be the best option for you.
And lastly, closed feeding creates more maintenance to your hives. You have to maintain those feeders, which obviously adds another time consuming task into beekeeping.
But if you are someone that doesn’t have a tight schedule or have to rush through your beekeeping chores, then this might be a good option for you and your particular situation.
I can’t tell you exactly what to do in this instance. Everyone’s beekeeping experience is unique. But I will share our experience with you.
We have usually done closed feeding just because that is how we got started and have been accustomed to doing things.
But we are actually getting ready to change to open feeding. The reason is because we have more hives than we have ever had before and so we are having to take the time and maintenance it takes to maintain this number of hives into consideration.
So, as I said, it is all about your unique situation as to what works best for you. If you have a fewer number of hives then you might be better suited to close feed. It does protect your hives more, there wouldn’t be as much of a cost attached with fewer hives, and it wouldn’t be nearly as time consuming.
However, if you are someone that has a large number of hives then the maintenance and the amount of time that goes into feeding closed hives could obviously be a hindrance to your beekeeping experience.
In such an instance, you might prefer open feeding, even if you do run the risk of attracting pests or disease to your hives. As I said, we are personally to a point that it is a risk we are willing to take because of how overwhelming the time constraints have become on keeping up a larger number of hives.
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