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Author Topic: My attempt to build a perfect feeder  (Read 3619 times)
BlueBee
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« on: January 19, 2011, 09:23:29 PM »

Since this is the winter building season, I thought I would share my attempt to design a perfect feeder from last summer.  I had an obsession to make a perfect Miller style top feeder and this post tells of my results.  If any of you are CRAZY enough to build your own top feeder (we know you’re out there), then there might be something you can learn from my pain! 



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I found it difficult to design a float system that doesn’t sink, sit too far down in the syrup, or stick to a side.  Plain wood will eventually sink.  Wax coated wood sits too low in the syrup and sticks to the sides.  I tried plastic peg board for a float; it sits too low in the syrup.  I tried “foam board”; it curls.  I tried lots of designs with #8 hardware screen, but they were always difficult to keep the bees from squeezing around the edges and/or drowning and were always a pain in the butt to build. 

Another one of my design goals was to create a feeder with a larger surface area so more bees could feed at a time.  I figured the best way to do that was to go with some sort of an open feeder as opposed to the normal 3/8” feed gap in a Miller feeder.  I experimented with a completely open top feeder (screen on top) with large floats but found the bees got confused and lost in all that open space.  Another big problem was pouring syrup into such a design; it goes all over the float.  That makes the float sticky (bad) and always gets some bees stuck.  It is best not to pour syrup on a float.

That led me to experiment with a hybrid open design with the open space confined to 2” and a foam based float .  This worked well.  The bees didn’t get lost in this smaller space and lots of bees could feed at the same time.  No matter how many bees were on the foam float, they weren’t going to sink it.  If any bees do drown you could easily pull up the foam float, remove dead bees and re-assemble with ease. 


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So what do I use now?  I really liked my top feeder with 2” foam floats, but waxing them to make them water tight proved to more hassle than I wanted to deal with.  I now use the brown “Plastic Nuc Feeder” offered by places like Brushy Mnt for my nucs.  I use the Mann Lake 4 gallon top feeder for full sized hives.  The Mann Lake design has some issues, but if you add a bead of caulk between the plastic and the #8 mesh, they work OK.
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specialkayme
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« Reply #1 on: January 20, 2011, 03:10:49 PM »

Very nice pictures, very nice design.

I love tinkering with equipment as well. It keeps me sane (or in-sane, depends on your perspective).

Very humorous to find out in the end that you now purchase your feeders.  shocked How do you like those plastic nuc feeders from BM anyhow? I got one of their wooden ones a few years back, and I love it. When I went to order a few more I saw they switched to plastic, got angry, and closed the window. I'm a wooden guy, and I generally don't like plastic parts. But if they are good, who knows.
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BlueBee
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« Reply #2 on: January 20, 2011, 04:47:18 PM »

Thanks SpecialK.  We must both have the over-engineering gene  grin 

The things I like about the BM brown plastic feeder are:
They are made from a VERY thick plastic.  I was amazed how thick they are.  They should never leak.  The plastic cover between the bees and the open feeder fits nicely, so bees can NOT push thru the cracks (unlike some other feeders).  Feeding tunnels on each end allow this to work well even if your hive isn’t level.  Very little open space in the mold design for the bees to build burr comb.  They don’t drown too many bees and the bees seem to like them.  Let’s not forget: reasonable cost.

What I don’t like about the BM brown plastic feeders are:
They aren’t perfectly flat, which is a byproduct of the thickness (which I like!)  The plastic windows over the feed tunnels are opaque making it very hard to see if the bees are using the feeder.  I would LOVE clear plastic windows instead.  The plastic windows tend to be squished in shipment, but mine have still been usable.  Not as many bees can feed at the same time as in my custom design.  Cleaning out bees that do down is virtually impossible, you gotta hope the house bees will drag them out before they get too moldy.  My custom design make it easy for me to clean out dead bees if they ever did drown.  The BM is not perfect, but it is simpler than building your own!!

Good or bad depending upon your situation:
The plastic edges of the feeder extend out beyond the edge of a standard wood nuc so it will fit bigger nucs (like a 6 framer) or a foam hive.  If you’re using a 5 frame nuc, the wide lips of the feeder make a nice place to grab a hold of the feeder to remove it.  However if you want a flush fit, then you have to trim the thick plastic down. 
I don’t own any of the full sized hive versions of this feeder, but my guess is they would be a little too tipsy when full of syrup.  I could envision somebody accidently tipping a load of syrup onto their unsuspecting bees.  I went with the ML feeder for the full sized hives for that reason.  I never use the full capacity of the ML feeder, I just like the taller sides so I don’t have an accident.....
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Sparky
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« Reply #3 on: January 20, 2011, 08:11:16 PM »

Nice work BlueBee. I have to ask why did you choose not to put a couple of screws in both sides into the boards between the syrup reservoirs and the float areas ? Have you ever tried the bee max feeders on full size hive boxes ?
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BlueBee
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« Reply #4 on: January 20, 2011, 08:53:27 PM »

Thanks Sparky,

No, I’ve never tried the BeeMax feeders.   I like the whole concept of the bee max system, but have not bought any of their equipment.  Have you used them?  What’s the report?

As for nails/screws into the divider boards, yes that is the way to go.  I didn’t use them in my photos because the photos show my 3rd or 4th attempt to build the perfect feeder mechanism around the center bee entrance.  That board moved around at lot from design 1 to design 4.  I needed it mobile for experimenting. 
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specialkayme
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« Reply #5 on: January 20, 2011, 08:59:50 PM »

Thanks BlueBee. I might have to try one of those feeders from BM. I use bucket feeders for the 10 frame hives, I love those. No pouring in front of the bees, zero drownings. It's easier for me, so I like it.

Keep tinkering, let me know how it works. I love to get plans for a "perfect feeder."
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Sparky
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« Reply #6 on: January 20, 2011, 10:13:16 PM »

Thanks Sparky,

No, I’ve never tried the BeeMax feeders.   I like the whole concept of the bee max system, but have not bought any of their equipment.  Have you used them?  What’s the report?

As for nails/screws into the divider boards, yes that is the way to go.  I didn’t use them in my photos because the photos show my 3rd or 4th attempt to build the perfect feeder mechanism around the center bee entrance.  That board moved around at lot from design 1 to design 4.  I needed it mobile for experimenting. 

10-4 on the experimenting. It looks like you had a nic design and strong to give many years of service. Yes I have used the bee max top feeders and they like all others have good and bad features. The thing I really like is that they are deep and can be filled with enough liquid to keep them busy for the best part of a week. The high density styrene material is tough and with painting the outside holds up well. The down side is that I didn't like the acrylic area that covers the bee access area didn't provide any ventilation so I drilled a bunch of small holes in the tops them to provide some air. The only other thing was the bottom is all flat and some box and frame combinations put the frames so close that the bees propolize the frames to the bottom of feeder. I had to make 1/4" spacers to provide bee space because of frames down 1/8" from top of boxes.
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RABray
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« Reply #7 on: February 26, 2011, 10:39:27 AM »

Looks like great work BlueBee. Would you be so kind as to pass along the various dimensions of where the pieces are placed and the thickness of the foam slices? I would really enjoy making a few of these but would rather not share the "pain" of development you already went through. Thank you in advance. Wink I am brand spankin new to all this and will be starting three hives this year so it would be a total fiasco for me to try and guess on proportions just yet. I was just about to purchase a couple of top feeders with floats but your design seems like it would work much better and I would get to use my woodworking skills even more.
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Humanbeeing
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« Reply #8 on: February 26, 2011, 04:22:14 PM »

I have been entertaining the idea of building a bunch, but for the bottom of the hive, like Mr. Bush does it. I wonder if you could use, for floats, those red and white plastic fishing floats, or the clear ones? They already have an attachent thingy on them, and you can get them in all sizes. Hook them to 1/2 hardware wire, here and there.  Just a thought. One of those things I think about while staring off into space for hours at a time.
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HELP! I accidently used Drone eggs with the Hopkins method and I got Drag Queens!!!
BlueBee
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« Reply #9 on: February 26, 2011, 04:55:29 PM »

RABray, thanks for the compliment on my feeder work.  Yes, I’ll get you some more dimensions later on today, but keep in mind that these feeders were used on Nucs and not full sized hives.  The design will have to be widened out a bit to fill a full sized hive.  Also keep in mind that it is a lot more work building feeders than buying plastic ones.  Actually the wood work is fairly quick, the real pain comes in making them water proof.  If you can come up with a good process for doing that, making this feeder will be a lot simpler.   

It’s virtually impossible for a bee to drown in this design, but it is also worth pointing out some of the commercial designs have low mortality rates too.
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BlueBee
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« Reply #10 on: February 26, 2011, 04:59:45 PM »

I like the simplicity of Mr Bush’s bottom feeder too.  He’s done a lot more experimenting on all this stuff than most of us will do in two lifetimes, so I do carefully listen to him.

I do have a couple of concerns about Michael’s bottom feeder design that maybe Michael can reply about.  I see all kinds of debris on the bottom of my hives, wax capping, bee parts, wax moths, who knows what else.  What is the result when these things fall into syrup in the bottom feeder?  Does that generate mold or disease?  When a bee dies in my commercial feeders, within a week or two, they’re covered with mold.  However being a top feeder, I can see the problem quickly and remove the moldy green/gray bee.  If a bee falls into the open bottom feeder, how do you monitor for that and remove the dead bee(s) before they get too decomposed, or is that not a real problem? 
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Humanbeeing
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« Reply #11 on: February 26, 2011, 06:20:41 PM »

I guess it's like anything else, cleaning and maintaining equipment. To have it there anytime you need to feed in an emergency, with a double purpose as a bottom, in my mind, makes it a time saving device, as well as economical. When you get up to one hundred hives or more, that makes the difference. I already spend way too much time in my shop!
So when you do an inspection, pull the bottom brood chamber off the bottom board feeder, scrape it out and reassemble. If you need to hose it down, have a few extras for replacements. I like it. I like just a top entrance too. We have too many mice here. A top feeder is just in the way for me. But I'm glad it works for you. Looks like a nice job.
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BlueBee
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« Reply #12 on: February 26, 2011, 06:46:08 PM »

I’m in no way putting down other ways of feeding.  Lots of ways work.

Michael’s bottom feeder is an innovative idea, I was just wondering if the debris concern into a bottom feeder was a valid concern or not.  I have never tried it, so I was speculating and asking questions at the same time.  It sounds like you’ve got a pretty good solution for dealing with those concerns (hose down or swap out).  That is good.  The bottom feeder is certainly a low cost solution.  As you say, the cost of top feeder would really start to add up if you move beyond the hobbyist (me) level.

I’ve adopted Michael Bush’s top entrance only solution myself.  I like it too.   
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BlueBee
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« Reply #13 on: February 28, 2011, 01:03:02 AM »

 RABray, I finally got around to taking some measurements for you.  I’ve marked up the following photos with dimensions and uploaded into the imageshack. 



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If you want to make these to fit on standard 10 frame hives, then you’ll want the outside dimensions to end up being 16 ¼” wide and 19 7/8” long.  You can make the depth of the things anything you want.  I like the depth at about 3 to 4” since that holds a lot of syrup and is still re-movable without the likelihood of spilling syrup all over the place.

As for the foam floats, I just cut them off a standard 4x8 sheet of extruded foam for the local hardware store.  They are 4mm thick.  I use the 2” thick stuff for other projects and hence this was convenient.  You might be able to get creative with other foam products for a float too.  Maybe foam dinner plates? 

I cut my foam floats with a table saw.  It is not a great tool for cutting foam.  Personally I don’t feel safe cutting foam with the table saw since the thick foam easily binds the blade.  I bought some NiCr wire on ebay I’m going to use for foam cutting my next project.  I’ll probably post my NiCr cutter once it gets warmer outside to use it.  Be safe if you cut foam with a saw!

Finally remember the title of this thread, it was my “attempt” at making a better mousetrap.  I think it still needs some work.  As Humanbeeing correctly pointed out, if you are trying to feed a whole bunch of hives, this approach would get expensive to build.  If you’re goal is just a few hives, then it is fun to experiment with this kind of stuff.
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Michael Bush
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« Reply #14 on: February 28, 2011, 03:05:35 AM »

>I like the simplicity of Mr Bush’s bottom feeder too.

It's only Jay Smith's bottom board feeder adapted to my top entrance only and so that I can fill without moving anything.

>I see all kinds of debris on the bottom of my hives, wax capping, bee parts, wax moths, who knows what else.  What is the result when these things fall into syrup in the bottom feeder?

Let's put this all in perspective. A bottom board feeder is only my favorite feeder because:
1) it's basically free
2) it works

It is probably not the best feeder, but it drowns no more bees than a frame feeder (it does drown some and I always hate that).  It gets dead bees in it (as does a frame feeder) and I'm sure debris as well.  When I'm using them I feed just before dark and just pour syrup in from a bucket.  I spill some, but it has dried up by morning and they've eaten what was on the bottom board, usually by morning.  If not, then I'm giving them too much for the temperature or the size of the hive.  I usually use warm syrup, which they take more quickly.  Is there a problem with debris?  I haven't concerned myself with it.  It does not appear to cause any issues.

>  Does that generate mold or disease?

All syrup will mold if too much is left for too long.  Since my goal is to give them what they clean up that night, it is usually not an issue.  It's dry and empty by morning or I give them less the next day.

>  When a bee dies in my commercial feeders, within a week or two, they’re covered with mold. 

It is the same with the bottom board feeder.

>However being a top feeder, I can see the problem quickly and remove the moldy green/gray bee.  If a bee falls into the open bottom feeder, how do you monitor for that and remove the dead bee(s) before they get too decomposed, or is that not a real problem?

I try not to feed at all.  When I do I feed until they are heavy enough, pull the plug and clean the bottom board in the spring.  I hasn't been a problem.

>Michael’s bottom feeder is an innovative idea, I was just wondering if the debris concern into a bottom feeder was a valid concern or not.

It depends on if you want to be concerned or not.  I choose not to be.  Smiley

>  I have never tried it, so I was speculating and asking questions at the same time.  It sounds like you’ve got a pretty good solution for dealing with those concerns (hose down or swap out).  That is good.  The bottom feeder is certainly a low cost solution.  As you say, the cost of top feeder would really start to add up if you move beyond the hobbyist (me) level.

That was my main motivation.  I was looking at buying 200 feeders or making bottom board feeders out of my bottom boards which I had to buy anyway.
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Michael Bush
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RABray
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« Reply #15 on: February 28, 2011, 01:04:43 PM »

Thank you very much BlueBee. I am a carpenter by trade/hobby I am actually a construction manager by career, so having reasons to tinker with my tools is a wonderful thing. I am starting three hives this spring so the expense is not the issue. I will let you know what comes of this venture. Again your help is very much appreciated.
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