Hive top feeders for the beehives

December 9, 2010 | By | Comments (4)

On these cold winter days,  I like to think of our bees snuggled into their winter cluster, keeping cozy around the queen and any winter brood that’s in the hive.

The girls aren’t hibernating. They’re nestled into the center of the brood box, shivering their wing muscles to generate heat, keeping  the ball of bees warm—the temperature at the center of the winter cluster can range from 45 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

A cluster of bees makes plenty of moist, warm air. The air rises to the top of the hive and, without good ventilation, will condense on the cold inner cover and rain down on the bees. That’s not so good for bees. Last year we lost a hive from condensation; in spring we found their bodies in a soggy heap on the screened bottom board.

This fall we coerced our building maintenance guy, Dan Strack, to make hive top feeders like the one below. We learned about these from a talk given by passionate beekeeper Serge Labesque, who teaches beekeeping at Santa Rosa Junior College.


The idea is that the moist air produced by the bees will go through the slot in the center, condense on the top of the hive, and fall into the top box, rather than on the clustering bees.


We filled the boxes with lavender. According to Serge, the lavender acts like insulation, helping to keep the bees warm. Because Aurora doesn’t have very much honey, we filled plasticware with 2 parts sugar and 1 part water, and some spearmint oil. But Serge says you can pour the syrup directly on the lavender and then the bees can walk on the stems, slurping as they go. That way, no bees go to a sugary death in a pool of syrup.

Serge says, “I use dry lavender because I have it at home.  A side benefit of this setup is that, when I open the hive, it smells wonderful.”


Curious bees popped up through the slot immediately!


  1. Raye Prucnal

    Definitely believe that which you stated. Your favorite reason appeared to be at the web the simplest thing to take into accout of. I say to you, I definitely get irked while people consider issues that they just do not realize about. You managed to hit the nail upon the highest and defined out the entire thing with no need side-effects , people can take a signal. Will probably be back to get more. Thanks

    October 1, 2016 at 2:20 am
  2. Margaret

    Thanks for the link. Those are interesting inner covers. I wonder which is better, the added ventilation, or the added insulation?
    That’s an amazing difference in temperature! Have you seen these cool thermogram photos of winter clusters?

    December 10, 2010 at 6:17 pm
  3. Richard Winters

    I’ve often wondered how many people don’t know honey bees keep warm through the winter months by clustering together. I once recorded a temp. of 87 degrees in a cluster of bees when the temp. outside was approximately 20 degrees. Thanks for the great information.

    December 10, 2010 at 4:29 pm
  4. tina k (friend of nugget)

    I like these All Season Inner covers.

    Similar to Serge’s idea. You could put a dish of honey covered wax cappings in here, or you could use an inverted jar to feed over the hole as well. If you are not actually going to pour liquid into your top feeders, you could drill holes in the sides like the All Season Inner Cover and put screen in to cover the side holes for added ventilation.

    December 10, 2010 at 12:18 am

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