Bees Community Education

winter bees

Matthew, NFF’s amazing Garden Tech, designed and had 3-D printed this bee feeder. (Click image for an intimate look at the feeding bees, be sure to click image again after it opens to zoom to high res.)

More info and video from Matthew’s process coming next week!!


2017-01-20 UPDATE via Yotoen (Matthew)

Please enjoy the short explanatory video showing the bee feeder in action. If you know any bee keepers you will probably be familiar with the standard feeders which are typically made of wood or plastic and are designed to interface with Langstroth hives. Noyo Food Forest’s unique “Hex Hive” features an atypical entrance located at the bottom of a hexagonal structure, so these more conventional feeders are not ideal.

Over the summer while we were in the process of accommodating our bees to their new home I ended up experimenting with about ten different variations on the traditional feeder. Each one however seemed to have various disadvantages that caused us some trouble. The first ones I tried made the nectar too accessible, robber bees quickly swooped in and this created an undesirable battle zone of warring swarms. The second set of feeders were unreliable, either dispersing too much or not enough nectar depending on demand.

Having been actively involved in DIY & Maker culture for several years I decided that it made more sense to simply design and 3D print a custom feeder, this would give me almost total control over all the problems I had so far identified in other feeders. After about 10 more iterations of tweaking my initial ideas, I ended up with what you see above. It has several features that I believe make it the best choice for our hive.

Firstly the material used for printing is a popular bio-plastic that is biodegradable and made from corn. Not only is it inherently ‘green’, it is non-toxic, recyclable, durable & inexpensive. An entire 1 kg spool of PLA filament costs about $20. If you have access to a 3D printer, producing your own copy of our bee feeder would only cost you a few dollars. As for the design itself, the shape of the feeding area is hexagonal, this is intended to appeal to the honey bee’s heightened appreciation of precise geometry.

The central interface is a universal fit for wide-mouth mason jars, the tolerances are so precise that while the feeder can spin effortlessly around the mouth of the jar, there is only a fraction of a millimeter of clearance; this ensures that no bees or wasps will be able to force their way into the nectar reservoir (this was a problem with earlier designs).

There are six individual nectar outlets that ring the feeding area, this ensures ample flow regardless of potential blockages. Each outlet includes an optional regulation gate which can be adjusted to control flow level and volume. These six channels intersect with the two hexagonal rills that ring the feeding platform. Spacing is calibrated to give the bees plenty of landing and perching area. They can feed from four different directions.

The rills themselves are several millimeters deep but only three wide, this is a crucial element of the design: deep, narrow rills mimic the internal structure of a flower, the bees are encouraged to use their long tongues to access the nectar. This prevents over feeding & limits competition from other insects which are simply unable to reach the nectar.

The structure of the feeder was creating using a popular free 3D modeling program called SketchUp. The design was further refined to minimize the material required for printing. You may notice all the areas on the feeder which are ‘cut out’ leaving only the smallest necessary support needed to maintain the structural integrity. This is because with 3D printing you typically pay for the volume of material rather than the complexity of the design.

Material volume was reduced by almost 90% as I cut away the majority of the model’s exterior & interior areas. Throughout the entire model there is no contiguous surface thicker than 1.5 millimeters! While the prototype seems to be a great success so far, there are still a few refinements I want to make before I release the model into the public domain. In a few weeks I should have those changes made and I’ll post the model here for people to download and modify as they see fit.