The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Building a bee waterer

Feeding honeybees water
Honeybee drinking from a pan full of marbles and water.We're still feeding our honeybees, helping them sock away some extra honey to make it through the winter.  I've been giving them really strong sugar water (half sugar, half water) to make it easier for them to dehydrate the liquid into honey in the cool weather, but that seems to make the bees exceptionally thirsty.  At the same time, I poured out our kiddie pool of water since it's too late in the year to be soaking mushrooms.  The combination of factors sent the bees searching for other water sources, and we started finding drowned bees in every standing body of water around the farm.

Guilt-stricken, I set up a water feeder by filling a pie pan with marbles and then water.  The marbles give the bees a spot to land so that they don't drown when they come to drink, and the bees were suitably impressed.  No more drowned bees!

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I love your bee waterer! Where did you get the marbles? Believe it or not after reading your blog I spent about an hour searching the internet trying to find similar marbles but no luck! Lots of marbles out there to be sure but I really like the size and clarity of the ones you have. In addition to being functional it looks very nice! =)
Comment by Ken Sat Mar 20 15:17:48 2010
I'm ashamed to say, we got them at Wal-mart. I think they were in the floral section, meant to be used in vases as a decorative element. I suspect that if you start looking online in flower arranging type areas, you might find some like them!
Comment by anna Sat Mar 20 16:00:46 2010
Nothing wrong with buying stuff from Wally World... I tend to buy things there if they're the exact same as I would buy elsewhere since they're usually cheaper. Thanks for the reply, I'll definitely check there the next time I go! =)
Comment by Ken Sat Mar 20 16:06:19 2010
Always glad to help! :-) I hope they're still selling them --- I think they'd been sitting in our barn for a year or two.
Comment by anna Sat Mar 20 19:48:41 2010

My favorite way is to use an empty Mason jar, remove the cap, fill the jar with sugar water (4 table spoon of sugar for each 2 ounce of water completely dissolved), cover it with napkin already folded twice, then cover it with a plate. Inverse the whole thing and leave it on a table out there.

If you insert a small pin or needle between the jar and napkin, it will allow more juicy water out while still control the flow.

Comment by Skeptic Wed Feb 16 10:25:23 2011
Skeptic --- that sounds like a good, low budget solution! I wouldn't add the sugar, though, unless your bees are in extreme need. We try to just leave enough honey for the bees so that we don't have to feed them the less nutritional sugar water.
Comment by anna Thu Feb 17 11:17:37 2011
We have had trouble with our 'girls' having pool parties in the dog's water dish. I am out there multiple times daily fishing out bees, drying and warming them and then releasing them to return to their hives. I have tried other set ups, including a chicken waterer, but still they drown and many return to the dog dish. Your bee waterer looks like a perfect solution, and is charming to boot. Nicely done!
Comment by Megan Thu Apr 5 00:06:52 2012
Megan --- Glad to help! This waterer should solve your problem, and is definitely easy to build. :-)
Comment by anna Thu Apr 5 12:29:40 2012

I actually am doing that with hummingbird feeders I make the nectar myself I have 3 out. I had so many one day they covered them got what they wanted drained all 3 and went on their merry way. I love the bee waterer I was wondering about that. I will do this also as I am watering the birds with a sturdy plastic bowl hammered into a fence post near the feeder. I placed a rock in the deep bowl (small) so the birds that are small will not drown as they get a drink they can stand on the rock as they drink. The water effect! I love it! We are Native American me and my husband and we love your site. We love and honor Mother Earth and the Creators animals. S'gi (thank you)

Utsati Adadoligi (Many Blessings) Meli (Mary)

Comment by Mary Cobb-Blumer Sun Jul 29 13:52:55 2012
Have bees in front yard - will try today - sounds better than sticks in barrels of water
Comment by christine Sun Jul 29 13:55:17 2012
Just be careful with any standing water in bowls, etc. The West Nile is going crazy at least in north Dallas counties.
Comment by Anonymous Sun Jul 29 14:04:54 2012
Are these glass marbles or are they watering Beads (that swell when you add water)?
Comment by Sheila K Barron Sun Jul 29 14:20:09 2012
I do the same thing except I use pea gravel in mine.
Comment by Von Sun Jul 29 15:00:12 2012
Thanks for the terrific post!! In our area (Northwest) we have Dollar Stores, and in the aisle that has vases I always find the "glass drops", and you know it, they are $1 a bag. The "big box" stores can always be counted on having them also, but a $1 a bag beats them too :-) I would make sure though, that this dish was rinsed out, and filled with fresh water every day
Comment by Trish Sun Jul 29 16:22:07 2012

Everybody --- Fun to see so many of you dropping by this old post! :-)

To be honest, I didn't leave the waterer out long enough to really test whether it would get mosquito problems. After a week or so, I needed my cake pan back --- we can only go so long without deep dish pies. But I didn't see any larvae during that time, despite not cleaning it, which makes me suspect that since there's no real standing water, the mosquitoes didn't parse this as a safe place to lay their eggs. I'll be curious to hear from anyone who tries and does or doesn't get mosquito larvae in their waterer.

Sheila --- These are glass marbles, from the exact same spot Trish mentions below. :-)

Comment by anna Sun Jul 29 16:51:28 2012
The bees at my house love the concrete bird baths, especially the small one. They can grip the concrete.
Comment by Carolyn Sun Jul 29 17:20:36 2012

Sugar water sounded like a great idea but was concerned about the sugar so did a bit of reading and gleaned enough to realize that if bees need sugar water then the keepers will do it and only under certain circumstances. Nature lovers want to help but there are times we need to be careful.

Comment by Kirsten Sun Jul 29 17:41:58 2012
Kirsten --- You're right on track. We try not to feed our bees sugar water, although we do have to from time to time. I consider it junk food, good only for emergencies.
Comment by anna Sun Jul 29 19:25:52 2012
This is a great idea and I am not sure if Michael stores in the US has glass marbles or not. Another idea is the glass pebbles that are sold for flower arranging. I know that we have both in the Michael in Canada has both. Also we are able to find both the pebbles and marbles in dollar stores.
Comment by Anonymous Sun Jul 29 19:58:13 2012
you could use pebbles/small stones instead of marbles, I would think :)
Comment by Melanie Sun Jul 29 20:22:21 2012
We do the same basic concept for our butterfly house, Flying Flowers. My difference is we use a terracotta saucer and I use river rock and just enough water for them to get a 'drink'. We have since started doing this for the bees in the garden too. So much better than fishing them out of our birdbath etc. Thanks for sharing.
Comment by Ellen Reynolds Sun Jul 29 21:36:15 2012
Wanted to throw out a suggestion that I did. I did purchase marbles at Dollar Tree like somebody suggested and I also purchased the pie pan there. I "distressed" them to make them look old, Hubby then had some extra pieces of wood around the yard. I had him drill a hole in the wood, I then glued that piece of wood on the bottom of the pie pan. Stuck a dowell rod into that hole into the ground. $2.50 and the bees are happy and safe. Can also go to salvation army or goodwill and find old dishes/bowls for bird feeders. Works great
Comment by Tracy Mon Jul 30 00:04:27 2012
Michaels Craft stores have all kinds of marbles
Comment by Barbara Mon Jul 30 01:31:59 2012

I picked up a 5 gallon plastic. food-grade pail, (courtesy of our local donut shop) filled it with water and floated several dozen real styrofoam packing peanuts on the surface for the bees to land on.

To make it easier for the girls to climb out, lean a straight stick or board from inside the corner of the bucket and they can climb back out and fly away.

Comment by Evan Mon Jul 30 11:32:33 2012
I don't understand putting sugar water out for honey bees. What's the logic of that?
Comment by James Michael Taylor Mon Jul 30 13:20:18 2012

Evan --- I really like your alternative! Very simple and cheap, and uses up those ubiquitous packing peanuts....

James --- Now and then, as a beekeeper, you have to feed the bees sugar water. For example, a new package needs some food before they've got their feet under them enough to forage for their own, and you sometimes have to feed them after a drought so they'll stock up enough honey for the winter. But I wouldn't do it if I didn't keep bees and know the state of the hive.

Comment by anna Mon Jul 30 16:54:59 2012
use small rocks instead of the marbles.
Comment by DG Sat Aug 4 20:27:53 2012

When several large Banks Roses were removed from close to a brick wall, I discovered that I had bees "living" in the space between bricks in the wall behind my house. There were hundreds on either side of the wall around the one space during increase over several months from winter. The Rosemary bushes attracted them, as did a few other plants. I've had them buzzing around those bushes for years w never a problem, they never bothered me as I worked in the yard amongst the bushes---I did talk to them tho! Anyway, after 3 weeks out of town, they were mostly gone upon my summer is here with it's horrendous heat in the 100's---So. NV. I have a pool, tho see no drowned bees.

I'm wondering if I should make a bee waterer in the hopes that they will return. Maybe they've gone elsewhere? ps..I have photos of the bees when the mound on either side of the wall was about 2-3 thick of bees all group together---it was fascinating & a bit intimidating at the same time!

Comment by Anonymous Tue Aug 14 18:21:21 2012
I dont have a bee hive but I like honey bees in my garden for polonating the plants and they are becoming endangered because of pesticides, but my question is I have alot of wasp which I dont like, dosnt the Bee water attract them as well?
Comment by Midge Dosher Wed Apr 24 13:46:00 2013

Midge --- We haven't noticed wasps at our bee waterer, but you probably would if you followed one of the recommendations in the comments of using sugar water. With plain water, we seem to only attract honeybees.

On the other hand, I like wasps. They do have a painful sting, but don't seem to harass me unless I accidentally squash one. And in the meantime, wasps do a great job of ridding the garden of pest insects. Don't forget, wasps have a use too!

Comment by anna Wed Apr 24 15:02:59 2013
great idea!
Comment by Ashley Mon Apr 29 08:55:44 2013
I would be really careful to not use an aluminum dish. It will leach into the water, especially in the hot sun (not great for humans either). Glass is by far the safest and can be bought at the dollar store along with the marbles.
Comment by Lee Sun Mar 23 22:04:55 2014

Our beekeepers guild recommends floating champagne or wine corks in a bucket of water or bowl etc. It's a better surface for honeybees to get traction on with their little legs. If you use old corks, cut off the wine stained section so they are "clean" corks.

I admit your version is a very pretty option though.

Comment by AHoney&HerBees Tue Mar 25 20:38:08 2014
I use dinner plates for the same thing. Just plates with 1/4 of sugar water. I put the all over and change the places just a bit. They do need to be refilled sometimes as many as 4-5 times a day. I am very allergic o the stings and just move very slowly. You can also put the plate on a pizza pan to drown the ants who visit!
Comment by Pam Wed Mar 26 22:31:13 2014
I think that is such a great idea. May I suggest organic sugar. I'll be adding this to my garden. I have a small shallow bird bath that would be perfect for marbles and sugar water. And decorative. Its a win win for all.
Comment by Kimber Wed Mar 26 22:48:51 2014
Oh this is definitely an amazing idea!
Comment by Moonweaver Wed Mar 26 22:49:36 2014
I love marbles and bees, very nice to look at and soothing to see the little fellows drink great idea
Comment by Kitty Auvil Wed Mar 26 23:06:50 2014
Most dollar stores have marbles or dragon tears which would work as well.
Comment by Ruairi MacRae Wed Mar 26 23:18:17 2014

Now I know what to do with the various marbles and such I cant bring myself to just throw out. I wonder if it matters what color they are or will the bees just figure out where the water is? I'm sure that if you replace the water even every couple of days it wont matter if skeeters lay eggs, it takes some time for them to even hatch and the water will be changed by them. My guess is that problem will be more that they will dry out quickly and you would have to keep an eye on it to keep it supplied.

Comment by Ilene Thu Mar 27 00:08:46 2014
the mosquitos will not lay eggs in these coz they see their reflections in the marbles and think it is a predator and they don't want their eggs eaten so they go somewhere else
Comment by debi Thu Mar 27 03:45:15 2014

A stupid question I am sure, but I must inquire. The sugar used is all natural, organic sugar cane, yes? no?

The poop-free water jug is wonderful also.

Comment by Narde Thu Mar 27 07:09:16 2014

A stupid question I am sure, but I must inquire. The sugar used is all natural, organic sugar cane, yes? no?

The poop-free water jug is wonderful also.

Comment by Narde Thu Mar 27 07:11:35 2014
Here along the Sacramento river bee keepers have hundreds of hives that they move around from orchard to orchard. In the barren times and in my meager way to help them I have found that the bees truly prefer RAW sugar. I just got some coconut sugar and will test it out after the rains subside.
Comment by Alvin Leighton Thu Mar 27 09:59:34 2014

Really loved this idea i used marbles with color. I'm not sure if it made a difference but i think to the bees the bright colors might have attracted them

Thanks for the good idea

Comment by Brenda Jackson Thu Mar 27 10:21:26 2014
How does one create one of these nifty bee waterers and keep it from becoming overrun by ants?? I cannot even hang a humming bird feeder out because no matter where I hang it, the ants will find it and then no one else can use it.
Comment by meaghan Thu Mar 27 11:16:18 2014
Great idea. I have not seen mosquitoes yet in this Winter that won't make way for Spring. We use mosquito dunks in bird baths and fountains when it is mosquito season.
Comment by Anonymous Thu Mar 27 12:15:38 2014

I had actually considered this! I think it's an excellent idea, HOWEVER, I would caution you all to look for glass marbles without any kind of iridescent paint on them (as those pictured). Who knows what kind of paint is used on them and lead could be an issue, not to mention other contaminants.

Someone asked about what to do about ants on the waterer and also on the hummingbird feeders. I would put a circle of liquid dish detergent around the waterer, or if you put the waterer on a pole, put it on the pole. I use this on the wire that holds my hummingbird feeder and on the cap where it attaches and the ants will NOT cross over it.

Comment by HereFishyFishy Thu Mar 27 12:21:30 2014

Megan, get one of those spigots that dogs lick when they want water. No refilling bowls or drown bees:

Also, I have read about making contraptions to provide water for butterflies. Put out a terracotta saucer with sand in it and add water. They stand on the sand and take in the water. I am wondering if this marble idea would encourage mosquito breeding. We have a problem with that.

Comment by Kolleen Dohermann Thu Mar 27 12:36:20 2014
@HereFishyFishy - What's wrong with ants drinking the water too?
Comment by Emma Thu Mar 27 13:58:11 2014
To "Ants"...personally, I have observed that the hummers won't go to the feeder when ants are on them. As far as the bee waterer, no one wants to deal with ants on everything. But these are just my opinion and thoughts on the subject. The person above my comment asked what to do to keep them off, I was just answering what I do or would do. It works on the feeders, I'm sure it would work as well on the waterer. One must reapply after a rainfall, but it's cheap and easy.
Comment by HereFishyFishy Thu Mar 27 17:18:36 2014
Comment by sanderson Thu Mar 27 17:43:09 2014

Narde (and others) --- Actually, this waterer is envisioned to be just a waterer, not a feeder, so no sugar at all is included. In the summer, honeybees often need sources of water they won't drown in, and this fits the bill.

I'm not sure I'd recommend feeding bees unless you were a beekeeper and knew they needed it. If you do feed, you want to use plain white cane sugar --- even though beet sugar and brown sugar may be better choices for people, they're not good for bees. Organic, of course, is better, but probably isn't essential.

Brenda --- Colored marbles are a great idea! As long as the color is embedded in the glass, not a coating on the outside.

Meaghan --- If you just use water (no sugar), there will be no ants involved.

Comment by anna Thu Mar 27 17:54:38 2014
I think this is a wonderful idea, but I was thinking what happens when the water falls below the level of the marbles. If pieces of wood or cork were used (or a combination), then when the water levels drop so do the corks and pieces of wood. I would think that would make it more carefree than filling it four or five times a day.
Comment by Diana Boles Fri Mar 28 01:26:34 2014


this is very nice to have. But, can I also use the coloured marbels? I just can't find the celar ones. Thanks, Maja

Comment by Maja Fri Mar 28 05:23:19 2014
I love the idea of keeping the honey bee population in good shape. We love our little mead makers. However we also have a problem with mosquitoes in our area. Will this same waterer become a breeding ground for the little disease-spreading blood-suckers?
Comment by Anonymous Fri Mar 28 10:23:14 2014
Could also work to water other animals like crickets and Preying Mantis
Comment by Gabrielle Libby Fri Mar 28 10:33:30 2014
love the idea! Bees need all our help we can give them, since it's us destroying their habitats - for the waterer i think pebbles or stones could be used just as well, since they're wayyyyy less slippery than the marbles ;-)
Comment by pasci2002 Fri Mar 28 13:03:45 2014
I absolutly loved this idea. I used a rlrg rock, but some were still drowning. This idea is perfect! We have an extreamly lrg hive down the street in an old house of our's. It is like they are connected to us, they come to my house for the water and food. Don't want to lose anymore of my little friends, our live's depend on them.
Comment by Tina Wed Apr 2 15:06:21 2014
How do you keep it from becoming a mosquito colony?
Comment by Anonymous Sun May 11 01:33:54 2014
You can get marble cheap at a Dollar Tree or other dollar store. About $3 and an old pie/cake pan and you have it cheap!
Comment by Kross824 Mon May 12 11:17:49 2014
I have just recently read to put Vaseline on the material used to hang the feeder and top of the feeding to keep ants off. I am going to try that.
Comment by Cathy Sun Jun 15 21:31:08 2014

This morning I opened up my curtains to my little backyard to discover DOZENS of honey bees around our little kiddie pool. Many of them had already died trying to get water:( There were many hanging on the side of the pool trying to get a drink without falling in but the majority of the bees were taking turns landing on this little 3" pelican pool toy so that they could get close enough to get a drink. I had hurried outside to rescue the ones that had landed in the pool and couldn't get back out...proud to say I saved 4 bees! I stood there trying to figure a way to attract them to another spot where they could safely get water without drownding and get them away from the pool (I don't think having bees in the pool would go over well with the toddlers that use so I got on the computer for ideas and THANK YOU! I happend to have a pie plate and a bag of blue/aqua/white glass mosaic marbles I hadn't used for anything yet. So I did the 3:1 ratio of water and shook it up in a mason jar and went outside with my expirement. At first, no matter how hard I tried I couldn't get the bees to notice the pie plate. So we carefully got a large strainer-and moved the pelican squirt toy to the pie plate, and soon, one by one the bees started to get the idea. I went back into the house to observe from my bedroom and I could tell which were returning bees-they would go straight for the pie plate while the new bees hovered around the pool until they saw the other bees happily getting re-energized at their new "bee watering station" :) Thank you so much! Michelle

Comment by Michelle Tue Jul 8 12:39:00 2014
I like this idea, but do you think it will attract yellow-jackets and/or wasps?
Comment by Maryann Lepper Thu Jul 31 19:26:13 2014
Great idea, I am wondering if I could use small river rocks or pebbles in place of the marbles?
Comment by Brenda Sun Aug 3 12:00:49 2014
I don't keep bees but do encourage them in my garden. I built an in ground solar powered fountain, lined with pond plastic, and filled with three different sized stones. I did this mainly for myself because I love the look of fountains. Apparently the bees like it too! A very small amount of water rests on top. It's bowl- shaped, and the fountain only comes on a couple hours a day due to mottled sunlight in that area. I have bee visitors drinking from it all day long.
Comment by Crystal Tue Aug 19 16:47:29 2014
I purchased black rocks from the craft area and only the bottom of a clay pot to place the rocks great for birds and bees.
Comment by Maureen Sat Sep 20 20:18:43 2014
What a fantastic idea I love animals n all living creatures including bees but my guests don't like bees n want to kill them which I would not do so maybe this will keep them occupied somewhat. I'm so glad there are other people out there like me that have big hearts for living creatures big and small....thanks for this post...
Comment by Melanie small Thu Mar 26 21:46:41 2015
When my grandson was younger, he collected marbles. Now that he's all grown up, I have this BIG container of his marbles. I also have 3 concrete water dishes from a mink farm. They're shaped sort of like a single daisy petal with a bit of a dip in the center. I now have the PERFECT use for both the water dishes and the marbles! What a fun way to make bees and butterflies happy!
Comment by Sarah Mon Mar 30 00:48:32 2015
just please make sure you don't use white bleach sugar use only raw sugar if you have to ...I'm giving them honey and they seem to be very happy☺
Comment by margaret Mon Jul 27 12:43:14 2015
Is it bad for the bees to drink the nectar (red) concentrate in hummingbird feeders?
Comment by Misty Fri Aug 12 20:04:01 2016

I just read on a nature Facebook page that (Hilton Pond Center...) that beekeepers use a certain % of sugar to water. You may wish to visit the or ask a beekeeper what ratio sugar to water to use.


Comment by UD AJ Sat Oct 8 08:50:14 2016

Just wrote you about this a minute ago:

Here is the link -- if you read the comments to this video, especially those by Hilton Pond you can find the ratio beekeepers use of water to sugar.

PS Never feed hummers honey. Not that you would. :-P

Comment by UD AJ Sat Oct 8 08:52:37 2016
Marbles courtesy of $tree.
Comment by Kevin Sun Mar 5 07:42:15 2017

Hi Love the idea of the coloured marbles in the bowl with the water. I have just been using water and stones in my bowl. I have a question. I have a community garden plot. The bees drink it down quickly in the hot weather. I have another bowl at home I used for crafts before. I could have two bowls there. Does anyone know anything about benzoin. I used this when making salt dough sachets. All the ingredients went into a bowl and then you roll it out and cut it with a cookie cutter. One of the ingredients in the bowl was benzoin. It has been washed, but does anyone know if the bowl is safe to use for the bees or should I toss it. Thanks.

Comment by Carolyn Sat Jun 17 18:34:01 2017
Your marble filled water bowl is amazing. I will use it with baby rabbits to avoid drowning as they learn to lap from a bowl. It would also be good for baby chicks.
Comment by Rabbit Rescue Thu Aug 17 19:08:53 2017
I love this idea, and I want to add it to the bee/pollinator friendly garden that I'm planning for my side yard. My question is this: what kind of marbles do you use? I was going to just buy the vase filler type from the dollar store, but then I got to wondering where they were made (China) and whether they contained lead. If so, would the lead leach into the water and actually harm the bees? Do you think polished river stones would work as well as marbles...the bonus being that they would not leach any dangerous toxins into the birdbath water?
Comment by Melissa Thu May 31 07:45:22 2018

Please don't add sugar or honey to the water. If the bees get nourishment from your sweetened water, they won't pollinate the flowers. Also - honey can lead to the destruction of entire hives.

Honey can contain spores of a bacteria called Paenibacillus which causes AFD (American Foulbrood Disease). It is deadly to bees. The bees will take the honey back to their hive and if it contains the pathogen it is likely to infect the entire hive.

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