Collecting Bee Pollen

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Because it is highly valued by nutritionists, some beekeepers enjoy collecting bee pollen from their hives. Whether you want it for personal use, or to sell to customers –  it can be a valuable hive commodity. Here, I discuss one simple way to collect raw pollen along with some tips and guidelines to make your pollen harvesting successful.  

A bowl of dried bee pollen collected from a hive.

Everyone recognizes honey as being a valuable product from bees – and it is. But, in many circles – bee pollen is even more valuable – the bees know it’s worth as well.

Harvesting Bee Pollen

Foraging workers begin the cycle by collecting pollen from millions of blooming plants. Perhaps, you have seen those colorful little balls on the legs of bees as they fly from flower to flower? 

But, they can not store pollen in the comb in a raw state. It would spoil. The enzymes in bee saliva changes the chemical composition of this raw material – into bee bread. A stable protein source.

How Bee Pollen is Harvested

In most cases, the bee pollen is harvested from the worker bees returning to the hive. There are several different styles of pollen traps available to beekeepers.

Some of them mount under the hive and collect pollen in a box. Others use a spacer to hold the trap between two boxes of the hive – forming a special entrance the bees must use. And, you can use a front entrance mounted trap.

If you want to collect pollen from your hives, you must consider the pros and cons of the traps available. Those practicing beekeeping as farm or business may invest more time and money into the project of harvesting pollen – in hopes for a financial return.

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For most beginner beekeepers, the inexpensive plastic pollen traps that mount on the hive front are often the best option. 

Yes, they are cheap and can be a bit aggravating to work with. But, they get the job done and don’t cost a lot. They are easier for new beekeepers to manage with minor disturbance to the colony.

Empty beehive with plastic pollen trap demo.

Inexpensive Plastic Trap Option

These plastic traps are readily available from many companies with beekeeping supplies. If this is your first time to collect pollen, I think they are a good choice.

They usually come with a couple of little hooks to enable the beekeeper to attach them to the front of the hive. These are a pain in the (neck) – I don’t use them. 

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I prefer to use a bit of haybale twine (to make loops in the sides) and a bungie cord or two to secure the trap around the hive body. 

This allows me to quickly place the trap on the hive and just as quickly remove it – without disturbing the hive too much. You can use whichever method you prefer-using what you have available.

One image with twine to install a pollen trap and another showing the grid panel that collect pollen from bee legs.

Recessed inside the front of the trap is a panel with small grid holes. Worker bees must wiggle through these holes to get inside.  

As they force their way through, some of the pollen pellets will fall off and into the collection tray. When you want to collect bee pollen, this panel should be pushed firmly down until it clicks in place. (Notice the blue tape on top – cheap thing sags a little but the tape works great!).

Using clothespin to hold trap for raw pollen in open position to stop pollen collection.

Want to collect pollen only during the morning but leave the trap on all day? You can do that too. This grid panel should click into an open position. 

But, I have had mine for several years and it never worked that great anyway. No problem – a clip or clothespin saves the day. While in this open position, all bees can come and go – no pollen is collected.

Plastic pollen collection bin on beehive.

The small brown collection tray slides out of the front for daily harvest. Do wear your protective beekeeping clothes when working at the front of the hive. A little bit of white smoke at the entrance may be advantageous as well.

Honey bees sting for protection and they may take exception at your interference in front of the hive.

Pollen Trap Maintenance

Even the simplest pollen trap requires some maintenance. In fact, this is one reason I rarely bother with pollen collection – but every beekeeper should try it once.

  • traps should be emptied daily – more often if rain is threatening
  • depending on the style – rain can create problems in your collection drawer
  • periodically, remove the trap and give it a good soap and water bath

Harvesting Bee Pollen Responsibly

The beekeeper must also consider the effects of collecting bee pollen on the colony. Honey bees gather pollen as a protein source – if you take too much you are hurting your colony. Never leave pollen traps on the colony for long periods. 

One method is to collect pollen for short periods – 2 days of the week. Or perhaps, two morning of a week – letting the bees keep the efforts of their hard work at other times.

These traps can also prevent drones (male honeybees) from leaving and entering the hive. In general, they do cause a bit of a disruption to hive life. So don’t be greedy and try to minimize the inconvenience to your bees.

Clean and Store Pollen

After emptying the collection chamber of your pollen trap, it is time to clean and dry the contents.  Raw pollen is very damp and will mold.

Yellow and orange are two of the most common colors of plant pollen. Yet, a quick inspection of the hive reveals several different colors in the honeycomb cells.

Many different shades of yellow, as well as, green, white and even red may be present. Different plants produce different shades of pollen. Similarly, their nectar results in various colors of honey. Oh… the diversity of nature.

Remove any bits of trash, wings, bee legs (yes it down happen) and spread the pollen on a screen surface in a single layer. Then, allow it to dry for a few days before sealing in a jar with tight fitting lid.

Jar of raw bee pollen ready to sell.

Why You Might Want to Collect Bee Pollen

There are several reasons a beekeeper might want to collect pollen. Many people believe it has numerous nutritional benefits and consume it on a regular basis.

Depending on the plant, pollens have different levels of proteins, amino acids, essential fatty acids, vitamins and micronutrients.

Due to its popularity, there is definitely a sales market for raw hive products.  Along with honey sales, raw pollen might help offset some of the yearly costs of keeping bees.

A beehive bottom mounted pollen trap with raw pollen.

Cautions for Beekeepers

As with any aspect of beekeeping, pollen collection should be approached with care. New colonies (such as newly installed package bees) should not be subject to trapping.

Honestly, they have enough hard work to do during their first season and need all the pollen resources for their own use.

Strong established colonies with thousands of foragers are the best candidates for collection. Yet even then, do not overdo it. Only small amounts of pollen should be taken from the bees.

FAQ

How is raw bee pollen collected?

Beekeepers use traps with a grid of wire or plastic to scrape pollen pellets off the legs of returning bees.

Do bees really store pollen on their bodies?

No, the hind legs of bees are used to transport it to the hive. There it is stored in the honeycomb.

What happens to pollen collected by bees?

It is converted into bee bread and stored in the wax cells until needed for brood rearing.

Does collecting pollen harm the bees in any way?

With most traps, some bees are damaged but the number should be low. The colony itself should suffer no ill effects if the beekeeper acts responsibly

If you keep a beehive for pollination, can you harvest some of the raw pollen?

Yes, your colony will visit many different types of plants – you can take a portion.

Are the bees that collect pollen female?

Absolutely, female workers collect all the food needed by the colony.

How can you buy raw bee pollen?

Raw pollen can be purchased online, at local health food stores and perhaps from local beekeepers. It should have a slight nutty fragrance and not be wet or moldy.

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, any pollen collection trap does do some damage to bee wings, legs etc. This is another reason I don’t bother with it a lot. But, it is very interesting to see the different colors and experience the results of a days or half days work by the hive. Harvesting bee pollen from your own hives is a cool experience.

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