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How to Collect Bee Pollen (Tutorial)

We enjoy many products that come from the honey bee hive.  One unusual item is bee pollen.  Because it is highly valued by nutritionists, some beekeepers are interested in learning how to collect bee pollen.  Whether you want it for personal use, or to sell to customers –  it can be a valuable hive resource.  

Honey Bee-Collected Pollen

A bowl of dried bee pollen collected from a hive.

Female foragers collect plant 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? 

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Tiny pollen granules are collected and mixed with bee saliva.  It is then struck onto the pollen baskets on the bee’s back legs for transport back to the hive.

Members of the colony fly near and far searching for resources needed by the colony.  But, they can not store pollen in the comb in a raw state. It would spoil.

However, enzymes in their saliva changes the chemical composition of this raw material. By converting pollen into bee bread, the colony has a food source that will store for months. 

Colors of Pollen

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.

Uses in the Hive

Packed in honeycomb cells and topped with a thin layer of honey, bee bread is ready when it is needed.  A honey bee colony needs honey but they need protein too.  Protein is necessary for rearing brood – or young.

When the colony is involved in rearing young, nurse bees use stored protein to produce brood food.  Hungry bee larvae are voracious eaters and need a constant supply of food.

Thankfully, a healthy colony under good conditions can collect much more food than they need.  This allows us to share in the bounty without harming the bees.

Why You Might Want to Collect Bee Pollen

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

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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.

Using Pollen Traps

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

Some of them mount under the hive and others use a spacer to place them between the boxes of the hive.  If you want to collect pollen from your hives, you must consider the pros and cons of the traps available.

For most hobby 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.  But, they get the job done – don’t cost a lot and are easier for new beekeepers to manage.

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 prefer to use a bit of haybale twine (to make loops in the sides) and a bungie cord or two. 

One image with twine to install a pollen trap and another showing the grid panel.

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.

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.

For collection, this panel should be pushed firmly down until it clicks in place.  Want to collect pollen only during the morning but leave the trap on all day.  You can do that too. 

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

This 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 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.

Maintenance

Even the simplest pollen trap requires some maintenance.  In fact, this is one reason I rarely bother with pollen collection.  The traps should be emptied daily.  And, depending on the style – rain can create problems in your collection drawer.

The beekeeper must also consider the effect on the colony.  Never leave pollen traps on the colony for long periods.  The bees need some incoming protein too.

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

The 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.

Remove any bits of trash, wings, bee legs etc 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.

How to Buy Raw Bee Pollen

In most situations, buying raw bee pollen is the best approach for someone wanting to consume it regularly.

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

Cautions for Beekeepers

As with any aspect of beekeeping, pollen collection should be approached with care. New colonies 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. You can harm your hives by taking too much of their resources.

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.

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.