Knowing how to make pollen patties for your bee colonies is a valuable skill. While bees collect their own pollen-sometimes they need more protein than they can collect. A large part of keeping bees healthy and productive involves learning when to help your bees and providing extra protein at the right time can be very beneficial.
In a perfect world, our bees get everything they need from the environment. That is what every beekeeper wants to happen. But, in the same way that we may find ourselves feeding bees sugar water sometimes – making pollen patties can provide a needed boost.
DIY Pollen Patties for Your Bees
Making sure our honey bee colonies are in good shape can be a balancing act. The first step in good hive management is to practice routine hive inspections. Try to evaluate why a colony is having a problem.
This is where having good beekeeping records come in handy because you have at least a small history of how the bees were doing previously.
Sometimes, the colony is struggling due to no fault of its own. In this case, feeding pollen patties or supplements can be the difference between having a weak colony or stronger hives that are healthy and ready to work.
While there are many different formulations of pollen and/or pollen-sugar patties available to buy, you can easily make them yourself.
However, caution is always necessary when adding things to the hive. Done at the wrong time in the wrong way, a protein patty can contribute to the destruction of the colony.
This is one of the easiest ways to make pollen patties for our hives and it only requires a few ingredients.
- pollen substitute (dry powder)
- sugar water
- wax paper – tape
- feeding stimulant (optional)
Most beekeepers use a pollen substitute when making patties for their hives. This high protein substance is a mix of several compounds and will provide needed nutrition to the bees. It is available in dry power form- I use Mega Bee or Ultra Bee (more info below).
Whether you are feeding bees sugar water – or protein patties, cheaper is not always the best deal in the long run. Buy good quality from a reputable source.
I mix the powder to the proper consistency using sugar water and wrap the patty (taco-style) in little wax pouches. I do normally add just a teaspoon or so of Honey B Healthy but that is optional.
Why Not Use Real Pollen
Why do beekeepers go to the trouble to make or buy protein patties? Wouldn’t it be better to feed bees real pollen? Sure.
But the task of collecting, drying and storing fresh pollen is very time consuming. Also, fresh pollen spoils easily – it can get moldy very quickly. We just can not do the job as well as our bees.
Benefits of Using Protein Patties in Beehives
A healthy colony with plenty of stored pollen may not benefit greatly from pollen patties. It is those hives that are low on pollen stores that reap the biggest benefit.
By providing a protein source, the colony can ramp up brood production as Winter comes to and end. This is a natural time for the queen to begin laying more eggs as the bees prepare for Spring.
Most often, the beekeeper recognizes a lack of stored pollen during very early Spring or late Fall/Winter. This is time to help the bees.
You will find several different commercial protein patties for purchase. Are some better than others? Maybe. Be sure to read the ingredient label carefully and know what you are buying.
In general, you can’t go wrong as long as you buy from a reputable company. Mann Lake’s Bee Pro Patties are a customer favorite. I have used them with good results.
Honey Alone is Not Enough
Honey and pollen are two different things. In the most simple terms, honey is carbs for energy and pollen is protein for brood rearing.
Brood rearing is greatly reduced during Winter but will start to pick up before fresh pollen is readily available. During Fall, bees spend a lot of time collecting and storing pollen.
Back at the hive, this mixture is stored in wax honeycomb cells. This process converts the hard pollen granules into a stable substance called “bee bread”.
A diet of bee bread is easier for bees to digest and it stores well without spoiling! You can see cells of colorful pollen stored near the brood cells.
But, there are occasions when the honey bee colony runs low or even out of stored protein. This shortage of pollen can result in reduced egg laying and fewer developing bee larvae.
Giving them extra protein is sometimes beneficial for the colony but it must be done in the right way at the right time.
Feeding Bees Dry Pollen
Many beekeepers, myself included, feed dry pollen substitute to our hives. If I am concerned that my colonies may be short on resources, I place some dry substitute outside in an area protected from rain, skunks, dogs and barn cats.
The bees will find and collect it. I find it very endearing to watch my bees collecting the pollen substitute.
But ,they can only collect it when the weather is warm enough and dry enough to allow bee flight. This is why patties inside the hive are sometimes a better choice.
Pollen substitute lasts a long time if you use it correctly and do not put out too much at one time – resulting in waste. You can make your own dry pollen feeder! Here is the link to how I made mine. DIY Pollen Feeder.
Where to Put Protein Patties in the Hive
Feeding protein pollen patties to bees inside the hive is a great plan for colonies in need. In addition to supplementing pollen stores, weather conditions affect Spring foraging.
If the weather is cool or rainy weather, your bees are not as likely to fly outside. When pollen is inside the hive, bees have access to their protein source 24/7.
But care must be taken when using them with small colonies during the warm months – especially if you live in a region with Small Hive Beetles.
Exactly where to put the pollen patty inside the hive varies from one beekeeper to another. Most commonly, patties are placed directly on the top bars near the brood nest.
This enables nurse bees to have direct access to the protein without having to travel through the hive.
If the patties are not too fat – they may squish down between the frames a bit to allow you to close the hive without a shim.
If your patties are thicker – you may need to use a shim. However, you must close the hive to avoid cold air and intruders getting inside.
If it is too cool to open the hive and you want to add a bit of protein – placing a patty directly under the inner cover is better than nothing – bees will work the patty when temperature allows.
Because I have Small Hive Beetles in my region, I am very careful when adding patties to the hive. I do however, include a very small protein patty in my over-winter candy boards.
How Many Pollen Patties Per Hive?
The decision of how many or how large a patty to put in your beehive depends on several issues. This is mainly due to the honey bee pest known as “Small Hive Beetles”.
If you have these in your area you must pay close attention. Small Hive Beetles LOVE these patties too! If the bees do not consume all of the patty within a short period of time, hive beetles will lay eggs and raise young.
For beekeeping in Southern regions, this is why we do not want to have patties on the hives all the time. Use small patties (taco size or about the size of a playing card) and replace them at regular intervals (if not consumed) and never use them during the warm Summer months.
Cautions When Using Pollen Patties
In addition to the concern regarding hive beetles, there are a few more considerations to think about when using pollen patties in your hive.
Realize that every action has a result. Feeding pollen patties to stimulate growth will most likely, well, stimulate growth.
Be sure that your bees have enough honey/food to feed all these hungry mouths. And watch your colonies for signs of early swarming behavior as the population builds.
If you push your colonies to build population, you may be faced with a need to split your colonies earlier in the season.
How to Store Pollen Patties
Pollen substitute is not cheap – don’t waste it. Whether you have patties or dry substitute that you do not need to use soon, freeze it.
Both types of bee food freeze and thaw easily and can be stored for months. Dry substitute should be stored in a tightly sealed bag and patties can be wrapped in wax paper or foil.
For short term storage, you can make up your homemade pollen patties and keep them in the refrigerator for a few weeks.
The simplest way to make your own pollen patty is to buy a good dry pollen substitute and use sugar water to mix it to the desired consistency.
Beekeepers commonly feed patties during mid-late Winter into early Spring. This is the time of year when a colony starts to ramp up brood production. If you are in an area with a mild Winter, you can quickly place the patties on the hive in Winter on a warmish day.
Not every colony needs patties during Winter. Special Winter patties are often formulated a bit differently with more added sugar rather than mainly protein.
Honey bee colonies that need the protein will consume the patties.If your colony doesn’t use them – they probably don’t need more protein.
Often, the bees have a lot of natural pollen available to collect. They prefer that anyway – can you blame them? Once warmer days arrive and fresh food is coming in – you may not need them in the hive.
In the hive, that depends on the size of the colony and the needs of the bees. For storage, you can freeze them to use next year if you wish.
Do all honey bee colonies need to be fed pollen patties? No, this is just another one of those beekeeping management tasks to learn. You can adjust it to the needs or your honey bees and your location. For beekeepers, the importance of feeding bees any type of food, refers to meeting the needs of the colony at the time. If they don’t need help – save your money.
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Pollen Patty Recipe for Honey Bees
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- large bowl
- large spoon
- A simple method of making patties is to start with dry pollen substitute. Again, I doubt brand matters as long as it is good quality.Mix the substitute with a smaller quantity of cane sugar. I generally start with 2 cups of pollen substitute and 1 cup of sugar.Add water until you get a “thick” consistency. That’s it. You can adjust the ingredient amounts until you get the consistency you desire.
- You want the mixture to be wet enough to have sufficient moisture but not so liquid that it runs everywhere. I usually add just a bit of “Honey B Healthy” or other essential oil bee supplement recipe (you can make your own.)
- Rolling Up the Pollen Patty – I prefer to roll my protein mixture up into a “pollen taco” with wax paper. The honey bees can easily chew through the wax paper and it keeps the mixture from drying out too fast.I often use a small piece of tape to hold the paper together. I may use a couple of small piece to keep the ends closed until I get the pollen patty on the hive. Then, I cut those to have the ends open.