You may be surprised to hear beekeepers talking about buying or making pollen patties. Don’t bees collect their own pollen? Yes, they do. But, sometimes the bees need more protein than they can collect. A large part of keeping bees healthy and productive involves learning when to help your bees and when to leave them alone. Knowing how to make pollen patties for your bee colonies is a valuable skill.
Feeding Bees Pollen Patties
In a perfect world, our bees are able to get everything they need from the environment. That is what every beekeeper wants to happen. Natural food sources are the best for honey bees – just like they are the best for us too.
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Sometimes feeding pollen patties can be the difference between having a weak honey bee colony and one that is strong, healthy and ready to work.
However, done at the wrong time in the wrong way, a protein patty can contribute to the destruction of the colony.
Why Honey Bees Need Pollen
Pollen is the sole protein source for the honey bee colony. While bees collect plant nectar to make honey, nectar is pure carbohydrates. Yes, honey is very important to the colony and winter survival of the colony depends on it.
But, not all flowers produce protein suitable for collection by bees. Some flowers produce nectar only.
When visiting a flower, the forager mixes pollen granules with saliva and enzymes from glands in their mouths. The sticky pollen is pushed onto stiff hairs on the hind legs – called pollen baskets and taken to the hive.
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” .
Bee bread is easier for bees to digest and it stores well without spoiling! But, there are occasions when the honey bee colony runs low or even out of stored protein.
Giving them extra protein is sometimes beneficial for the colony but it must be done in the right way at the right time.
Pollen Patty Recipe for Honey Bees
- 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.
Benefits of Using Protein Patties in Beehives
Most often, the beekeeper recognizes a lack of stored pollen, during early Spring of late Fall. This is time to help the bees. By providing a protein source, the colony can continue to raise new brood or babies. A colony that has ample stores of pollen in the comb does not need pollen patties.
Why do beekeepers go to the trouble to make or buy protein patties? Wouldn’t it be better to feed bees fresh 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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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 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 due to the honey bee pest known as “Small Hive Beetles”.
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.
Hive pests such as Hive Beetles are why we do not want to have patties on the hives all the time. And honestly, a healthy colony should not need constant support.
If that is happening all year, you have other problems in your colonies. No honey bee colony should need constant feeding.
Use small patties and replace them at regular intervals (if not consumed) and never use them during the warm Summer months.
When to Feed Pollen Patties?
Beekeepers commonly feed patties during Winter. Late Winter into early Spring is the norm. This is the time of year when a colony is ramping up brood production.
In very early Spring, we normally have enough mild days to replenish the protein source if needed. This helps an over-wintered colony build up a good population of worker bees in time to make honey.
When to Stop Feeding Pollen Patties?
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.
Cautions When Feeding Pollen to Honey Bees
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.
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.
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.
It needs to be somewhere 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.
You can make your own dry pollen feeder! Here is the link to how I made mine. DIY Pollen Feeder.
Ultra Bee is currently my favorite dry protein substitute. The bees really seem to like it and collect it well from my homemade feeder.
Pollen substitute lasts a long time if you use it correctly and do not put out too much at one time – resulting in waste.
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. If you have a colony that is short on protein resources, feeding bees pollen patties is one method of helping a colony grow.