Why Your Colonies May Need Pollen Patties
Are you new to the beekeeping community? 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 can use a boost. A large part of keeping honey bees involves learning when to help your bees.
In a perfect world, our bees are able to get everything they need from the environment. That is what every beekeeper wants to happen.
However, 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 they can lead to colony death.
Why Beekeepers Feed Bees Pollen
Pollen is the sole protein source for the honey bee colony. They must have protein to raise baby bees. No pollen – no babies.
Under normal conditions, foraging worker bees collect pollen from blooming plants. But some flowers produce nectar only. Just because we see flowers does not guarantee pollen availability.
When visiting a pollen rich flower, the bee mixes pollen with saliva and enzymes from glands in their mouths.
Back at the hive, the mixture is stored in wax honeycomb cells. This process converts the pollen 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 pollen.
If the beekeeper recognizes a lack of stored pollen, this is a time to help the bees.
By providing a protein source, such as pollen substitute or “pollen patties”, the bees can continue to raise brood or baby bees.
Why Make Pollen 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. We just can not do the job as well as our bees.
Most beekeepers use a pollen substitute when making pollen 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 pollen patties for purchase. Are some better than others? Maybe.
But in general, you can’t go wrong as long as you buy from a reputable company. Mann Lake’s Bee Pro Patties (see on Amazon) are a customer favorite.
Whether you are feeding bees sugar water – or protein, cheaper is not always the best deal in the long run.
Buy good quality from a reputable source. Your pollen patties can be frozen and thawed for use as needed.
Feeding Bees Dry Pollen
Many beekeepers, myself included, feed dry pollen (or pollen substitute to be exact) to our hives.
If I am concerned that my colonies may be short on pollen, I place some dry pollen 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.
You can make your own dry pollen feeder! Here is the link to how I made mine. DIY Pollen Feeder.
Ultra Bee from Mann Lake (see on Amazon) is currently my favorite dry pollen substitute. The bees really seem to like it and collect it well from my homemade pollen feeder.
Good pollen substitute is not cheap. But it lasts a long time if you use it correctly and do not put out too much at one time – resulting in waste.
If your bees are in need during cool rainy weather, what can you do? The answer is – making pollen patties that can be placed inside the hive.
When pollen is inside the hive, bees have access to their protein source 24/7. But this is not a good practice for year round. More on that in a bit.
Where to Get Pollen Patties
In order to encourage the honey bees to consume the patty, all recipes contain sugar as one of the ingredients. You can order pollen patties from all major bee supplies.
And, everyone has a different idea or recipe of exactly what is the best mix.
You will find some that are especially formulated for over-wintering and are called “winter patties”.
But, most will simply be a protein patty. They come in a rather large size. Do not be afraid to cut them into smaller pieces.
How to Make Pollen Patties
Perhaps you are like me and want to make your own. It’s actually rather easy and you only need 3 ingredients for this recipe for pollen patties.
I mix water, cane sugar and pollen substitute to reach the desired consistency.
My favorite method of making pollen patties is to start with the dry pollen substitute. Currently, I prefer “Ultra Bee” from Mann Lake.
But, I have also used “Mega Bee” from Dadant and “Bee Pro”. Again, I doubt it matters as long as it is good quality.
Mix pollen substitute with a smaller quantity of cane sugar and add water. That’s it. You can adjust the ingredient amounts until you get the consistency you desire.
I usually add just a bit of “Honey B Healthy” or other honey bee food supplement. That’s optional.
Where to Put Pollen Patties in the Hive
Place the patties on the top frames directly over the cluster of bees. They mixture can be spooned onto small squares of wax paper (or several layers of newspaper).
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.
It is important that we place the protein patty close to the brood nest. Our bees will be able to access it even on rainy or cool days.
How Many Pollen Patties Should I Give the Hive?
The decision of how many or how large a patty to put in your beehive depends on several issues.
Most importantly this will refer to location. This is due to the honey bee pest known as “Small Hive Beetles”.
Small Hive Beetles LOVE pollen 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.
This is not good. Because I live in an area with Small Hive Beetles, I am very cautious.
Pests such as Hive Beetles are one reason 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.
I 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?
Feeding pollen patties during the warm months is not advised in areas with Hive Beetles. I only feed them during late Winter – Early Spring.
This is the time of year when a colony is ramping up brood production. It can easily run low on pollen reserves.
This is especially true if pollen collection last Fall was difficult.
In very early Spring, we normally have enough mild days to replenish the protein source if needed.
This helps my over-wintered colony build up a good working population in time to make honey.
When to Stop Feeding Pollen Patties?
Honey bee colonies that need the protein will consume the patties. I remove them when the weather is warm (Hive Beetles).
And, the bees usually have a lot of natural pollen available to collect. They prefer that anyway – can you blame them?
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.
How to Store Pollen Patties
When you have patties or dry pollen substitute that you do not need to use soon, freeze it. Both dry pollen and patties freeze and thaw easily and can be stored for months.
Feeding bees pollen patties is one method of helping a colony grow and reach its full potential. Is this something that you have to do? No – not usually.
Do all honey bee colonies need to be fed pollen patties? No, some will have plenty of natural stored pollen.
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.