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Feeding Bees Pollen Patties
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 pollen than they can collect. A large part of keeping bees healthy and productive involves learning when to help your bees. Giving them extra protein is sometimes beneficial for the colony but it must be done in the right way at the right time.
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, a pollen patty can contribute to destruction of the colony.
Why Honey Bees Need Pollen
Pollen is the sole protein source for the honey bee colony. Yes, honey is very important to the colony. But, they must have protein to raise baby bees. No pollen – no babies.
Under normal conditions, foraging worker bees collect pollen from blooming plants. But, not all flowers have pollen suitable for collection by bees. Some flowers produce nectar only.
When visiting a pollen rich flower, the foraging bees 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.
Why Beekeepers Use Protein Patties?
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 do beekeepers go to the trouble to make or buy pollen in this form? 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.
Instead of using regular pollen, 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. 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.
Placement of 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.
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.
Optional Roll Protein Patty in Paper
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. However, 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.
Homemade Pollen Patty Recipe
Perhaps you want to make your own. It’s actually rather easy and you only need 3 ingredients for this recipe for pollen patties.
- granulated cane sugar
- pollen substitute
A simple method of making pollen patties is to start with dry pollen substitute. Again, I doubt brand 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.
How Many Pollen Patties Should I Give Each 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 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.
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 pollen 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.
The bees may 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 an 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. 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 pollen 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 as the population builds.
Also, if you are in a southern region – keep an eye out for Hive Beetle Larva in the patty and remove the protein if you see a problem building.
How to Store Pollen Patties
Pollen substitute is not cheap – don’t waste it. Whether you have pollen patties or dry pollen substitute that you do not need to use soon, freeze it.
Both types of pollen freeze and thaw easily and can be stored for months. Dry pollen 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 (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. 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 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.
Final Thoughts on Using Pollen Patties for Bees
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.
Is this something that you have to do? No – not usually. But, if you have a colony that is short on protein resources, feeding bees pollen patties is one method of helping a colony grow.