Bees need more than just carbohydrates from honey, sugar syrup or corn syrup to survive. They also need protein that usually comes from pollen especially when raising brood. Many beekeepers may never need to feed pollen or pollen substitute. The bees typically will store enough for their use and when supplies run short they will stop raising drones and eventually will stop raising brood entirely until pollen again is available. Thus the bees tend to manage their supplies fairly well and this is enough for many beekeepers. However, There are many reasons why you may want to feed pollen or pollen substitute:
- Early spring buildup so you can make early splits.
- Buildup in preparation for pollination (especially almond pollination).
- To force building in preparation for a strong nectar flow.
- To encourage early drone rearing for preparation for raising early queens.
- To maintain drone and brood rearing though a strong dearth (again important for rearing queens in some areas)
In fact, a protein source (pollen or pollen substitute) is critical for raising drones which is very important for rearing queens. When there is a shortage of protein drone brood is the first to go and in severe dearths even adult drones may be removed from the hive. (Steve Taber covers this in his book ‘Breeding Super Bees’)
In warm weather when bees can fly open feeding dry pollen substitute is a good easy method of feeding and I use this method myself when possible. It is as simple as putting out a bucket on its side with pollen substitute in it. It creates quite a feeding frenzy but doesn’t seem to cause any fighting. Of course when the weather isn’t warm and dry this obviously wont’ work. Feeding pollen patties which are placed right in the hive is the solution. You can buy pre-made patties or you can mix your own.
Making Pollen Patties
Mixing pollen patties is fairly straight forward though the first time I mixed them up I made quite a sticky mess. Plus when mixing up more than just enough for a couple patties at a time it can take a long time if mixing by hand or with a small kitchen mixer. Hopefully the instructions here give you a few ideas to make it easier for you.
When mixing up small batches of pollen patties it probably isn’t worth buying the raw ingredients for the dry substitute and mixing it yourself. Complete pollen substitutes are available from many beekeeping suppliers. However, If you wish to mix them yourself links to pollen substitute recipes are listed below.
I use Bee-Pro from Mann Lake myself, though other substitutes will work as well. None of them are perfect replacement for pollen and you can add about 10% real pollen to the mix to improve acceptance and nutrition. However, be aware that bee pollen can carry American Foul Brood spores and can spread the disease. If you do use real pollen in the mix either collect your own pollen from hives you know are disease free or buy irradiated pollen.
In a 5 gallon bucket I mix half a bucket of pollen substitute to approximately 1/3 a bucket of sugar syrup (2:1 sugar syrup or corn syrup). The syrup should be added gradually until the mixture is reasonably stiff and not runny. The mixture will stiffen up after you mix it as the substitute absorbs the liquid so don’t mix it too stiff.
A creaming screw normally sold for making creamed honey works well for mixing bucket quantities. A good 1/2″ drill with a relatively low RPM should be used. The typical inexpensive variable speed 3/8″ drills tend to be higher RPM and don’t have enough power at low RPM. The drill I used is a 1/2″ 7.5Amp 500RMP drill. Smaller quantities can be mixed by hand or a mixer with attachments for mixing bread dough.
I find it easier to form the patties themselves right after mixing up the substitute and syrup as it does get stiffer if you wait till the next day. If you intend to use the patties the next day then pressing the pollen dough between pieces of wax paper works well. However, the wax paper will become soggy over time making them hard to handle and isn’t a great moisture barrier letting the patties dry out if not sealed in a container.
The solution I’ve found to this is to use freezer paper. It has a thin plastic coating the bees have no trouble chewing though yet it makes a good seal with an impulse sealer. I start by cutting the freezer paper into strips about 8 to 10 inches wide, folding it over with the shiny side in and sealing the two sides using the impulse sealer. This makes a pocket or envelope that the pollen dough can be scooped into. I typically put about 1.25 pounds of dough in each then roll them flat using a rolling-pin. This step is much easier if the dough is not too thick and is rolled right after mixing up the substitute before it has thickened up. Then the last side is sealed with the impulse sealer. This makes a patty much like the pre-made patties available from several venders that can be stored for quite some time before use.
Scooping the pollen
Rolling the patty flat
with a rolling-pin.
Sealing the ‘envelope’.
Feeding the Bees
A smoker may be needed to drive the
bees down before placing the patty.
Your pollen patties can be placed on the hive even when it is relatively cool because it is a quick operation that doesn’t need to break up the cluster and doesn’t involve removing frames exposing brood to the cold. I prefer to wait till a warm day when at least some bees are flying though that is not always possible.
The patties are installed just like the pre-made patties. First, cut a V in the paper and peel it back exposing the pollen dough. Then open the hive exposing the top of the cluster. If the cluster is in a lower box you may have to remove the top box because the patty should be placed just above the cluster. You may have to smoke the hive and possibly use a bee brush to make the bees move down between the frames so you don’t squish the bees when placing the patties on. When feeding the bees sugar syrup at the same time with a top feed as I do, I will cut the patty in half so that the feeder that is placed over the hole in inner cover is not blocked.
The patty placed on the hive.
The patty was cut in half
to avoid interference with
syrup feeder placed over
the hole in the inner cover.
Even before the cover of the hive was
replaced the bees started consuming the
Pollen Substitute/Patty Recipes