Bees rely on pollen and honey in their hives for food. Since winter and adverse weather can affect bee colonies, some beekeepers resort to making pollen patties for bees to supplement them until flowers for pollen arrive.
Sometimes beekeepers get brood production up and running ahead of natural pollen sources by giving bee pollen patties or substitutions several weeks before, in early spring. Beekeepers can help prepare their colonies in autumn as well. The fatter the bees are before winter, they better they will do in the spring.
The Importance of Pollen
Bees rely on flower nectar as their chief source of nutrition. Honeybees use nectar as the chief source of carbohydrates needed to produce energy. Adult bees consume honey.
However, honeybees also need pollen for important proteins, fats and other nutrients. They require both honey and pollen to reproduce. Bee larvae rely upon pollen to survive.
Bees need a variety of pollen types for their health. Nurse bees use the pollen to make royal jelly to feed their queens and raise their young, or their brood. A large bee colony needs about 45 pounds of pollen over the year.
Effects on Pollen Supply
Pollen production drops during winter, when there are not as many plants blooming. During this and any other time of year when pollen is low, beekeepers can start making pollen patties for bees to keep stimulating brood rearing.
Winter can take a toll on bees, so beekeepers like to assist the brood population. Some beekeepers add sugar cakes to their hives during long winters.
Occasionally there will be a period of time outside of winter when pollen supplies wane. This is called a dearth. During these times, supplementation is needed. Otherwise the brood rearing and bee population will decline.
Pollen Patty Recipe
There is more than one pollen patty recipe available for beekeepers to use. Each bee food recipe varies depending on ingredient content. Pollen patties must be easily digestible, tasty to bees and have a good balance of nutrients.
Using real pollen from the colony is ideal to ensure it is free of disease. A pollen substitute can also be used for making pollen patties for bees, and often leads to fatter bees. One common pollen substitute is brewer’s yeast.
In this bee pollen patty recipe, a pollen substitute powder (either commercially available or brewer's yeast) can be mixed dry with the same amount of sugar. Adding 50% sugar syrup to this and forming a paste (kind of like peanut butter) yields pollen patty material. Sometimes soybean flour is added to the brewer’s yeast.
This can be placed in wax paper (to keep them from dehydrating) in two pound quantities. Then in early spring, these patties can be placed above brood nests. Do not allow the patties to turn hard or the bees will not be interested in eating them.
Other Bee Food Recipes
Another bee food recipe uses pollen, sugar, lemon juice, vitamins, dried egg, honey and yeast. There are several other kinds of pollen patty recipes. Also, not every beekeeper will supplement their broods with pollen patties.
Beware of some additives used for pollen substitutes. The presence of stachyose could harm bees. After weather improves and favored plants bloom again, bees will not use or need any pollen patties. But should there be a dearth, or a stretch of foul weather, you can start making pollen patties for bees again.
- Michigan State University College of Natural Science Michigan Pollinator Initiative: Feeding Honey Bees
- Maine State Beekeepers Association: Feeding Bees Pollen-Patties in Early Spring
- UC Davis Department of Entomology: Feeding Bees Pollen Substitutes
- British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture: Pollen Substitutes and Supplements
- The wax paper keeps the pollen patties moist.
- Follow the recipe directions, but use your judgment on how much brewer's yeast to add until you get a feel for how quickly the dough stiffens up.
- Do not get the outside of the wax paper sticky, or all the patties will stick together when they are stored.
About the Author
J. Dianne Dotson is a science writer with a degree in zoology/ecology and evolutionary biology. She spent nine years working in laboratory and clinical research. A lifelong writer, Dianne is also a content manager and science fiction and fantasy novelist. Dianne features science as well as writing topics on her website, jdiannedotson.com.
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