Nectar is a bee/colony’s source for carbohydrates, to give them energy for keeping warm, flying, foraging, keep up with their daily roles etc. Pollen on the other hand is their source of protein which is critical for bees to grow and develop. Both resources are equally important.
As a beginner, an important step in your hive inspections is to identify if your colony has enough nectar and pollen stores. Pollen is identified by clusters of multicoloured chalky material in the cells, uncapped. It can also be identified when coming into the hive (without needing to open it up) by pollen pockets (AKA pollen basket) on a bees’ hind legs. I’ve heard that one bee with pollen baskets every 10 seconds indicates a healthy incoming flow.
Does the beekeeper need to ever feed their bees pollen substitute, and if so, when?
My understanding is that this generally only applies for special cases, such as when your bees have endured drought, excessive rain when they’re unable to forage for extended periods of time or flowers have been too wet to produce, or you’re a commercial beekeeper and you need to build up your colony’s strength pre-spring to reach commodity goals. If you open up the hive and you notice no pollen, it might be a good general rule to feed your bees pollen stores then.
I’ve personally never had to supplement my bees with pollen as I live in a very forage-rich area with mild subtropical seasons. So I’d like to ask the forum’s long-term beekeepers about their experiences and understanding of pollen substitute.
Note that this facet of beekeeping practice is another one that is highly subjective to location, so for the beginners, look out for where experienced beekeepers who comment live in order to understand if it’s hyper-relevant to you or not.