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Do I need to feed my bees pollen substitute?

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.

B

I feed polly candy coming into early spring. Best of both worlds and does give an extra boost if the bees csjt get out to forage and the Queen is starting to up her laying. 2 x 500g patties tops each hive.

Otherwise I leave them to it.

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Thanks Dean. What’s polly candy? I can’t find anything for it online.

Fondant with pollen and other minerals and nutirents added.

We don’t have SMB in the UK but all I see or hear on the net is SHB breading in pollen patties. I’d never use them. Seems like one reason they are so wide spread in the US.

Just my thought though no research to back that up.

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SHB are very happy to breed in pollen substitute patties like yours too… :dizzy_face:

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Hi Bianca…nicely worded original post…emphasizing the nuances in beekeeping environments.

For beekeepers that are in areas where extended periods lapse between pollen flows, it may be prudent to use a pollen substitute. In my case this happens twice a year…spring and fall.

So far this spring, I have fed patties once already…2 weeks ago…and will do so once again in a weeks time. I feed the stronger hives 3 patties (about 3 lbs total) each feeding so they get alot. I’m amazed how much they consume but a natural pollen flow is still 3 weeks away.

My reasons for feeding pollen substitute are:

Spring

  1. After a long winter, my bee population is about to implode…not explode…at this time of year. I have to maintain that critical mass of worker bees by having new bees emerge to supplement that rapidly aged population that has been confined for 5 months.

  2. It’s been my experience from collecting pollen on a larger scale that when the hives are running short on protein, a hive panic sets in to go out to find pollen. Where are they going to find pollen in snow drifts…or will they visit the neighbors livestock feed areas? Those aged worker bees desperate to find a natural source fly themselves to death. This contibutes to the phenomenon of “spring dwindling”. The problem is exacerbated for me when single brood chambers are run the previous summer.

  3. Pollen patty consumption is usually…but not always… indicative that all is well in the hive. Early in the season I don’t like being too obtrusive in my inspection so I lift the lid and can see under the plastic if the patty has been consumed. In the photo above, I don’t even disturb the hive except for folding back the plastic and adding more patties. So pollen patties save me a lot of work by reducing inspections.

I also add salvaged beebread derived from scraping excess stored pollen (beebread) from brood frames…not recommended if brood diseases are present in your equipment.

Fall

  1. After the honey is removed, I use pollen patties to stimulate a couple more brood cycles of “winter bees”…these “winter bees” are morphologically different than spring and summer bees in that they have a longer lifespan. Here there is a two month fall dirth of pollen flows before the bees go dormant for the winter…that’s a lot of time for the general hive population to dwindle.

As has been mentioned by others above, pollen patties can be associated with honeybee colony parasites. It’s been my experience that wax moth eggs can also be embeded in pollen patties but in that case I simply changed to a more reputable supplier.

In North America, a lot of research has been included in the formulation of pollen patties…vitamins, minerals, essential oils etc. etc. etc. and ultimately I feel it is of benefit for me to use them.