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WHEN AND HOW MUCH TO FEED POLLEN PATTIES

WHEN AND HOW MUCH TO FEED POLLEN PATTIES

By Blake Shook

How much and when to feed pollen patties depends on the time of year and the strength of the hive. You want to feed only as much as the bees can fully consume in a 7–10 day period to ensure that small hive beetles don’t begin reproducing in the patty. See "SHB & Pollen Sub" for a bit more detail. But in essence, making sure the bees fully consume the patty between feedings ensures that the SHB aren’t hatching in the patty.

A hive that has about one deep box full of bees should eat a one-pound patty in about seven days. A hive with two boxes full of bees can eat two patties in 7–10 days. Alternatively, for a box that’s only half full of bees, tear the patty in half and give them a half pound.

Feeding Recommendations by Season

A general rule of thumb is that if you don’t see at least half a deep frame’s worth of stored pollen in the hive, it’s ideal to feed pollen substitutes until the bees begin bringing in and storing more pollen. Nurse bees depend on ample pollen availability to feed both themselves and developing larva. To see much more detail on why I make the following recommendations see "Why Feed Pollen Substitute?"

  1. Late Winter: Two to three weeks before the late winter/early spring pollen flow begins, feed 1 one-pound patty for every box that is 80% or more full of bees (so if you have two boxes 80% full of bees, feed 2 one-pound patties at a time) to help them get started rearing brood a bit sooner. For most areas, this is about four to six weeks before the last spring freeze, though this can vary some.
  2. Early/Late Spring: After an unusually late spring freeze that temporarily kills blooming plants for a few weeks after the bees have already begun raising large amounts of brood, or after a week or two of unusually cold weather that prevents the bees from foraging, feed one pound of pollen substitute for every deep box full of bees every week for two weeks after the freeze until the weather warms back up or until you see your bees bringing in an abundance of pollen. This should be enough to keep them from cannibalizing brood and encourage them to continue rearing new brood.
  3. Summer: Some regions have abundant pollen flows all summer long with plenty of moisture and there is no need for pollen substitute. If your bees maintain at least a half frame of multicolored pollen, they won’t necessarily need pollen substitutes. It won’t hurt to feed them a patty every few weeks, and that will help them grow for summer splits if desired. But it isn’t critical.
  4. Hot and Dry Summers: However, if you live in an area that often has hot and dry summers, there is a good chance your bees will experience a shortage of pollen July through September. If few flowers are blooming and less than half a frame of stored pollen is in the hive, feed one pound per box of bees every 7–10 days until conditions improve, which is often September or early October.
  5. Fall/Early Winter: As outlined in "Why Feed Pollen Substitute?" ensuring that your hive has all the nutrition needed is critical to allow them to raise healthy winter bees. Starting at least two months before your traditional first freeze and continuing for two to three weeks after your first freeze, feed each hive full of bees one pound every 7–10 days.

FAST FACT

The amount of pollen in Global pollen patties does not determine the nutritional or protein value but, in fact, the consumption rate.

Okay now let’s take a step back. You may be wondering just how critical all of this feeding is. To be honest, some years it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference. But in other years, it makes all the difference between a 10% loss rate and an 80% loss rate. The harsher the weather is and the more severe the pollen shortages are, the more critical the feeding is. If you live in an area that has a consistent pollen flow all spring, summer, and fall, you may not need to do much feeding. However, for most areas, following at least tip number 4 can be a huge help. I always recommend that beekeepers try things for themselves and see what works. Try feeding pollen sub to half of your hives and not the other half to see which do better over the summer and winter.

Made with your choice of 4% or 15% real pollen and optional feed enhancement additives from Complete Bee and Apis Biologix, these protein patties are readily accepted by bees. They stimulate brood rearing to nurture the hive to maximum strength for the honey flow. 

global patties

What about Feeding Dry Pollen?

Feeding dry pollen substitutes can be beneficial during the winter months; however, it is not as critical as feeding pollen patties.

To feed dry pollen powder, you must place the powder outdoors ideally at least 20 feet from your hive. You can purchase dry pollen feeders or make one. Essentially, you need a container that will keep the powder dry if it rains, keep livestock out, and give the bees easy access. A simple and cheap option is a five-gallon bucket laying on its side with half of the lid cut off. My personal favorite dry pollen feeder is a Pro Nuc box with the plastic entrance slide removed completely.

I add about five pounds of powder and put the container in a tree to keep varmints and livestock out of it. The bees will forage during warm winter days that are sunny and above 45 degrees. They take the powder back to the hive to use much like natural pollen. Keep in mind that bees will forage on dry pollen powder only if there is no natural pollen flow.

pollen bath

This bee thinks she's taking a pollen bath! Picture by Nanette Davis

The advantage of open feeding is that it more naturally simulates a natural pollen flow and may encourage some additional brood rearing. The disadvantage is that you are feeding all the neighborhood bees in addition to yours.

Researchers have estimated that a strong hive can gather almost a pound per week! It is also believed that a combination of incoming dry pollen and pollen substitutes may actually stimulate colony expansion of the brood nest. Natural or artificial, each pollen delivery method has potential value!

While dry pollen feeding shouldn’t fully replace feeding pollen patties, it does have a useful place. Feeding during a nectar dearth greatly reduces the bees’ urge to ‘stay busy,’ which reduces the need to focus entirely on robbing behavior.


Feed pollen patties
Next article January Beekeeping Tips - 2024

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