What are pollen patties?
Pollen patties do not contain pollen, but are designed to simulate the protein that pollen supplies the hive. There are many different recipes but most will contain a pollen substitute like Bee-pro or Ultra Bee with other ingredients added.
What do bee’s do with pollen?
The thing to understand about bees and pollen or pollen patties is that bees use pollen to feed larvae. Egg’s, pupae and worker bees don’t eat pollen. Larvae are dependent on the protein and nutrition that pollen supplies. Nurse bees consume the pollen, in the form of bee bread. This rich diet allows the nurse bees to produce and secrete royal jelly that is fed to the larvae in the first three days after hatching. As the larvae mature they are switched over to a diet of bee bread and honey.
What does pollen do?
The availability of pollen or pollen substitute to the colony increases the production of brood. This enriched diet allows the nurse bees to start producing royal jelly, they also prepare brood cells which stimulates the queen to start laying eggs to fill them.
Do you want to enhance brood production in the fall?
When the weather starts getting colder and the days shorter the queen slows down and may even stop laying eggs. This in normal and a good thing. The queen gets a break from egg laying. The cluster can be kept at a lower temperature when no brood is present, 70° F instead of the normal 94°F needed when brood is present. The lower temperature helps the bees conserve energy which in turn conserves food. Most importantly the break in the brood cycle provides a break in the varroa cycle, which helps keep your hive healthier. So for over wintering bees the answer is no.
If you are going to be moving your hives to a warmer climate for pollination then yes you would want to enhance the brood production.
When Should you use Pollen Patties?
Bee’s don’t need to be fed pollen patties all the time. Pollen is used to feed larvae. Therefore you only need to supply pollen to your bees when they are producing brood.
Spring time, after nectar starts flowing, is a good time to add pollen patties. Pollen is not needed as much as honey, pollen is also more prevalent then nectar. Have you ever seen your bee’s returning to the hive with large pollen sacs and yet there’s still snow on the ground and there’s not a flower in sight. Pollen is available earlier in the spring and later in the fall then nectar. Many plants produce pollen even though nectar is not available.
It is rare when a hive is short of pollen. With that said, there are times when you can supplement your bees with pollen patties. Weather, climate, plants, type of bees, the size of the colony all play into the decision to supplement. You don’t want your colony population to peak before the nectar flow. If you build up your colony too soon, you will have a lot of bee’s with nothing to eat.
But I see commercial beekeepers putting on pollen patties in the fall!
Commercial beekeepers, and yes some hobbyist, need to supplement their hives in the fall. This is because they will be moving their hives to a warmer climate to over winter and to pollinate crops in those climates (oranges and almonds). When doing this they need to keep the brood production going so the hives will be strong enough to fulfill their keepers contracts. Just because a commercial keeper does something doesn’t mean we all have to follow. They have a good reason to, and we have a good reason not to.
Commercial: Keep brood production going for stronger hives.
Hobbyist: Stop brood production for stronger queen and less varroa mites.
Both ways are correct and beneficial in their own way. We should be looking at the needs of our hives and what we will be doing with them. Like I have said many times in my classes, “There is no wrong way to keep bees, just different ways”.
Deseret Hive Supply