How to Make Pollen Patties
When and How to Provide a Bee Colony with a Pollen Substitute
Of all the honey bee feed supplements available on the market today, pollen patties are, perhaps, the most commonly explored supplement in today’s apiaries. And while many opinions do exist — like anything beekeeping related — there are a few tenants on how to feed honey bees pollen patties that are good to adhere to as you learn what works best in your own bee yard. Today we’ll explore why honey bees need pollen and how to make pollen patties.
Why Do Honey Bees Need Pollen?
To best utilize pollen patties, an understanding of pollen’s use in the hive is in order. Just as in human diets, bees need a carbohydrate source and a protein source. For bees, carbs come from honey and/or sugar syrup. These carbs provide the energy needed for adults to conduct their day-to-day business such as foraging, house duties, and guarding the hive.
Protein, on the other hand, comes from pollen and is consumed primarily by larvae with very little going to adult bees. Protein is so important that in the absence of sufficient pollen, brood production drops significantly, even coming to a complete halt in many cases. This dependence on a sufficient protein source is the driving force behind the idea of adding pollen patties to one’s hives.
This is where the differing opinions come into play. To oversimplify, bees don’t always need tons of pollen in the hive because while there are specific times when pollen is crucial to a hive’s continued existence, there are times when an abundance of pollen may actually be detrimental to a hive.
During times of intense population buildup, such as late winter and spring, colonies strive to maximize colony size prior to the first anticipated nectar flow, which usually occurs in early to mid-spring. This buildup phase is akin to having a house full of growing teenage athletes with an unlimited need for food. If an apiary is in a locale with limited pollen availability during spring buildup, the colony will suffer. The problem here is that spring buildup begins shortly after the winter solstice, a time when many areas may experience a lack of natural pollen making the use of pollen patties a justified management option.
When Should You Feed Pollen Patties?
Before plopping that patty down in the hive, understand there is a significant risk involved. The more brood a hive has, the more food that hive needs, and the faster they will run through their winter stores. Compounding this issue is the necessity of increasing the temperature around the growing brood. In a broodless hive, clustering bees maintain a central temperature of around 70ºF while a hive with brood requires a temperature closer to 94ºF. Think in terms of heating your house. If you bump up your heat by 24ºF every day, your energy bill is going to go through the roof. So does the colony’s need for energy and thus the need for more food. This puts the hive in danger of running through their stores too fast and starving to death before the nectar flow begins. Because of this, many beekeepers elect to NOT supplement pollen, allowing nature to run its course with the bees only building up once they determine sufficient naturally available pollen is available.
Another concern for adding pollen patties too soon is prolonged cold spells during buildup. The larger the brood pattern, the more adult bees are needed to maintain the correct temperature. If the brood pattern outgrows the cluster size — easy to do as the aging winter bees slowly dwindle away— bees may be spread too thin during a long cold spell and risk death by freezing and starvation. Again, yet another reason that many choose to not supplement.
If you’re on the fence about pollen subs, the best way to determine if your girls need supplemental pollen is to jump in and give it a try while keeping the aforementioned concerns in mind. For the first experiment, I recommend waiting until after the winter solstice at a minimum to reduce the chances of growing too much too soon. Each area is different with early spring pollen availability varying by as much as three months or more across the U.S, so experimentation will be key here.
How to Make Pollen Patties
DIY patties are easy to make, and you can store leftover patties in the freezer or a spare refrigerator until needed. Bees are notorious for tossing out any items they deem unnecessary to their survival. If your colonies don’t need the extra help, you’ll likely find patty crumbles scattered on the landing board.
To get started making your own patties, you’ll need a recipe. Many are readily available online with many folks adding various supplements such as essential oils, amino acids, or probiotics. However, it’s often best to begin by keeping it simple.
What You’ll Need to Make Pollen Patties:
+ A container of pollen substitute
(available through many bee supply companies)
+ Either 1:1 or 2:1 sugar syrup
+ A mixer or sturdy spoon
There are no explicit quantities of either ingredient for patties. What you’re going for is an end product with a firm consistency that can be placed on a sheet of wax paper and flattened. Depending on how many hives you want to feed, pour about 1 cup into the bowl per hive to get you started. Then add just enough sugar syrup to make a malleable dough. Some Beeks create firmer patties that resemble biscuit dough while others make a peanut butter cookie dough texture. It’s really a matter of preference, so experiment with what you and your bees like best.
Once you have your dough ready, simply scoop a portion out and flatten between two sheets of wax paper using your hands or a roller. Place immediately on the hives directly above the brood so nurse bees have easy access. Some folks prefer to remove all of the wax paper while others leave the bottom section of wax paper to rest upon the frames. Either way works, so again it’s up to your preferences.
The amount of time a patty lasts in a hive depends on the needs of the bees and how interested they are in removing unwanted patties. The one problem to watch for is small hive beetles in areas that have these pests, particularly during warm weather. SHB adore patties and believe you made these just for them. It is often recommended to remove any uneaten patty within 72 hours to help prevent SHB buildup instead of bee buildup if beetles are a concern.
That’s basically all there is to know regarding how to make pollen patties. Equally important is understanding how and why a colony may need pollen substitutes. If you’re interested in learning even more ways to improve your feeding options, be sure to check out this DIY hive top feeder. You may also be interested in how to make fondant for bees. One of the keys to beekeeping success is to continue learning how to provide the best nutrition we can for our bees and be willing to experiment a bit with what we learn.