Not every beekeeper needs to use pollen patties on their hives. Here in Maine there is an abundant supply of pollen in the fall and our bees are able to store enough for the colony’s purposes through the winter, until fresh pollen is again available in the spring. Unless you’re planning to make early-season splits or raise your own Queens, or if you’re building up in preparation for commercial pollination─you probably don’t need to use pollen patties at all.
On the other hand, if you’re seeking to grow your apiary and make hive increases─then you might be looking to boost bee populations to be able to do that. Feeding bees pollen stimulates brood production: an enriched diet causes nurse bees to secrete lots of royal jelly, which spurs them to prepare cells for eggs and the Queen deposits them. If you time it right you can have a gang-buster colony that you can use to optimize your operation.
Note: For more info on what pollen patties are and why you might want to use them check out this article on the Maine Beekeepers’ website. For the purposes of this article, we will assume the reader is familiar with the pollen-patty and has performed his/her due diligence to learn why and how to use them. Also, take a look at this article by Randy Oliver over at Scientific Beekeeping; he did a comparative test of various pollen supplements compared to real pollen which is pretty informative reading.
The Bee-Pro pollen supplement offered by Mann Lake was recommended to me by beekeeping veteran Bob Egan of Abnaki Apiaries in Skowhegan, who was the Maine State Apiarist until he retired some years ago. Bob is a no-nonsense kind of guy─with a stern gaze, long white hair pulled back into a pony-tail that’s always under a ball-cap and a fabulously bushy gray mustache. He swears by the Bee-Pro pollen-sub and made a point to send me home with a sample of it last summer, saying the bees just crave it, they want it, they’re all over it as soon as you put it on the hive.
That’s high praise from one hardened beekeeper and good enough for me! We ordered a 50-pound bag of the stuff and are using it to make our pollen-patties this spring. Beekeepers who are seeking to significantly grow their apiaries can buy pollen-substitute in bulk to make their own patties and save money, since commercially prepared pollen-patties can be expensive. Making your own also means you’ll know exactly what went into the pollen patties that you’re feeding your bees.
Making the pollen patties
Step 1: Make sugar-syrup using a 1:1 ratio. I used a quart of water and a quart of sugar to make 2 quarts of liquid, but you can make smaller or larger batches using the same method. Allow the syrup to cool some before use. Just before using the syrup I added 2 teaspoons of Honey-B Healthy vitamin supplement to it and stirred it well to combine.
Step 2: In a large mixing bowl or a 5 gallon bucket (depending on the size of the batch you’re making) combine your pollen-supplement with the syrup to make a dough-like substance. The mixture should be similar to peanut butter cookie dough, or play-dough. Dry, but doughy.
Step 3: Place a large dollop of the dough in the center of a square of freezer paper. Sometimes the moisture from the pollen patties can soak through the waxed paper, causing it to tear easily. It’s a little more expensive than waxed paper, but the freezer paper holds up much better for storage and transport purposes. Place another piece of freezer paper over the dollop and flatten it some with your hand before taking a rolling pin to smooth and roll the patty out between the paper.
Storage: Pollen patties don’t need to be kept refrigerated, but a cool, dry location is recommended. You can even freeze them for later use.
Just remember that not every beekeeper needs to feed their colonies pollen supplements, and also that stimulating brood production early may mean you need to also feed more sugar-syrup to a bounding population. However, if you’re planning to make increases or Queens, or if you’re renting hives for pollination services and need strong colonies─then pollen patties might be a good option for you.
Have you ever made your own pollen-patties? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments below for others to learn from!
How to Make Pollen Patties – via Mudsongs.org
Feeding Bees Pollen-Patties in Early Spring – on the Maine State Beekeepers’ website.
A Comparative Test of Pollen Subs – from the Scientific Beekeeper, Randy Oliver.