In 2020, you just can’t ignore bee nutrition. In fact, there’s plenty of research showing honey bee colonies with inadequate nutrition are more vulnerable to poor outcomes, including disease outbreaks. So, when bees do not have access to quality forage, they struggle, and deficiencies in pollen resources can spell disaster for brood development. That’s where pollen patties come in.
For our nutrition series this summer, we’ve covered lots of topics, but if you want more in-depth information about the importance of pollen, check out our blog from earlier this summer. In the meantime, let’s review why honey bees need pollen.
Adult bees generally don’t eat pollen. When they forage for pollen, they bring it back to the hive to be processed by house bees. Industrious house bees deposit pollen globules into cells, mixing it with their saliva, which kickstarts the fermentation process. Once packed and capped in a cell, lactic acid fermentation transforms the pollen into bee bread, a digestible form for the bees.
Nurse bees consume this bee bread, which helps them produce royal jelly to feed the brood in the colony. So, it goes like this:
Pollen + saliva = bee bread
Bee bread = essential meal for nurse bees
Nurse bees + bee bread = royal jelly
Royal jelly + developing brood = future worker bees
Healthy, well-developed worker bees = survival of the colony
Pollen is pretty important stuff. That’s why many beekeepers choose to supplement if it seems like their colony is not getting enough.
If you’ve been beekeeping for any length of time, you’ve probably heard of protein patties, whether from other beekeepers or through reading blogs or searching for bee-related products online. But, what is in these amber-colored bee supplements?
Most protein patties are a mixture of soy protein, oil, sugar, yeast, and various other additives. Yes, they don’t actually contain pollen; pollen patties are synthetic supplements meant to mimic pollen in terms of nutrient content.
Pollen patties serve to bolster the colony’s health in times of need. They are not meant to be given willy nilly; give them during times the colony struggles to find their own pollen resources. Here are some pointers to keep in mind:
Ultimately, it’s up to you whether you supplement with pollen patties and what variety. As a beekeeper, you should keep regular tabs on your colony (or colonies), and if you notice they are struggling, you do have a responsibility to care for your insects. That could mean pollen patties for you.
Purchase high-quality varieties from trusted resources (i.e. companies that specialize in agriculture and/or the care of honey bees). You can also make your own using pollen substitute, sugar, and water. See the video below for a recipe walkthrough.
Additionally, you may consider setting up a dry pollen substitute feeder. This can be useful in the end of summer when robbing behavior becomes an issue. Essentially, the dry pollen serves as a distraction for robber bees in addition to providing a raw resource for your own colony to process and utilize in the hive.
Regardless of if, when, or how you supplement with pollen patties, be sure to base your decisions on what you’re seeing in front of you; hive inspections will be the catalyst for taking action.
One of the main driving factors for the use of pollen patties is commercial beekeeping. With the need for honey bee colonies to be productive on our schedule and dependent of environmental and climate-related challenges, the use of pollen patties makes sense. Since agricultural areas are predominantly monocultures, there’s a need to ensure adequate pollen nutrition. However, if you’re a hobbyist, a backyard beekeeper, make sure you are making decisions based on your colony or colonies; the needs of a commercial colony will be different than yours.