Beekeeping

Feeding Pollen Patties to Bees

While we would like for our bees to be able to feed themselves exclusively through foraging, there are times when a beekeeper must step in to feed their colonies. When necessary, beekeepers will feed their bees either pollen patties or sugar syrup.  

Feeding bees can mean the difference between a strong colony and one that is struggling to survive.  Of course, there is a correct way to feed bees.  Knowing when to feed pollen patties to bees is essential.  

What are Pollen Patties?

Pollen patties are a type of bee food that is made to simulate pollen. Pollen patties do not usually contain real pollen.  Instead, they are a mixture of sugar, vitamins, oil, yeast, and honey. Most beekeepers use a dry pollen substitute to make their pollen patties or pre-made patties.

A simple pollen patty recipe combines the dry pollen substitute, sugar syrup, and a few drops of Honey B Healthy or lemongrass oil.  This mixture is then pressed between 2 pieces of wax paper until it is about ¼ inch thick. These pollen patties can be stored in the freezer until ready to use. 

Why Give Bees Pollen Patties?

Pollen patties are given to a bee colony in order to increase brood production.  This happens because the nurse bees who consume the pollen patties are then able to secrete more royal jelly.  Royal jelly is a substance that is fed to young bee larvae.  

With their diet now enriched, the queen can now lay more eggs and nurse bees are able to feed more larvae. Therefore, feeding pollen patties to bees is a good way to stimulate more brood production in a bee colony.  

Pollen Patties vs Sugar Syrup

black and yellow bee on blue surface

Sugar syrup is another substance used to feed bees, but it has a different function for bees.  While pollen patties simulates pollen, sugar syrup simulates nectar.  Feeding bees sugar syrup gives worker bees the energy to build comb.  

In a way, this also increases brood production because after the worker bees build comb, the queen will lay more eggs. Sugar syrup is fed to bees when they run out of honey to eat.  This usually happens at the end of winter, or beginning of spring, before the nectar flow.  

Are Pollen Patties Good For Bees?

Pollen patties are good for bees, but only when they need it. That’s why it’s important to know when to feed pollen patties to bees.  There are times when it is not good for the colony to have a lot of brood.

Fall and winter are times when brood production is naturally at a minimum.  It wouldn’t be good for the colony to have a boost in brood at this time. That’s because the colony needs a smaller population in order to preserve food stores. 

This is also a time when the colony may be focusing on keeping warmth in the hive.  When the colony has no brood, the center of the winter cluster can kept at 70 °F. But, if brood is present in the hive, the cluster must be kept at 94°F.  

It’s also good for the bee colony to stop producing brood to break the cycle of Varroa mites. These parasitic mites reproduce on bee brood, so if no brood is in the hive, the mites will die off.  

The downside to feeding bees pollen patties is that if not done right, it could lead to starving bees and swarms.  If your hive has a large population and not enough flowers to forage from, the bees will starve. An over populated colony is also more likely to swarm, and you’d lose half of your bees.

That being said, there is a right time to feed pollen patties to bees.  

When to Feed Pollen Patties 

Pollen patties should be fed during pollen dearth. A good time to feed pollen patties to bees is early spring.  For me, that would be late February – March.  However, this timeline may need to be adjusted according to your climate.  

Basically, you want to do your best to time it so you have an increase in brood around the same time as the nectar flow. That way, you know that once the bees become adults, there will be enough food for them to forage. 

Some commercial beekeepers will supplement with pollen patties in the Fall because they are moving their hives to a warmer climate to overwinter or for pollination contracts.  That is the exception though, and something that hobby beekeepers rarely need to do.  

Natural Apiary Pollen Patties

Natural Apiary’s premade pollen patties provide both protein and carbohydrates to ensure colony growth and more honey production. These patties are made in the USA and are ready to use straight out of the packet.  

For best results, use at least 2 patties per hive.  Patties should be fed no earlier than 1 month before the first pollen flow in spring.  Place the patties on the top bars of the brood box, on the center of the cluster. 

For stronger colonies, the paper can be left on with the holes facing downwards.  However, you should remove the paper for weak colonies. Check on your bees once a week to add more patties if necessary.  

Summary

Pollen patties are given to a bee colony in order to increase brood production. It’s important to know when to feed pollen patties to bees.  Early spring, right before the nectar flow is a good time.