Broadly speaking Honey Bees need 2 major nutrients – carbs in the form of sugars (nectar, honey) and protein – which they normally get from pollen. Adult bees mostly need carbs for their own energy needs while protein is mostly used for producing brood and growing younger bees to maturity. Pollen is not fed directly to brood – it is first processed into beebread, then eaten by nurse bees. The nurse bees bodies process the pollen/protein and secrete high protein “jelly” from their hypopharyngeal glands – this secretion is then fed to larva, queens, drones and young worker bees.
In a nutshell – honey bee colonies need protein to produce brood and grow.
Many beekeepers never feed supplemental protein (pollen substitute) especially non migratory beekeepers who only produce honey. In many areas naturally occurring pollen is usually sufficient for those activities – our area of middle TN has plenty of pollen.
However migratory beekeepers who need big strong colonies to take to California for almond pollination in February, and commercial bee producers who need to sell bulk bees in late March to demanding customers (and others) have learned that feeding pollen sub can greatly improve their productivity and profitability – by stimulating lots of early brood production.
How does that apply to the hobby beekeeper in middle TN?
If you are trying to make increase then coming out of winter with large hive populations is exactly what you want – and the same goes for anyone who would like to produce nucs for sale. If you don’t plan to do something productive with all those bees then feeding pollen sub in winter may just make it harder to prevent swarming in the spring.
Personally I do feed pollen sub – because I would rather have the problem of too many bees than too few when spring rolls around. Also I have started producing a few spring nucs for sale. And honestly it gives me a reason to get outside and do a bit of beekeeping during the winter.
In the past I have usually made hard candy with pollen sub – which is convenient to feed, but a good bit of work to make. This year I have been trying a much easier recipe that you might be interested in…
No cook Pollen Patty – 40 pounds
- 5 pounds of dry pollen sub (I have used Mega Bee and Mann lake Ultra-bee, both work fine and are top rated in Randy Oliver’s pollen sub comparison test)
- 25 pounds table sugar
- 6 cups water
Mix the dry ingredients, then mix in the water – I make this in a shallow plastic storage bin and mix it with a short handled garden hoe. It is not too much work to mix by hand and since there is no cooking involved you can take your time. You can use it immediately, but it will smooth out if you cover it and let it sit over night. The result will be a thick paste which you can spoon right onto the top bars of the hive…
You can also make patties between waxed paper sheets similar to what you can buy from the bee suppliers.
I transfered it into a bucket to make it easier to go from hive to hive.
This hive has eaten more than half of the Mt Camp Sugar that I applied a few weeks ago. Notice the 1/2″ wire mesh – that helps to prevent feed from falling through the hive, and makes it much easier to remove and replace the feed at inspection time.
I placed the pollen sub into the spots where sugar is used up – after smoking the bees down a bit.
In a day or two you can see that they are all over the pollen sub. Clearly they like it. Looking pretty good for mid January.
Mixing your own pollen patty like this costs about 50 cents per pound while the same store bought product cost upwards of $2.00 per pound – depending on the size of the package.
BTW – It is much cheaper for me to buy a 50 pound bag of sub and make this myself than to buy pre-mixed pollen patty, but I always end up with more dry pollen sub than I need.
So I have several (approx) 5 pound bags of fresh Mann Lake ultra bee that I would be happy to sell for $10 each. Just right for mixing one batch like this – or several smaller batches. Sold out!