First let me say that I do not feel that any backyard beekeeper (like me) should have to feed their bees unless it is a particularly cold winter and spring. Honey bees produce enough winter stores of bee bread and honey and it is the responsibility of the beekeeper to leave an ample amount to last the winter. Depending on the length of your winter (no natural food source) the bees will consume between 27-40 kgs (60-90 lbs) of honey and bee bread or between 10-15 deep super frames. I left about 45 kgs (95 lbs) of food for my bees to winter and noticed significant pollen collection through October and into November. Having said that there are some situations when beekeepers will supplement their bees' diet in the late winter and early spring with a carbohydrate and protein feed: First and foremost if the winter is particularly severe and long and there is a dearth of spring blossoms due to a prolonged frost or heavy winds (food stores are depleted); Early spring build up in preparation for hive splits; and lastly to encourage early drone rearing in preparation for raising queens. Sugar syrup is sometimes fed to bees in the spring and fall but below a certain temperature (approximately 12 C.) the bees are unable to dehydrate the liquid to store it. In winter beekeepers can use a solid sugar like fondant or sugar cake however pollen patties (with sugar) provide both the carbohydrates from sugar and the proteins from pollen (or pollen substitute). In Vancouver pollen patties are usually added in late February or early March. Remember the presence of new pollen in the hive triggers the queen to produce brood which is why there is little to no brood production through the winter. Pollen is the source of protein and nutrients for bees. The level of body protein in bees varies seasonally between 21-67% depending on the availability and type of pollen available and the amount of energy expended foraging and brood raising. Different blossoms produce different quality pollen. For example dandelions and blueberries produce a fairly low nutritional pollen while almond pollen is fairly high in nutrition.
|Dandelion pollen, although attractive to bees lacks certain amino acids. Other types of pollen must be gathered in order to fully utilize the protein. |
Bees store protein in their bodies in the form of vitellogenin which directly determines their life span and immunological strength to fight diseases and pests. When the body protein level in bees drops it may take several weeks to recover. Low body protein level means low brood and honey production. A wide variety of pollens are essential for optimum bee health as each pollen provides different essential nutrients. This is why pollen patties or pollen substitute patties are not a healthy alternative to a natural variety of stored pollens but rather a diet supplement. Having said that research has shown that colonies receiving pollen supplements in early spring can produce 2-4 times the brood of a non supplemented colony. In addition the life span of worker bees is increased up to 15 days and consequently mid summer honey production is also increased.
The best protein source for supplemental feeding is of course pollen. Studies show that bees are attracted to pollen and consume significantly more when the patties contain pollen rather than pollen substitute. Having said that pollen can be a carrier of bee diseases and should be irradiated before use in a pollen patty. Since most beekeepers don't want to irradiate use your own pollen collected from healthy hives. The nutritional value of pollen diminishes quickly when dried and stored so it is best to freeze your pollen immediately after collecting without drying. It is recommended that you use between 3-5% pollen in your pollen patty and that your overall protein level be about 25%. The best protein supplements or alternatives to pollen are yeast and soy flour. Brewer's yeast has a 48-56% protein content and is a good but expensive protein source to stimulate brood production. The more affordable soy flour (48-50% crude protein level) appears to be more of an adult bee food stimulating activity in the hive. Due to these different benefits a combination of these protein sources is recommended. Other additives like pollard (mixture of fine bran and flour- vitamin and essential oil source), vegetable oil (feed palatability), vitamins and minerals and sugar (carbohydrate and energy source) can be utilized. I read recently where a local beekeeper is using herring meal as a protein source and no his honey doesn't taste like fish. Human vitamin and mineral supplements are made for mammals not bees so use with caution. Always use fresh ingredients as nutritional values decrease with time and old soy flour may even be toxic to bees. Sugar is an attractant in your feed and vegetable oil (like soy or cotton seed) can make it more palatable. The patty should be placed directly over the winter bee cluster which is normally in the middle of the brood box as the bees will not leave the cluster if it is cold. You can invert your inner cover to make room for the pollen patty. If you find there is not enough room between your hive frames and your inner cover you can make a simple hive eke (an extender frame or shallow box). When I made my insulated moisture quilt (Insulated Moisture Quilt) I left space over the frames for supplemental feeding. Here are a few pollen or substitute pollen patty recipes.
Pollen Patty (3 different recipes)
In supplement mixes, the percentage of pollen can be increased or decreased depending on availability.
#1 3 parts soybean flour
1 part pollen
#2 4 parts Brewer’s Yeast
2 parts dry sugar
1 part pollen
2 parts lighter sugar syrup (2 sugar : 1 water)
#3 10 parts Torula Type S Yeast
10 parts Brewer’s Yeast
1 part pollen
Note: use 2 parts dry mix to 3 parts syrup
Substitute Pollen Patty (3 different recipes)
#1 soybean flour only
#2 4 parts soybean flour
1 part Brewer’s Yeast
#3 10 parts soybean flour
6 parts casein
3 parts Brewer’s Yeast
1 part egg yolk powder
In each case, add 4-5 parts of the dry mix to 2 parts heavy sugar syrup as indicated below in directions on preparation of patties.
Prepare patties as follows:
Mix dry ingredients thoroughly.
Mix a heavy syrup of 3 parts sugar to 1 part water.
Slowly add 2 parts of syrup to 4-5 parts of dry mix (see dry mix formulas above), while kneading.
Leave overnight and knead again before flattening into a 1.5 cm cake.
Cut into squares weighing about 0.5 kg (1 lb).
Place on wax paper and cover with another wax paper to prevent drying.
Here is a video from DC Honeybees showing how to make a substitute pollen patty using these ingredients:
1/2 lb yeast;
1/2 lb dried milk;
1.5 lb soy flour;
1/3 cup canola oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
a multi vitamin
Here are the folks from Mudsongs installing a pollen patty.
For the lazy beekeeper (like me) you can buy pollen patties in the Vancouver area at Urban Bee, Two Bees Apiary or Honeyland. We're going through a cold spell in Vancouver (freezing temperatures) so it's not a good time to open the hive and check on your bees' winter stores of food. Experienced beekeepers can tell by the weight of the deep supers how much food is left. The next sunny, warm (8-10 C. or 46-50 F.) day you can briefly open your hive and check on the food supply. You can do so by lifting a frame a few inches, no more. It's not a good idea to remove a frame until it is closer to 15 Celsius (60 Fahrenheit). Don't worry Spring is just around the corner.