It’s April 2019. I’ve shortened and simplified this post from 2012. Here we go:
I feed my bees patties of pollen supplement or pollen substitute to get the queen laying early in the year so that the colony’s population is at a healthy level when spring arrives. By early in the year, I mean late winter (or February and March in Newfoundland). I usually only give pollen patties to weak colonies, but I’ll give them to strong colonies as well if I plan to make splits from them.
I also feed my nucs pollen patties for first month after they arrive (usually around mid-July in Newfoundland), but that’s not a common practice. Many backyard beekeepers don’t feed their bees pollen patties for any reason at any time of the year. Overfeeding an established colony, whether pollen patties or sugar syrup, can easily create colonies so big that they swarm the first chance they get. And often the bees won’t touch pollen patties once they’re able to bring in real pollen from flowering plants. They chew up the patties and then toss the little bits out of the hive like they would with any kind of debris. So in that case, adding pollen patties creates house-cleaning work for the bees but for no benefit.
Here’s a video of me making some pollen patties — in a way that I probably wouldn’t make them today:
In the video, I mix thick sugar syrup with pollen supplement powder called Bee Pro Pollen Supplement that I used to get from Bee Maid. These days I just order pre-made pollen patties from a local supplier because it’s cheaper than shipping them in from Manitoba and it’s easier than making the patties myself.
However, if I had cheap and easy access to the pollen supplement powder, I would make the patties like I do in the video, except I’d make them much wetter and I would make sure to sandwich the patties between parchment paper to maintain that moisture, and when I add the patties to the hives, I would scratch an X through the paper on the bottom to give the bees a place to start digging in.
“The availability of pollen or pollen substitute to the colony increases the production of brood. Because of an enriched diet, the nurses are able to secrete lots of royal jelly. So they prepare cells for eggs and the queen deposits them. Suddenly, brood production is in full swing.”
That’s from Rusty Burlew at Honey Bee Suite. I suggest reading that article for all the nitty gritty details and explanations that I skimmed over in this post.