I got out the mixing bowl, wooden spoon, wax paper, rolling pin, and a whole lot of sugar. “Making cookies?” asked my daughter. “Nope, pollen cakes for the bees,” I replied. “You wouldn’t like them.” It’s true. For something that looks so much like peanut butter cookie dough, it tastes terrible.
Pollen is the primary source of protein for bees, and it’s essential for brood rearing. Honey (or sugar syrup) is mostly carbohydrates. Like us, bees need both of these nutritional components. In early spring, most hives need supplemental feeding. Honey stores are depleted, and what little remains is quickly devoured when the first warmer days arrive and the bees start to fly about. In early spring, I like to use top feeders and a thick 2:1 sugar syrup ratio. In addition to syrup, I also feed pollen patties. It stimulates brood development, and helps gets a jump on the season.
I don’t use real pollen. It costs $10/lb. Instead, I use MegaBee pollen substitute which goes for around $3.50/lb. It contains a cocktail of 40% protein, vitamins, minerals, fat, and carbohydrates. Bees love it and it’s good for them. MegaBee is mixed with thick sugar syrup to form a dough. The dough is pressed into pancake-size patties about 1/4 inch thick. I like to store the patties between squares of wax paper. I make a big batch and freeze them.
Pollen patties are usually placed directly on top of the frames. The raised inner cover gives enough space above the patties for the bees to crawl around and feed. I peel off the wax paper from both sides of the patty, but some beekeepers like to leave it on the bottom. Bees can easily go through a pollen patty per week through late spring. At that point, when any supply of natural pollen is present, they usually stop taking the substitute.
If I’m using my top syrup feeders, the inner hive cover has to come off because it blocks access to the feeder’s bottom opening. However, without the raised inner cover, there’s not enough space for the pollen patties. There lies the conundrum. One solution is to use an empty shallow super box as a spacer between the frames and top feeder. A fellow beekeeper showed me another trick. Instead of putting the patty on the frame tops, I just slip it vertically into the feeder’s opening. There’s plenty of room in there for the bees to feed on the patty as well as to climb up and around to the syrup.
After I was sure my daughter had left the room, I nibbled on one of the patties. I guess I wanted to be sure they tasted as horrible as I remembered. Yuck, nothing had changed. If anything, they were worse. I wonder if real pollen tastes any better. No matter, the bees are gobbling it up, and the hives are off to a good start. More honey for me later.