by Tamsin Harris
What can pollen substitutes do for your bees?
When there is nothing naturally available, through reasons such as weather conditions, or available forage around the apiary site, or even reduced number of foragers due varroa\virus load then a pollen supplement helps to smooth things out along the ride to Spring.
Be consistent when feeding pollen supplement. It is not there to replace naturally obtainable pollen, which is definitely the preferred choice of the bees, just to supplement it.
Diverse, abundant pollen is absolutely the best feed for the bees, but weather conditions are so variable that this is not always available, on tap, for collection. The bees will take the supplement if they need it, but should the quality and quantity of natural pollen be sufficient, then they will ignore it. Time it to when nature is starting to produce pollen in a number of different early flowers.
You will see different coloured pollens being brought in by the bees on days when there is a little warmth in the sun around the middle of the day. A colony of bees should be growing rapidly in Spring and an essential part of this growth is the need for nutritional protein.
Without this protein the colony will not be able to expand at a good rate and will become static, or worse, may start to regress as new brood will not be fed with the vital nutrition needed to enable them to be strong and healthy colony members.
Mites do more damage to a colony when there is a nutritional stress time of year and the colony size is decreasing. Protein equals growth and will help prolong the life of the bee that has been well fed from the moment it hatches from its egg.
Paying attention to nature and weather conditions allows you to add the patties at a time that will really benefit the build up of your colony. It stimulates the colony and the queen’s rate of lay so whether you plan to make increase with splits or maximize honey production, a strong, healthy population, free from mites, will be essential.
Those bees that are reared early in the season subsequently become foraging bees ready to maximise the first nectar flows and store the surplus as honey.
Pollen supplement won’t contaminate your honey as it goes on well before any surplus is stored and the bees will be using it straight away to feed the developing larvae. The essential amino acids the patties contain are such a beneficial way to improve the health and viability of your bees at a very precarious time of year.
A single patty applied directly on top of the brood, under the crown board (the multi-function crown board » is perfect for this method) with a few slashes made in the parchment with a knife so the bees have plenty of access, will be readily consumed. A strong colony should take this down in around a week. You may feel a second application is needed if there is no improvement in the weather.
A nuc would need half a patty, applied as near to the brood as the nuc box allows. There are various feeders available that will help facilitate this. The bees are more inclined to take the feed if it is warm.
There are a number of manufacturers of pollen supplement and the details of how to use them are readily available.