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Why Feed Pollen Substitute?
It’s a fair question! Is pollen substitute actually necessary? Why should you feed pollen substitute at all? Don’t the bees gather pollen themselves? Honey/syrup are the carbs in a bee’s diet, (See “Why Feed Syrup?”) and pollen/pollen substitute is their protein. They must have sufficient quantities of each to raise brood and survive as a hive. We can also use food to manipulate hives to grow faster and stay healthier during dearth periods of the year. This is especially true with pollen subs. I recommend primarily using purchased, pre-made pollen patties. I don’t recommend making homemade patties (See “Homemade vs purchased pollen substitute”). If you buy dry pollen powder, and want to dry feed, see “How to feed dry pollen powder”. Finally, if you buy the pollen sub powder, and make it into a patty yourself, see “Tips for making pollen patties from purchased powder”.
Ok, now to finally answer the question, “Why feed pollen substitute”? If you have a strong, year around, multi source pollen flow, you don’t need pollen sub. Chances are (unless you live in the tropics) this is not the case for you. There are major summer droughts, freezes, winter, etc that prevent the quantity and quality of natural pollen needed.
We feed pollen sub to accomplish three primary goals:
- Feeding 2-3 months before the first freeze to help our bees rear healthy bees going into the winter by ensuring they have all the nutrients needed as they rear brood. See “Why Fall Care is so Critical” for a more in depth discussion, but in essence, during the late summer & early fall workers rear a different kind of bee...a “winter bee” that is raised to live much longer than summer bees. These winter bees need a very complete diet to have the fat stores & immune system needed to survive the winter. A poor pollen flow, or a single source pollen that isn’t nutritionally sufficient (think eating nothing but pizza), they won’t be able to raise healthy winter bees. Feeding pollen sub and syrup if needed (See “Fall Feeding”) ensures they have the needed protein and nutrition to successfully raise winter bees.
- To extend brood rearing. By feeding pollen substitute approximately a month after the first freeze, and 2 weeks before your first pollen blooming plants in the spring you can help the bees rear brood later and longer than normal. This helps increase the hives population, which is always a good thing!
- To prevent nutritional deficits during pollen dearths. I alluded to this in #1, but if you have a hot dry summer or a late spring freeze, and thus little to no pollen producing plants, your hive can begin to starve nutritionally if sufficient pollen and pollen variety is not present. When this happens, the bees begin to cannibalize the brood, which dramatically reduces the health and population of the hive. See “Symptoms of a nutritionally starved hive” to identify if this is happening to your hive. Feeding pollen substitute and syrup during these dearths can save your hive!
While it’s not a primary reason to feed, multiple studies have also shown that feeding pollen substitute during the times outlined in “When & How Much to Feed Pollen Patties” can significantly boost the immune systems of your bees, and help them better withstand the effects of varroa mites & nosema.
Where to Place Pollen Patties in a Hive
When & How Much to Feed Pollen Patties