Winter feeding of Pollen Substitute

About two months ago, the first time ever, we put out pollen substitute in a small cardboard tray inside a square bucket hanging from a tree. The bees loved it. In fact, at first they were aggressively protective, fighting bees from other colonies over it, and stinging anyone who went near. But within a week or so they calmed down, and now they no longer show that initial aggressiveness.

The bees work the substitute as often as they can, in large numbers. If the day is sunny, they will come out for it even if the air temperature is only in the upper 40s.

We’ve become real believers in feeding pollen substitute during winter pollen dearth. But as soon as the first real pollen starts coming in, we expect the bees will abandon the pollen substitute as they prefer the real thing when it’s available.

It has been stated by Barnyard Bees that colonies can die over winter from lack of pollen (or substitute), even if they have plenty of honey stores. 

We purchase our pollen substitute from Mann Lake (online).

From our research:

Bee colonies wait until newly-foraged pollen comes in before rapidly expanding brood rearing. Thus those colonies’ growth can be several weeks behind that of other colonies that were stimulated with pollen substitute provided by the beekeeper before natural pollen comes in.

In some areas of the country, especially those areas with early main honey flows (as is the case here in Virginia), any delay in late winter/spring colony growth can result in the diminishing of a large part of the main honey crop.

The brood-rearing process expands earlier when the bees detect the availability of pollen substitute being placed near the hive. The queen accelerates egg-laying, resulting in early masses of brood, which become the field bees that will bring in the soon-to-come main honey flow.

A beekeeper should do what is needed to build up the colonies early enough for the hives to be ready for the main honey flow. However if the overwintering colony raises too much brood too soon, it can be in danger of starvation and death by exhausting its honey stores. More and more bees in a colony require more and more feed, and if the beekeeper fails to keep up the sugar-feeding as the brood-rearing increases, starvation can result. Making this mistake can quickly spiral into the disaster of a dead hive.

Always watch the honey hive reserves closely. Keep in mind that the overwintered honey supply can be at its lowest just as the bees’ need for it is greatest. One insurance policy some beekeepers use is putting a bee-recipe fondant patty on the tops of the frames that the bees are clustering in, which we will touch on in a later post. 

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