Why Do Bees Need Pollen?

by Leslie Reason on August 12, 2022

bee pollen flower

Most of the research and studies available surrounding bees is predominately from the 1950s to the 1970s, but now, possibly due to the decline of honeybees and pollinators in general, there’s recently been a resurgence of interest in honeybees and the vital role they play in our lives.

So, delving into some new and old research, we’re going to look at the science behind why bees need pollen, and how they utilize it in the hive.

What is Pollen?

Pollen is a fine powder, usually yellow in color, but as many beekeepers know it can come in a variety of exquisite hues. It’s formed in flowers, carried to other flowers of the same kind by the wind or insects, and then the flowers can produce seeds.

Why Do Bees Need Pollen?

While nectar is the main source of carbohydrates for bees, pollen provides protein, nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and lipids (healthy fats) to their diets.

To make a nutrient packed meal, the honeybees combine honey (from nectar) and pollen, along with a few enzymes to make bee bread, and then this concoction is fed to the brood and other members of the colony.

When the first pollen comes on in the spring, the bees recognize that it’s time to ramp up brood production. A study found in the Journal of Apicultural Research, goes into detail regarding the rate of brood production in correlation with pollen consumption. In this study the researchers were looking at the possibilities to improve the efficiency of beekeeping by adding pollen, via pollen patties, to their diet during periods of pollen dearth, which showed that pollen is a catalyst in relation to brood production and hive activity.

Bees fed the whey-yeast food mixed with starch-encapsulated pollen lipids produced significantly more sealed brood than bees fed the same food without pollen lipids (Table 1). Bees fed either 2% or 4% pollen lipids reared as much sealed brood as bees fed pollen, and 2! times as much as bees fed food without pollen lipids. Bees fed 8°~ pollen lipids reared only twice as much brood as bees fed without pollen lipids.

consumption of protein

When Do Bees Need Pollen?

Bees continuously need protein from pollen to support a healthy hive, but they require a substantial amount of pollen in the spring and summer months, when their brood production ramps up. They require a seriously large amount of pollen, as another study I researched stated, pollen collection by a colony ranges from 10 to 26 kilograms (kg) per year, or 22 to 27 pounds (lbs), and rearing one larva requires 25–37.5 mg protein, equivalent to 125–187.5 mg pollen.

Since we know pollen protein helps with brood production, beekeepers use pollen patties in the late winter and early spring to help to stimulate the colony to start their brood production. The timeframe for use can depend on where you live, since nectar flow can vary in different regions. The main benefit of a population boom is the hive will be ready to start bringing in nectar and producing honey as soon as the first flow starts, but if you’re wanting to create splits, feeding pollen protein will help to expand your hive quickly.

Some feed pollen patties in autumn, as there is usually a dearth of pollen at this time, and if you’re wanting a late autumn crop of honey this can help extend the season by generating another boost in brood.

It’s been noted that feeding pollen closer to the winter months or in preparation for over wintering, doesn’t benefit the colony, especially since the brood workers won’t survive the winter. If you want to boost the nutrition of the colony during the winter months, feeding a non-pollen-based protein patty would be ideal.

3 Types of Patties Explained

We carry 3 different protein patties, this way your bees get the best type of protein no matter where we are in the beekeeping season.

15% Pollen Protein – Use in spring & for new colonies, for a faster build-up so your hive is strong and ready for the honey flow or if you’re wanting to create splits

5% Pollen Protein – Use in spring for steady growth, or in the fall for winter preparation, so your bees are strong & healthy

0% Pollen Protein – In the winter you don’t want to encourage brood production, but you do want to feed them a balanced protein for overwintering nutrition, immune system boosts and balanced healthy diet. 

Shop for Pollen Protein Patties

 multi color bee pollen in hive frame

Bees with multi-colored pollen stored around brood for beebread

Sources

Journal of Apicultural Research: Brood Rearing and Food Consumption by Honeybee Colonies Fed Pollen Substitutes Supplemented with Starch-Encapsulated Pollen Extracts
https://pubag.nal.usda.gov/download/25390/pdf

Michigan State University: Feeding Honey Bees https://pollinators.msu.edu/resources/beekeepers/feeding-honey-bees/

National Library of Medicine: Bee Pollen: Chemical Composition and Therapeutic Application
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4377380/#:~:text=Pollen%20is%20quite%20a%20significant,7%25%20in%20the%20whole%20product.

Oxford Dictionary – Pollen https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/us/definition/english/pollen#:~:text=%2F%CB%88p%C9%92l%C9%99n%2F,make%20those%20flowers%20produce%20seeds

 

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