Collecting pollen from honey bees
For several reasons, I have never collected pollen from my hives. I never considered pollen to be human food, it seemed like a lot of work to process, and I never wanted to steal it from my bees.
But this past winter I’ve learned some things that caused me to re-evaluate the whole pollen-trapping idea. For example:
- While older papers claim humans are not capable of digesting pollen, some newer work has shown we can digest at least some of it. I remain skeptical but interested in learning more.
- Easier-to-use pollen traps have become available. I never wanted a trap that fit under the hive, because you have to remove it just when the hives are at their heaviest. But now alternate styles of trap are readily available.
- Many papers have reported on pollen substitutes and bee health. Nearly every report I’ve read says that although honey bees can survive on pollen substitutes, to really thrive and maximize their potential, they need the real thing, or at least a mixture containing the real thing.
- Pollen inventories can be fun. By separating your pellets by species, you can learn what your bees are collecting and when, and what the proportions are. Furthermore, you can actually see how adjacent colonies stock their shelves differently. Beekeepers and palynologists in your local area can help you identify many species by examining the individual grains under a microscope.
- Just as honey bees make excess honey (enough for us to harvest) they also collect excess pollen. By using good judgment, a beekeeper should be able to collect pollen without harming the colony.
- Once collected, you have the choice of eating it, selling it, or saving it for bee feed—so many options. I’ve heard that bee-collected pollen sells quickly to both beekeepers and the public.
The Sundance II came with a detailed set of instructions, including how to use the trap and how to collect and store the pollen. But I have to say, I’ve never spent so long trying to figure out a piece of bee equipment.
When the trap arrived, I read the instructions twice, and turned the thing over and over while looking at the diagrams of where the bees go before I finally got a mental picture of what goes on in there. Once I understood the basics, I painted the outside a bright canary yellow, and now I’m itching to put it on a hive.
Standing in front of my hives on these weirdly warm February days, I can already see a respectable assortment of pollen: creamy white, mushroom, butter yellow, orange, rust, and emergency red. I’m really looking forward to taking a sample, dividing it up by color, and then trying to figure out whence it came.
I don’t know how many beekeepers trap pollen. When I think back over six-plus years of answering questions, I don’t remember anyone asking me about it. Not that I could have answered, but it gives me the feeling that not everyone is into it. Still, in the space of one winter I went from not caring to being overly eager, so it could happen to you too.
Honey Bee Suite
1Wang, W., J. Hu and L. Xu. 1987. Study of the digestibility and absorptibility of unbroken-walled pollen. Food Science (Beijing) 10:1-4.
2Standifer, L.N., M.H. Haydak, J.P. MIlls, and M.D. Levin. 1973. Value of three protein rations in honey bee colonies in outdoor flight cages. J. Apiculture Research 12:137-143.
3Hellmich II, R.L., Kulincevic, J.M., Rothenbuhler, W.C. 1985. Selection for high and low pollen-hoarding honey bees. Journal of Heredity 76:155-158.