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Pollen feeders for honey bees

I was recently reminded of pollen feeders when I received a photo from Tammy Sill in Rhode Island. She said of her bees, “They roll in it like dogs on dead fish!!!” I have to agree. A good and plentiful source of autumn pollen will cause to bees to frolic as if they died and went to pollen heaven.

Tammy’s photo reminded that another beekeeper, Naomi Price of central Oregon, has been experimenting with pollen feeding for a couple of years. She says that watching honey bees collect pollen from a feeder is an education in itself.

tammy-sill-bees in pollen
Honey bees frolic in a pollen feeder. © Tammy Sill.

Feeding pollen in Oregon

Naomi and her husband had been worried about the fall supply of pollen because central Oregon’s weather pattern changed over the last few years. “We have had warmer than normal autumns that have little to offer foraging honey bees, hence they use up their valuable stores.”

She opted to purchase two pounds of bee-collected pollen from a highly-recommended local source. They ground the pellets into a powder and fed it back to the bees in an inexpensive homemade container. “It was more important that the bees be given the protein immediately rather than to worry about the human eye appeal of the pollen feeder,” she said of the plastic feeder. But the design worked perfectly and they continue to use it.

The main drawback was the expense of the pollen. “Oh well,” she said of the money. “The education was worth every penny spent for a good cause…Watching the honey bee carrying pollen is every beekeeper’s ah-ha moment.”

It turns out that the bees really packed it away. “My long hives usually store 2½ frames of pollen,” she said. “However, this extra pollen pushed the storage to 4+ frames.”

A simple pollen feeder

The following photos provided by Naomi and Larry, explain their ingenious system.

Bee-collected pollen
I started with two pounds of pollen from a reliable source.
Pollen in coffee grinder
It is best to grind small amounts of pollen pellets to produce dust that honey bees can forage. Here we used a coffee grinder.
2 liter plasic bottle
Select a container with a detachable and secure lid such as this two-liter plastic bottle.
Bottom cut from bottle
Cut out the bottom of the container to be used as the entrance and exit. Blue tape protects the rough-cut edges and presents a flower bull’s eye to the honey bee.
Bottle wrapped in tape.
The container needs to have daylight blocked so the honey bees can find the exit.
Drilling hole in tree truck
Larry used a screw to secure the container’s cap to a Juniper, upwind of the hive. Remember, honey bees usually fly into the wind because a slight breeze brings them fragrant forage information.
Installing feeder
The container can then be screwed into the lid. This container gives the pollen protection against wind and unexpected rain.
Filling the feeder
The container is loaded with a GENEROUS amount of dust. Remember, pollen is of no value to the honey bees if it is sitting on your refrigerator’s shelf.
Bees enjoying the pollen
We removed the feeder at night and brought it into the house to prevent moisture absorption by the pollen. We re-ground any dust left in the feeder and added it back the next morning. Our bees consumed 1# in three days. Most hives were bringing in three colors of pollen plus the offered pollen dust.
pollen-feeder-naomi-price-320
The second year we used the same type of container because they are easy to put up and take down. However, we added color to the outside instead of tape. We found the most important thing was to install the feeders upwind of the hives.

My own experiment was a “cat”astrophe

After reading these accounts from Naomi and Tammy, I was eager to set up my own experiment. So last week I placed three containers on the picnic table. One contained only pollen substitute, one contained a mixture of trapped pollen and pollen substitute, and the third contained only trapped pollen.

Once I was satisfied with my mixtures, I went to look for some tools. When I returned about five minutes later, the bowl of plain pollen substitute was empty. “What the?” I said aloud. Then I saw my cat doing this thing with her tongue. She was sticking it way out and scraping it against her teeth. Tongue, whiskers, and nose were dusted yellow and I thought she was going to choke to death. Who knew pollen substitute was such a yummy treat?

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

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Comments

Wei
Reply

Rusty,

I’ve thought about buying a pollen collector for this purpose but how long can you store it in the freezer before it loses its nutritional value for the bees?

Rusty
Reply

Wei,

According to The Hive and the Honey Bee, it can keep for several years if was frozen immediately after collection.

AramF
Reply

I have never been able to attract bees to the pollen sub powder. I hear anecdotal accounts of bees bringing in saw dust, wheat flour, chicken feed, but they seemed not at all interested in bringing in the sub. Except for the upwind trick, does anything else work to entice them?

Rusty
Reply

Aram,

So far, I haven’t had much luck either.

Anna
Reply

I add a drop of lemongrass oil to the front of the bucket.

Gloria
Reply

I would be interested in trying this out. Any suggestions on how far away can the feeders be placed? We have bears in the area and I would be afraid to put these too close to them, as they would have to be placed outside the electric fence.

Rusty
Reply

Gloria,

I don’t know but maybe someone else has some info?

Gene
Reply

Once the bees find the powdered pollen sub they will keep feeding on it. the trick is to get them interested in the first place, otherwise the sub powder will be ignored. I’ve had good luck getting the bees interested by pouring a little bit of leftover sugar syrup – about a cup or so – onto the sub powder which will draw the bees in for the syrup but once they’ve cleaned up the syrup they will keep coming back for the pollen sub. You may need to repeat this a couple of times but the bees will start feeding on the pollen sub. Try not to let your sub feeder run out or you may need to retrain the bees to your feeder again by using the sugar syrup.

Rusty
Reply

Gene,

I will definitely try this. I like the idea.

Rob
Reply

Hi Rusty,

We’re told not to feed honey from one hive to another because of risk of spreading disease, is there a similar risk with pollen?

Ta

Rusty
Reply

Rob,

Yes. See AFB-fortified pollen. If you don’t have AFB in your apiary, you can trap from one colony and use it in others. Or if you know your source apiary is AFB-free, you can use that. Caution is definitely necessary.

Carole
Reply

My bees will collect a little pollen substitute, but last year I found them going after the dust from cracked corn that I put out for the ducks! They collected that in favor of either pollen substitute I offered.

Rusty
Reply

Carole,

Try Gene’s trick and add a little syrup in the beginning. That’s what I’m going to try next.

TamFish
Reply

I have had pollen sitting in my refrigerator for a couple of years now. I bought for myself to try and never used it all. After reading the above info about freezing the pollen. Is this pollen bad now? Is there anything I can do with it?

Rusty
Reply

Tammy,

It’s probably not harmful in any way, but it has lost many of its health benefits. Phytochemicals degrade overtime, becoming less potent. I really don’t know what to do with it. It tastes horrible, even when fresh (IMHO).

Tammy SIII
Reply

It took a few days for bees to find pollen…once they found it, they called all their buddies over for dinner…even the bumble bees dined ❤️????????????????❤️ I placed my pollen in the syrup feeder, that I never use, and left it open…when it rains, I put a brood box over it with an entrance hole and a lid…they enter in, when they go out to gather.

Cal
Reply

I put my pollen sub feeder about 60′ in front of my hives. It takes the bees a week or so to really get interested in it and that only happens in late summer/early fall when the natural pollen sources are sparse and they’re looking for protein to raise those winter bees. My dog thinks pollen sub is great stuff, too!

Stacie Stone
Reply

I wonder if the pollen can be mixed with fondant and honey bee healthy in the form of home-made pollen patties for the winter?

Rusty
Reply

Stacie,

Absolutely.

Stacie Stone RN, PCCN
Reply

Rusy-

I know this is the time of the year to check for Varroa Destroyer. I am NOT seeing anything in the hive or on the bees. I watch the bees constantly when they are coming in and out of the hive for normal wings and the presence or absence of mites, and I don’t see anything abnormal. I have not done the powdered sugar test yet for this reason (I really don’t know how and, don’t want sugar in the hive). Should I do the sugar test or just use a “preventative APIVAR or other precautionary treatment? What do you recommend?

I am currently feeding my bees at an outside feeding station which include a rack that my husband welded together with flat metal and U-bolts that holds 3 quart mason jars. The brats are getting 2:1 with honey B healthy. This is a hive that I bought locally that was a swarm that was caught in April, and I acquired in the first week of May. They have 5 frames of honey for the winter (I live in Charleston, SC). I plan to feed Bee pro mixed with fondant and honey bee healthy after winter solstice.

Is there any thing else I should be doing?

Also, my bottom board is home-made. It has a screened bottom, front and back. My supers are ones that I ordered from Brushy Mnt. As I said, I live in SC- it still get cold and windy here. Should I consider I hive wrap? Or should I use straw or some other method of wind barrier?

Sorry to sound like a 2 year old pest- I am a newbee !

Thank you for this wonderful site that you have created! I reference it to others constantly!

Stacie 🙂

Rusty
Reply

Stacie,

I find it odd that you don’t want sugar in your hive but you’re okay with Apivar. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s different. But being beekeepers, I suspect we’re all a bit different.

As for mites, I recommend the sugar roll. You don’t have to dump it back into the hive, you can dump it in the ground and let the bees fly back. I recommend it because I don’t believe in treating if you don’t need to, but I believe in an accurate diagnosis. I haven’t seen any deformed wings or varroa on any of my bees for years, but when I do a sugar roll, there they are. That’s why we do it. The mites can easily hide between the segments of the bees where they are essentially invisible, and for most of the year about 80% of mites are hidden within capped brood cells, so we seldom, if ever, see them.

If you have a lot of wind, a straw barrier may break some of it. I wouldn’t wrap that far south. I’m not a fan of wrapping except in the most severe cold because of moisture build up. Cold won’t hurt dry bees, but it will kill wet bees. Keeping your bees dry and well fed, in my opinion, are the most important aspects of wintering. They can handle the cold.

Morris
Reply

Rusty,

Will you be repeating the “cat”astrophe experiment? Sounds like a really practical experiment.

Would you recommend a source of pollen? I have been interested in purchasing some but have been wary of possibly picking up AFB.

Will you be attending the conference at the Oregon Gardens later this month?

Rusty
Reply

Morris,

I will repeat the experiment, although I don’t know when. The rainy season up here has started with a vengeance, so the pollen experiment may have to wait until spring.

Naomi purchased her pollen from a man in Portland, but she said it was very expensive. I believe she said he was called The Pollen Man.

It was my fear of AFB that caused me to begin trapping my own pollen. I’m a bit wary of anything collected by unknown bees. It turns out I really had fun with the pollen traps. I tried both the top-mounted and bottom-mounted types, and found a world of difference in the cleanliness of the pollen. For me, top-mounted is the only way to go.

I think as beekeepers we tend to underestimate pollen requirements of bees. As the years tick by, I keep finding that lots of diverse pollen makes for healthy colonies. It’s obvious in hindsight, but it’s something many of us tend to overlook.

Stacie Stone RN, PCCN
Reply

Rusty-

Fort a foremost- I do not want to give the impression that I am pro pesticides because I am definately NOT! I am worried about sugar in the hive because I lost my very first hive to hive pests of all sorts as well as robbers! I was advised that the sugar-based bee candy that I had placed on my frames was a major factor as an attractor of the unwelcomed guest which subsequently overcame the hive. For unknown reasons, the queen was no where to be found! Of course there were other major factors such as that it was a newly split small nuc hive, and I had no training or experience in beekeeping! That was this past March. Since then, I have NEVER put anything sugary in my new hive and have had no major problems. I have an outside feeding station about 50′ from the hive. The girls are welcome to all the sugary water and fondant they can consume- OUTSIDE.

Now that I have had some experience, have more resources, and basic knowledge- I am capable of making better feeding choices and methods to prevent a castrophy!

OK- I will do the sugar roll after this MASSIVE hurricane Matthew has passed. I have to do storm preperation for the bees in addition to my own home today!

Rusty
Reply

Stacie,

Now that you explain it, I see what you are saying. Still, I don’t believe the sugar products caused your bee problems. Correlation does not mean causation. Honey is intensely sugar-laden and yet we don’t attribute all our hive problems to its presence. Except for Varroa, most predators attack weak colonies, but they do not cause weak colonies. A good strong, healthy colony will keep away the predators and protect its food supply, including any sugar candy that may be around. You listed some other factors, such as colony size and lack of experience, which I think are probably more relevant than the sugar.

In any case, best of luck with the hurricane. Tie down those hives!

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