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Using a top-mounted pollen trap

Never before have I been interested in collecting pollen, but suddenly I’m obsessed with it. Beekeepers often say that the worse part of pollen collection is having to empty the traps every day, and I suppose that duty could get old after a time. But right now, I can hardly wait to see what my bees bring home each day.

I spent many hours last winter studying descriptions of the various traps and reading what other beekeepers said about them. I ended up with the Sundance II top-mounted trap, which is certainly not the cheapest one, but it sounded like it would produce clean pollen and the users mostly like it.

Once it arrived, I found it to be a most perplexing gadget. It was hard for me to understand how it works because I can’t actually see down inside. It comes with instructions and explanations, but not being able to see what they are describing made it mysterious. Of course I get it now. More importantly, the bees got it without reading anything.

A bottom-mounted trap isn’t appealing because I don’t want to lift brood boxes just to add or remove the trap. The front-mounted types sound doable, but the pollen is not as protected from rain and dew as in the top-mounted traps. I could use a side-opening model for some of my hives that are against buildings, but I couldn’t find a top-mounted trap with a side drawer.

After just two week of trapping, I can say the pollen in the top-mounted trap is extremely clean with no hive debris at all. The only thing I have to do is empty the drawer each day and slide it back in the hive.

Problems with the set-up

I had two problems with the trap, and both had to do with setting it up. The instructions say to make sure the bees you use are already accustomed to a top entrance. It took me almost three weeks to accomplish this. At first, I closed the bottom entrance and gave them an Imirie shim with a small entrance just below the telescoping cover, but they just would not use it. By evening, the foragers were all clustered outside the hive and I ended up letting them in at night by opening the bottom entrance.

After many days of this, I took a 3-inch deep shim, drilled three one-inch holes in the front and used that instead of the Imirie shim. That worked. They took to it immediately, and three days later when I replaced it with the pollen trap, they switched over seamlessly.

The other problem I had was with the telescoping lid, which will not fit down over the top of the pollen trap. I tried various spacers, and ended up using two inner covers on top of the pollen trap and then the telescoping cover. Even now I can’t pull out the pollen drawer without lifting the lid about a quarter-inch. I’m sure there must be a better way to set this up, but I’m not there yet. In spite of these hiccups, the trap works really well, and my bees don’t seem put off by it.

Leaving enough pollen for the bees

I’ve read conflicting reports about how long you can leave a trap in place without affecting brood rearing. Some say you should leave the trap open about three days out of every seven. Others say they leave the trap on all summer because plenty of pollen gets through in spite of the trap. I’m sure there is variation among traps, but at this point, I’m still taking it off every few days to be on the safe side.

I’ve also read that pollen traps reduce honey production because the trap slows down the coming and going of bees and therefore reduces nectar accumulation. This makes sense to me, so I’ve identified what I believe are my good honey producers, and they won’t have pollen traps. I’ve also identified two hives that I’m using for pollen collection. At this point, I’m just moving the trap between the two hives every three or four days.

Drones and pollen traps

One question I still have: what happens to the drones? All the traps I’ve seen have drone escapes so the drones can leave the hive. However, as long as the trap is closed, the drones can’t get back in. Do they just drift to other hives as drones like to do? It’s odd, but I never see any drones at the pollen-trapping hives. They seem to know they can’t get back in without even trying. I know that sounds silly, but I am curious about what happens to them and how they figure it out.

I also wonder what affect, if any, the missing drones have on drone production in the hive. The number of drones is regulated by the number of drone cells the workers build, but do the workers build more drone cells when no drones are hanging about, or are they satisfied with the number of drones that were already raised? I don’t know the answers here.

Freezing: do it soon and do it often

As for storing the pollen, I put it in the freezer immediately after collection. I plan to feed it back to the bees in early spring to aid colony build-up. I’m also using it to identify what my colonies are foraging on, although this is a work in progress because I’m just beginning to learn about pollen identification. I’m also thinking about selling it, but just thinking at this point. Many people like to consume local pollen for allergies. Personally, I’m not convinced it works, but if someone wanted to buy it, I might be open to the possibility.

If anyone has experience with collecting pollen, I’d love to learn more. Any advice is welcome.

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

Upper-entrances in a three-inch shim
After I drilled three large entrance holes into a shim, the bees had no trouble converting to an upper entrance. © Rusty Burlew
Pollen-in-tray
A couple of hours worth of pollen in the collection tray. © Rusty Burlew.
Freshly-collected-pollen
The pollen from the top-mounted trap is very clean and free of hive debris. © Rusty Burlew

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Comments

Ruth
Reply

I’ve been using the plastic yellow pollen traps on a couple of my topbar hives for a few years. This small trap doesn’t seem to affect their brood production at all. I’m not sure how it might influence nectar collection, but my 2 hives adjust nicely to it. I harvest the pollen each day and put it in the freezer in an uncovered container so some of the moisture can evaporate out of the pollen. Then it goes in a Ziploc bag. I take the pollen daily for medicinal reasons, and I think it’s wonderful stuff. I run an apitherapy page on Facebook that would have some photos if you are interested in seeing them. https://www.facebook.com/groups/apitherapy/

Rusty
Reply

Ruth,

How do you consume the pollen pellets? Whole or ground up? Plain or with something? I hear they taste not so great. Is that true? People frequently ask me these things and I’m more or less clueless. Thanks for any insight.

Ruth
Reply

The taste is usually “not so great”. It does vary based on what they are bring back to the hive. For medicinal purposes, the pollen is best mixed with raw honey and allowed to “steep” on the counter top for 14 days so the pollen shells begin to break down. That way, we can absorb more of the nutrition in the pollen. I really can’t stand the taste of that, even when I add cinnamon to the mix. Since I take about a tablespoon a day, I end up encapsulating the pollen pellets in gelatin capsules. Pollen is very perishable at room temperature, unless it is mixed with honey or sugar, so I only have out the number of pollen capsules that I will be consuming within a few days. The rest of the capsules are stored in the freezer along with the bulk pollen. If a beekeeper is wanted to feed it back to their bees, they need to be aware of the perishable nature of the pollen, or mix it with table sugar or honey before feeding it back to the hives.

Rusty
Reply

Thank you, Ruth. Good information.

Dawn
Reply

Great writing, Rusty. You are almost making me want to try it! 🙂

Very useful info on how to make a top entrance which appeals to your bees too. How will you deal with debris accumulating on the bottom board if you only have a top entrance?

Rusty
Reply

Good question, Dawn. For now, I’m just removing the entrance reducer every couple of weeks and clearing the bottom board with a stick. Very high tech.

Nancy
Reply

Rusty,

Our April speaker, Kentucky State Apiarist Dr Tammy Horn Potter, related having had her honey tested for its pollen content. It was fascinating! She recommended that all beekeepers do this, as another indicator of how well we are providing for our bees.
Here’s the information.
The Palynology Laboratory at Texas A&M University will analyze your honey samples for a cost of $60. per sample, announces Vaughn M. Bryant, Ph.D.professor of anthropology.
Palynology Laboratory, Department of Anthropology,
Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843-4352.
Anthropology Office phone (979) 845-5242. Fax (979) 845-4070.
Dr. Bryant’s email: vbryant@tamu.edu.

The reason it’s in the Anthropology department is that they study pollen from ancient lake beds, archaeological sites and glaciers, for information about climate, early people’s diets and agriculture, and the development of plants.
I can’t wait to get mine analyzed. Tammy said you think you know where your bees are foraging, but you get some surprises.
Glad you’re collecting pollen to feed your bees, The “hooey” about medical/nutritional value of pollen is almost enough to make me appreciate vegans. Almost.
Nan
Shady Grove Farm
Corinth, KY

Rusty
Reply

Thanks Nan. This is really tempting. I would love to know where my honey really comes from (I think).

Bill Abell
Reply

Hi Rusty,
Have you been able to identify visually from the pollen the plants that are producing the most pollen in your area? I have never collected pollen but I am thinking it might be another good management tool. I might try it. Do you know of any studies that suggest or conclude it is or is not harmful to build up and any necessary timing? Also, we have SHB here and I have given up on pollen patties so I would feed dry. I have fed Mega Bee dry to the bees to avoid SHB but I can’t tell if they are really using it much. Thanks.

Bill

Rusty
Reply

Bill,

I can identify some of the pellets by their color, especially those where there is lots and lots available and I have watched the bees collect it. Red alder comes to mind, as does blackberry. I’m beginning to learn to identify some under the microscope although many grains are so small you would need better equipment than what I have.

This subject was discussed a lot in my master beekeeping class, but basically honey bees hoard pollen the way they do honey, so you can safely harvest a certain amount of it. If they feel short, they will just collect more. The traps vary, of course, but I’ve read that most take about 30% of what the bees bring in. The only warnings I’ve read are that it is pointless to trap during a major honey flow because you are just reducing the speed at which the bees collect nectar. Also, small or weak hives should not be burdened with a pollen trap, which makes sense.

Also, of course, you don’t want a trap on the hive if you have virgin queens that need to mate and return.

Perhaps I never posted them, but a few people have sent me photos of their outdoor pollen feeders. Most take the pellets and pulverize them and then put the powder in a rain-proof feeder. This allows the bees to collect the pollen but keeps it out of the hive and away from the beetles. I’ve been told that the bees like the real thing much more than the substitute.

I’ve hesitated collecting pollen for about ten years, so I understand your feeling on this. I’m just learning myself, so I will try to post as I go. So far, it’s different than I expected and a lot of fun.

I will try to figure out whether I posted about the outdoor feeders. If I didn’t, I will put something together.

Nick
Reply

Rusty
I really like this website. It is very well organised and has easy to understand information/content. for example, I was very concerned about how to do a walk-away-split and read numerous articles, etc. Your explanation was the clearest and easiest by far. We will be following your instructions when we do a split is the coming weeks.
Thanks for your guidance on this and other topics.
Nick

Adam
Reply

Rusty,

Do you know of a way to sanitize real pollen from another hive? I’ve heard (and I believe it was from you) that bee diseases such as AFB and EFB can be transferred via pollen. Are there methods that could be used at home? I don’t have access to any irradiative sources.

Rusty
Reply

Adam,

The point of collecting your own pollen is to avoid having to use pollen from an unknown source. I believe “sanitizing” it would destroy the properties you are trying to preserve.

Cory
Reply

Rusty ,

Your 3 inch shim with the holes are you getting burr comb? Could this be used as a top entrance for long term?

Rusty
Reply

Cory,

I didn’t get any, but I only used it for about two weeks. I suppose you could use it long term. Even if it gets burr comb, it takes only about three seconds to remove it.

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