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What are pollen patties and when should i use them?Updated a year ago



When it comes to being healthy, we all know that nutrition plays a big role.  We've all heard how we need to 'eat our greens' and in the ideal world we should be getting all we need from our diet, even if it means having a healthy smoothie for breakfast or multivitamin tablets during the day. Encouraging a healthy diet has even extended to our pets, with much more choice for dogs and cats to ensure they get what they need, depending on their age or breed.

But bees are often left out in the UK with the attitude of they don't need 'supplements' or if they need it they will get it themselves. This may even have been the case in the years gone by, but times have changed and the countryside is very different. Unfortunately increased demands on farming means hedgerows are disappearing and housing estates are replacing them. Sometimes even a view of green field after green field can bare nothing useful for bees and other pollinators without the borders of wild flowers or trees.

Ensuring the bees have enough carbohydrates is easy enough, you can feed them sugar syrup or fondant if they need stores. However for their protein part of their diet you need pollen patties.

Protein is needed for proper growth of the young bees so is vital in the spring to allow the colony to expand enough out of the winter. Generally the queen will start to lay brood as early as Jan/Feb. At first, only small patches of brood but ramping it up as the outside temperatures increase. This is important as the winter bees, the workers that have been in the hive since the autumn, will be getting old and tired. They need an influx of newer, younger bees to help take on the workload in the spring. Collecting pollen can be difficult with the weather being so up and down in the spring. Unlike honey, bees won't store pollen in any great amount so stores can run dry if they are stuck inside for any length of time. This is where pollen patties are useful, ensuring the colony has a supply of protein when it needs it.

There are two types of patty - pollen supplement or pollen substitute.  The pollen supplements will have actual pollen in it.  The substitutes don't contain actual pollen in it but are a heavy protein based patty which does the same job.

The key to remember with all pollen patties is the bees will only use them when they have no choice.  Natural pollen is far more preferred by the bees so if there is an adequate source, they will ignore the patties. This means there is no reason to use them apart from early season, late season, or if you are in an area that gets 'the June Gap' - a period which can last a few weeks where the spring flowers end but the summer flowers haven't started flowering.

The independent beekeeper/scientist, Randy Oliver, who has done some great studies, did one on pollen patties.  Although American based, and not all the patties he used are available in the UK, his results showed an improvement in all colonies that were fed patties compared to nothing.  His full report can be viewed here:
Ideal time for pollen patties is either Early Spring, or late Autumn - when the bees are at their most 'stressed' period.
Remember, if you start feeding patties to simulate the colony early, you'll need to keep giving them patties until the season starts and they can support themselves on their own.
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