Autumn Management: The When, Why and How of Feeding Pollen Supplements

It may not be too obvious but feeding sugar syrup or pollen have each of their purposes. Usually, bees are fed sugar syrup when there is a nectar dearth. Sugar syrup is used to mimic nectar; however, it will not have a similar nutritional quality.

When to Feed Pollen?

There is indeed a thing called pollen dearth. In some areas, especially during autumn, most plants will not have either nectar or pollen. This comes back to understanding the flow in your area. Observe your frames and check whether is there nectar deposits and pollen deposits. If you see your bees with full corbicula’s (pollen basket) when coming back to the hive, then you may not need a supplement.

Why Feed Pollen?

Many beekeepers, especially commercial ones tend to feed their colonies with supplements during late winter or early spring. This stimulates a boost to the brood production which ensures a big population of bees. This is mainly a part of a preparation before splitting hives, selling bees and maximising honey production.

This is not always the reason though. For most of us, especially last season, there was not enough pollen due to the drought. If you’re in an area where it’s usually rainy during pollen production, chances are that the bees won’t be able to collect as much pollen as they need. Pollen foraging is also reduced for long periods due to bad weather, as a result, the bees can’t leave the hive.

There are also cases where pollen is adequate, however, lacks in quality and nutritional value. This means that the pollen that the bees may have collecting lacks protein, which is the main purpose of pollen. Few signs for these are low larvae survival, cannibal nurse bees (when they eat the eggs or larvae) or “dry brood”. Dry brood occurs when the nurse bees do not have adequate protein levels where they use to produce royal jelly. When inspecting your brood, the eggs and larvae will look “dry”, only sitting on a puddle of jelly instead of being submerged in it.

In these cases, pollen alternatives or supplements help support your colonies to maintain the brood feeding and production until they can naturally forage.

However, while supplementing pollen is good, it’s not always necessary. There’s a good reason why there’s a slow down during autumn and winter and it is usually due to the colder temperatures. During winter, the queen can take a break from laying eggs, which prepares her for spring. The brood requires warm temperatures and use food stores and it is harder for the worker bees to sustain them during winter.

Overall, it is best to understand your area, where you can then make a better-informed decision. You may also choose to plant autumnal flowering plants that can naturally help you bees supply of both nectar and pollen.

Methods of Feeding Pollen Supplements

These are the recommended forms of the feeding of the pollen supplements, especially for Feedbee as this is what we use. We generally recommend using frame feeders or top feeders as a way of feeding due to many reasons. Internal feeding is better than feeding in the open especially this time of year.

Powder Form

This is pretty straightforward. Using a powder form, you can basically feed the bees with a simple shallow depth container filled with the supplement. If you can, draw out some of the empty frames and feed internally. Otherwise, you can simply use a frame feeder or a top feeder where bees have easy access.

Patty Form

Patty’s are made by mixing it with sugar syrup. You can DIY and see if your bees like it soft or slushy. We follow a formula from FeedBee as different brands have different preferences. Feedbee recommends mixing 16.8L of sugar water (50% sugar syrup and 11.2L of warm water) with 20kg of Feedbee. Which means if you’re using 1kg of Feedbee, mix at least half a litre of sugar water (50% sugar syrup with 300mL of warm water). If results are not under your preferences, feel free to add more water.

Liquid Form

The recommended mixture is when using 20kg of Feedbee, mix with 40L of sugar water (50% sugar syrup and 20L warm water). Leave it covered overnight then pour the liquid mix to your top feeder or frame feeder.

If you’re only using 1kg of Feedbee, simply mix with 2L of sugar water (50% sugar syrup and 1L of warm water). This is best if you have at least 2 to 3 hives.

So, do you think you need to feed your bees with pollen supplements? Check how strong your colony is first and decide from there!