Bees: Feeding Pollen in Early Spring

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Early spring marks an unsettling time for beekeepers.  The weather can fluctuate between winter conditions to a gorgeous short-sleeve type of day.  We worry.  Have the bees survived the last round of cold weather?  Is the hive strong?  Are enough plants blooming to provide food for the brood and the rest of the colony?

commercially available pollen substitute

commercially available pollen substitute

Now while we can’t control the weather or how strong the hive is at the beginning of spring, we can give our hives a helping hand.  Namely, we can provide pollen so the colony has a protein source.

According to The Beekeeper’s Handbook 4th Edition by Diana Sammataro and Alphonse Avitabile,  “Beekeepers feed bees pollen, pollen supplements and pollen substitutes to initiate, sustain, and increase brood rearing.”  And as experienced beekeeper’s know, the queen begins laying eggs in late winter, which can be late January through February.  At this time of year (for areas that experience snow and below freezing temperatures) little to no plants are blooming during these months.  This is further compounded by the fact that bees have limited food stores left in their hives.

Since dried pollen is such a fine powder, how exactly does one feed pollen (or substitutes) to bees?  The answer is… build a pollen feeder!  Now before you worry about breaking your budget, take heart that a pollen feeder can built new for approximately $10.  Or if you can go the thrifty route by searching at garage sales, thrift stores, Craigslist, or even FreeCycle.

pollen feeder

pollen feeder

In the photo, the pollen feeder pictured is made from a drain pipe, pvc adapater (for attaching to down spouts), and an end cap for a drain pipe.  The important thing to keep in mind is to use materials that will not absorb moisture.   The feeder shown is made entirely of plastic.  To securely attach these plastic pieces, use an adhesive made for plastic.

Once the feeder has been assembled, it is now ready to be filled.  Fill the feeder approximately 2/3 – 3/4 full as this feeder is meant to be used on its side.  (If the feeder was left in an upright position, moisture would be able to enter the feeder and potentially spoil the pollen or pollen substitute.)  Position the feeder in the yard near the hives in a horizontal position.  If you are concerned about the wind blowing it around, you can attach it to a fence, stump, or even secure it to a straw bale.

top view of feeder

top view of feeder

Now you can sit back and wait for the bees to discover it.  Once they do, they will make foraging trips to this feeder.  Then when spring has truly sprung and provides blooming plants, remove the feeder from the yard.  Bees should now be able to collect enough pollen from natural sources.   So even though early spring is a time of concern, pollen feeders give beekeepers one less thing to worry about.

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18 responses »

  1. I’ll have to show my son this – he is our resident beekeeper. Our bees are foraging but there isn’t much blooming right now. Thanks for sharing!

    • We really watch our bees in the early spring to see if we need to set out the pollen feeder or not. This time of year, we are still at risk of a freeze and/or snowstorm, so the potential to lose what is in bloom is there. It gives us peace of mind that we can provide a pollen source to the bees if they need it.

  2. What a wonderful idea !!! I will use this one next spring, as my bees did not make it through the harsh winter we had in NW Ohio. I shall continue on and get a package this spring and start over.

    • For us, this really made a difference. Given our weather, bees start flying in February/March, but very little is blooming and there is very little food left in the hives. (And the pollen feeders are really easy to make.)

    • Enjoy! We had previously used pollen patties, but the bees never seemed to care about them. But with the dry pollen… they go nuts over it. And in early spring, it gives us one less thing to worry about.

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