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?
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.
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.
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.