Pollen is the major source of protein for honey bees. It is largely used to feed developing larvae and young bees to provide structural elements of muscles, glands and other tissues. It is also used in the production of royal jelly, which is a specialty food produced by worker bees that is fed to the queen, developing queen larvae, and worker larvae up to 72 hours of age.
When a colony is actively breeding, or during periods of heavy wax production (such as during a heavy honey flow), the demand for pollen is high. Wax glands use a lot of protein and a lack
of pollen or pollen with low nutritional values will have significant implications.
Pollen is the male germ of a flower. Field bees collect pollen from anthers of flowers and attach
the grains to their back legs, which act as pollen baskets. In the process of collecting pollen, bees
inadvertently carry out the function of pollination of the various plants they visit.
Some pollens are rich in amino acids; other pollens have very little. Some pollen grains have such hard outer cases the bees are unable to access the pollen inside.
What are the options if pollen is insufficient, or the hive is expanding and needs more protein?
One option is to physically move the hives into an area with a good pollen source. If this is not feasible, then feeding pollen or protein substitutes may need to be considered.
Some beekeepers trap pollen in the field and store for feeding back to their hives at a later date. Provided the pollen source is not deficient in the required amino acids, this method will work.
An alternative is to feed protein supplements.
These normally consist of natural pollen, soybean flour, yeast (torula, brewers, bakers etc) which together contain the quality and quantity of proteins and amino acids, lipids, vitamins, and minerals required for growth . Vitamin and Mineral supplements can also be added to the mix. The product can be combined with honey and/or sugar syrup and irradiated to eliminate any harmful organisms.
Some hives will devour protein cakes in a short time, others will leave them untouched.
For a strong hive, 500 grams per week should be adequate.
For a nucleus hive or a smaller colony, 100 gms would suffice.
The cakes can be placed on top of the brood frames, or between the top bars of the brood frames.
NOTE : The small hive beetle looks for protein rich food into which they lay eggs. Check that the bees are eating the protein cakes, and limit the amount in the hive at any one time. See the FAQ on the Small Hive Beetle .