A pollen trap is a device that fits over the hive entrance and forces returning foragers to crawl through small openings in order to enter the hive. The openings are so small that some of the pollen pellets are stripped from the bees’ legs and fall into a collection tray. The number of pollen pellets collected in this way varies with the size of the openings and the size of the pellets, but typical traps may collect 30-70% of the pellets.
The purpose of collecting pollen is to keep a reserve of high-quality protein for use during early spring brood rearing or for queen rearing. This pollen is often mixed with soybean flour or brewer’s yeast to make pollen patties which are then placed on top of the frames for the bees to eat.
Like the infamous mouse trap, the pollen trap is always being re-designed. There are bottom-mounted, top-mounted, side-opening, and back-opening pollen traps. They are made of wood or plastic and have mesh openings or drilled openings. Many are opened and closed easily, so they can be engaged or disengaged. In short, there is a trap for every taste.
Regardless of the design, however, some issues remain constant:
- Trapped pollen is fragile. It needs to be collected every day and frozen or dried immediately to maintain quality.
- Trapped pollen must not get wet, as it will mold and decay rapidly.
- Only strong colonies should have traps. Weaker colonies need all the pollen they can collect to raise brood.
- Traps should only be used during heavy pollen flows, and only for several weeks at most. When pollen is scarce, the colonies will need it all.
Much disagreement surrounds the use of pollen traps. Some beekeepers believe it reduces nectar collection because the congestion at the hive entrance slows the movement of foragers. Some believe that change in the opening configuration disrupts the bees for several days each time the trap is deployed.
Nevertheless, there is no better source of protein for brood development and queen rearing than high-quality pollen, so many beekeepers like to keep a supply on hand. But if you decide to trap pollen, remember that it requires constant manipulation and collection. If you don’t keep up with it, you can ruin the pollen and damage your colony.