feeding bees

Recipe for bee-scrumptious dry pollen substitute

The addition of vitamin C is optional, but many beekeepers believe it encourages the bees to consume the pollen substitute. The mix can be put in an open feeder (such as a bird feeder) in early spring when the bees are flying but the flowers are not yet in bloom.

Dry pollen substitute

Serves: Many
Prep time: 15 minutes
Allergy: Milk, Soy
Dietary: Gluten Free, Vegetarian
Meal type: Side Dish, Snack
Misc: Pre-preparable
Occasion: Spring, Winter


3 Parts soy flour
1 Part brewer’s yeast
1 Part dry milk (instant or non-instant baker’s milk)
1 teaspoon of vitamin C (for every 6 cups of mixture)


It is best to measure these ingredients by weight instead of volume. For example, if you use three pounds of soy, use one pound of yeast and one pound of dry milk.


  1. Put the first three ingredients in a bowl.
  2. Take some vitamin C tablets and crush them into a powder.
  3. Add one teaspoon of crushed vitamin C for every six cups of mix.
  4. Thoroughly combine the ingredients.
  5. In the winter, the dry pollen substitute can be sprinkled on the top bars or put in a feeder above the brood box. In the early spring, the mix can be placed in a bird feeder or other covered container near the hive.

Discover more from Honey Bee Suite

Subscribe to get the latest posts sent to your email.


  • Rusty,

    Isn’t Vitamin C just citric acid? It’s sold with canning supplies in powdered form. Would the measure be the same? I think it has some sugar added but that wouldn’t hurt.

    At our meeting Monday, three of our beekeepers mentioned seeing bees at their bird feeders during last week’s warm spell, and the senior guy said they would feed on cornmeal or corn dust in the birdseed. I have seen them around spilled sweetfeed but I thought it was the molasses they were after.

    I am just hoping the Water Maples are out as soon as the bees are.


    • Hi Nan,

      Vitamin C is closely related to ascorbic acid, not citric acid. I say closely related because ascorbic acid is a synthetic form of vitamin C and they are not identical.

      Bees will collect powder of all kinds, even spores from fungus and concrete dust. It is up to the nurse bees to decide if the powder brought in has any value to it.

  • I always wonder if this type of feeding is really necessary…it has always been my thought that the bees don’t really need us. We take care of them the best we can…help keep the hive nice, fresh water nearby, monitor the health of the colony and help when possible, but they really can get all their needs from nature. How do you all feel?

    • Jean,

      I feel that can get all they need from nature as long as we haven’t screwed up the “nature” they have access to. We can’t assume it has the same value to bees as before we mucked with it by changing the floral composition, using herbicides, changing the climate, lining it with roads, or any number of things. It will depend on the individual situation.

      • Thank you, Rusty! 🙂 I appreciate you answering my concern….i know there is truth to what you say…unfortunately. I have been keeping bees for nine years, and overall the bees seem weaker than when i first started keeping them. I have 6 hives. I am also a cut flower farmer in Mathews Co., Va. I sell my flowers, honey, some veggies and herbs at local farmers markets. I try to take good care of my bees and feel i usually succeed, but have to watch what i do closely, trying to make some dollars and sense of it all too!

  • Hey . . . I am new to the site, and I see my picture is a strange little bug! 🙂 How do I change my picture . . . I have looked around a little and can’t seem to find the answer. Thanks!

    • Jean,

      You can get a Gravatar, which is a picture you select which will appear automatically when you post a comment. You can get it here: https://en.gravatar.com/. However, I will soon be taking down the “little monsters” (due to complaints) and will replace them with something boring like colored squares.

  • Rusty: Different subject. Being a new beekeeper here in Northern Mi. I made a VERY quick check (1/14) on my 2 hives and noticed that the bees ate fondant prior to eating their own stores of honey. Is this normal? Just wondering. Phil

    • Phil,

      Ha! Very good question. Bees adore pure sugar and I’ve never seen a hive that didn’t eat the sugar first. In fact, it makes it hard to tell if they have any honey remaining, since they gobble down the sugar as if there were no choice. I cannot tell you why this is, but it is a fact. However, sugar contains much less ash than honey, which means eating sugar can prevent honey bee dysentery (diarrhea).

  • Must it be active yeast? Can one use the by-product of fermentation from beer? I.e. dead yeast? I know this sounds crazy but nothing you can’t handle. 🙂

    • Michelle,

      As a long-time beer brewer, I will take a stab at this. I do not believe it needs to be active. In fact, I never filter my beer because all those little dead yeast bodies at the bottom of the bottle are extremely nutritious, especially high in all the B vitamins (and probably bee vitamins as well). If you do not drink the slurry at the bottom, you are not getting all the health benefits of beer! So, I will try to research this point, but my hunch is the bees will benefit from yeast, dead or alive.

    • I have been feeding an icing sugar paste to my bees. They seem to love it. Is this ok?


  • Hi Rusty
    Could I just put real pollen into the fondant cakes I have on the hives at the moment? I am thinking of mixing a small amount of pollen in, with a little tree tree oil and vit. C and using it as substitute to the fondant.

      • Hi. I’m new and I would like to ask if I can’t get soy flour and on the ingredients, can I use soy mince or chickpeas flour?

        • Eric,

          Soy mince is also known as textured vegetable protein, so I don’t think it would work in this recipe. And regarding chickpea flour, I don’t know. We know soy flour has an amino acid profile that works for honey bees. So check the amino acid profile of chickpeas against soy flour and see if it contains all the same amino acids.

          Soy flour is pretty common. I think you can buy it in most grocery stores.

  • Okay, I’ve been doing research about this brewer’s yeast issue. If I use dead yeast from a brew it would have alcohol in it. Therefore I would need to cook the alcohol off before feeding it back to bees. I could probably do so by spreading out in a pan in the oven at low temp.

    On the other hand, finding that particular strain of yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, in bulk, in my area is not possible. But they do have a general “distiller’s yeast” in one pound packs for $6.99. That is affordable and local. Do you think that would work?

    • Michelle,

      Most brewers yeast, bread yeast, and wine yeast are different strains of the same species, Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Any of the strains would work for this purpose. You can try restaurant supply stores, brewers supply stores, health food stores, and you can certainly find it online. I read online that distillers yeast is just another strain of S. cerevisiae, so that should work.

      Also, alcohol evaporates quickly. You can just leave the dregs spread out at room temperature a few hours and most of the alcohol will leave.

  • Rusty,

    I just wanted to mention that folks should be aware of genetically modified ingredients for bee feeding. Most soy (about 90% in the US), most corn, and increasing amounts of sugar beet (not cane) are genetically modified to include systemic pesticides like BT. Also because of modification to make these crops “round-up ready” it is likely that these staple crops are sprayed heavily with glyphosate, which is one of the pesticide currently being found harmful to bees. If I were to use any of these, I’d make sure they are organic, which isn’t 100% free of GM material, but would be much less so, and at least would contain much lower pesticide residue (about 5 times less, in recent studies). Sorry to be a downer, but I though people should at least think about it.

    • Leslie,

      This is pretty much true, except that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and systemic pesticides are not the same. They act similarly on the insect, but in a genetically modified organism, a gene—such as one from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt)—is spliced into the DNA of the plant. The gene produces a protein that is toxic to insects. On the other hand, a systemic pesticide is applied outside the plant and is taken up by the plant’s vascular system and distributed throughout. The systemic pesticide is in the plant, but not part of its genetic structure. Very different.

      The other issue here is that organic sugar should not be fed to bees. The sugar itself is not the problem, but the way it is processed allows it to retain too much ash. As such, it can cause honey bee dysentery. You can read the details here: Is organic sugar better for bees?

      The issues surrounding pesticides, GMOs, organic agriculture, and responsible beekeeping are complex. We are just beginning to understand the potential for complication and we are nowhere near a workable solution.

    • One of our beekeepers had honey samples sent in from all who were interested in what pollens were in their honey. (It was for part of her college degree.) One of our club members reported on the results of her sample: 60% was soybean. Since most beans around here are not GMO free, one can believe most was gmo pollen. Her 2 hives produced 200 pounds of honey this year.

  • How do you get the bees to take the dry pollen? When I’ve tried it I’ve placed it in a bucket laid on it’s side with a large hole in the cover. I spray it with honey bee healthy and the bees just fly right by, even when I put it a few feet from the hive. I’ve avoided pollen patties because I’ve read that in the south SHB go crazy on them.

    • Chris,

      I just sprinkle it on a board or picnic table, and they collect every last crumb. But bees won’t collect pollen if they don’t need it, so maybe your bees have enough. In the winter I use pollen patties. Make them small so they get used up before the beetles find them, and don’t leave them in there if the bees aren’t interested.

  • Hi,

    Let me first tell you that I am new to beekeeping.

    as the fall is already there and winter is going to start. What i find in my hives is very less honey, no pollen and no eggs. Actually the autumn crop was destroyed due heavy rains and flood. I feed them sugar syrup these days and they are doing well in storing it. What i am scared of is, “can they survive without pollen for almost five months?”

    I am again telling you that i am new to beekeeping. Please let me know is sugar syrup sufficient or i will need some sort of pollen substitutes ?
    In our area there are no such substitutes sold. So, looked for making some on my own and fortunately i got the recipe. But the problem is that brewers yeast is not available in market here. Can i make pollen substitute from other ingredients leaving brewers yeast aside ?

    soya+milk powder+vitamin c

    Please please please help me guys

    Thanks in advance

    • Syed,

      Your bees won’t need very much pollen until after the winter solstice. The pollen is primarily used when the nurse bees need to produce royal jelly to feed the young brood. You can substitute something other than brewer’s yeast. Brewer’s yeast is just one of many possibilities. If you search for pollen substitute recipes, I’m sure you will find more ideas.

  • Thanks a lot, but I couldn’t find any which excludes brewers yeast. Could you please help me in that issue?

    • Syed,

      Off hand, I don’t know. Does anyone out there have a recipe for pollen substitute that does not use brewer’s yeast? Please let us know.

  • Thanks a lot Rusty for your concern.

    A couple more questions guys. Will the pollen substitute stimulate the queens to lay eggs and raise new brood? I mean I am bothered about the lifespan of bees, can they survive for 4-5 months of winter?

    And how would I come to know that they are utilizing the patties properly? Will they store it like pollen?

    Thank you in advance

    • Syed,

      I don’t think pollen substitute stimulates egg laying nearly as much as syrup. Of course, without pollen or pollen substitute, brood cannot be raised, so the production of brood requires both.

      Although summer bees live a brief lifespan of 4 to 6 weeks, winter bees are physiologically different and can live up to 10 months, especially in cold climates.

      I don’t know the answer to your last question. I have never seen bees store pollen from patties, but I suppose it is possible. In my experience, they pretty much leave the patties alone unless they are actively raising brood without a natural supply of pollen available. I seldom use pollen patties, but when I do, I don’t give them until post-winter brood rearing begins.

      Pollen patties in the hive often dry out and they may lure parasites such as small hive beetles. If you have pollen-producing plants in late winter—and most places do—you don’t actually need pollen patties unless you have long periods of no-fly weather.

      • Hey Rusty,

        This is in regards to the pollen patties drying out. Could you coat them in a very thin layer of beeswax with a few open spaces for the bees to get at the patty? Wouldn’t they use the wax as well as the patty and the wax would keep it from drying out too much? Obviously SMH is a concern for warmer states but I think WI climate might be a little harsh for them to do very well. No?

        • Catie,

          I don’t know if the wax coating would work, but it certainly would be worth a try. If it did work, it would be a clever solution.

          By SMH do you mean small hive beetle?

          • Yes, sorry. I’ve read SMH as an abbreviation for small hive beetle in various places (mostly Facebook, I’m sure) and I guess it wormed its way into my brain. Is there a map or series of maps somewhere similar to the one for Zombees you mention for the spread of other honey bee afflictions and pests? For small hive beetle and tracheal mites for instance. I’ve been reading about them but can’t find clear descriptions of their distribution across the United States or the world. It’s something that I’m curious about, the correlations, between climate and pests.

            • Catie,

              I like to know how SMH translates to SHB. Oh well. I’m sure there are distribution maps available for beetles and tracheal mites, but I don’t know where. In their heydey, tracheal mites were all over North America, then they almost disappeared, and now they seem to be coming back. Interesting stuff.

  • Rusty, is there an alternative to soy flour that you know of, can’t get pure soy flour anywhere in Wellington, NZ

    • Graeme,

      Soy is especially high in protein which is why it works well as a pollen substitute. Can you get dried soy beans and put them through a flour mill? Otherwise, people use brewer’s yeast.

  • Hi Rusty.
    So I get most of all the ingredients in the PS, but I don’t understand the dry milk. What is in it that they need, or is it a boost to one of the other ingredients? I guess my concern boils down to growth hormones and antibiotics given to cows, and passing that along to the bees.
    And to add one more question in the yeast question line up…can I just use nutritional yeast? It’s something I keep around and mix up in the mid spring for a benificial insect feed spray on the flowers.
    I’m trying to find or make a non GMO pollen substitute. Because there are several ingredients that easily can come from a GM plant source – it seems to be a difficult task to get someone to verify its even moderately free of GMO’s.
    Mostly I just get people (men) arguing with me about proof of GMO’s on bee health.


    • Monica,

      The idea was to find a mix of ingredients that together provide all the amino acids the bees need to make proteins. I don’t know which ingredient has which amino acids, but I suspect the milk has something that is missing in the other ingredients. It is the same reason that bees require many types of pollen. Each pollen has a different amino acid profile, and the trick it to make sure they are all present in the bees’ diet.

      • Ok that makes really good sense now. So on that thought – whey protein that body builders use is chucked full of amino acids – nearly the whole spectrum.
        I work at a nutritional supplement manufacturing company – so I just need to go into the file read the ingredients carefully to make sure there is nothing in it that would harm beez – and voilà – bee food!

  • Hi Rusty,

    I remember reading that lactose is toxic to bees so was just wondering if the dry milk was safe to add as part of the mix?

    • Al,

      The amount of lactose in the mix, which is only a tiny portion of their total diet, isn’t enough to matter.

  • Good Morning Folks (if you’re still around),

    Has any one used peanut butter as a pollen substitute? High protein, high fat and mixes well with other dry ingredients and honey and you don’t need to go to the end of the earth to find it.

    Jon Sumpter
    Waldport, Oregon

  • Hi,

    Can baker’s yeast be used instead of brewer’s yeast? I saw two different packages of baker’s yeast in the supermarket, one with ascorbic acid and one without. Which of these if any, should I use to make the pollen substitute?

    • Andrea,

      Both baker’s yeast and brewer’s yeast are the same species, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, but they are different strains bred for certain characteristics. Basically, these yeast feed on sugars and produce carbon dioxide and alcohol.

      Brewer’s yeast that is commonly sold as a dietary supplement is a by-product of the brewing industry. It is the dead yeast that is left over after the brewing process and it is high in nutrients. Baker’s yeast, on the other hand is live yeast.

      If you were to add live yeast (baker’s yeast) to your pollen patties, it would begin to ferment when it got wet. Brewer’s yeast is already dead and so it won’t ferment.

      Although the baker’s yeast won’t hurt your bees, you don’t want your pollen patties to ferment and produce alcohol in the hive.

  • Thanks very much Rusty.

    So if I understand you correctly, if I feed the bees the dry bakers yeast by itself, without mixing in a patty with other carbs and sugars, then there shouldn’t be a fermentation problem, right? Can the yeast be fed that way and do the bees generally take to it in the pure form? And would any sugar syrup that the bees may have stored in the combs be affected by feeding dry bakers yeast?

    • Andrea,

      I think it would be difficult to get bees to eat the yeast by itself. Normally you have to mix in something sweet to attract them. My guess is they would haul the yeast away and dump it like trash. Since the stored syrup is not capped, it could easily be affected by any type of yeast.

  • Does have to be brewers yeast?

    Would dry yeast like the one used when making bread be the same?

  • Or look above about 2 posts for your answer as someone just asked the same thing.

  • I live in New Mexico (USA) where the climate is very dry & hot year round. This creates a problem when it comes to keeping enough pollen stores for my bees, and also pests do not die off because it does not get cold enough to kill them during winter. I have found that using DE (diatomaceous earth) sprinkled around your hive is a great way to prevent small hive beetles & mites & other pests from attacking your bees. I learned this trick from using it to treat my chickens for mites, and asked Mr. Tim (Walls Bee Man) – (Check him out on YouTube, he has loads of great beekeeping information!) if it might be safe to use of my bees, and he said that he had a friend that tried it and it worked, so we did it and it has worked so far too. It is way cheaper than buying all those strips and fumigators and stuff that most companies try to sell you. Let me tell you, my hives are bug and pest free!!! My DE was like $9 bucks and is food grade, and I haven’t even gone thru 1/8 of the bucket yet – I’ve had it for over 3 years now for my chickens, and now my bees!!!…. I hope you have great luck with this too!

    • Moses,

      I am very curious to hear how diatomaceous earth can help with varroa mites. Varroa mites don’t, at any point in their life cycle, live in the ground. They would never come in contact with the DE. I’m sure you have an explanation for this miracle?

  • Ok, it might have been confusing by saying mites (there are many types) – but I did not say “treats Varroa mites”. Let me point out that the MAIN purpose of using DE is for treating the SHB – Small Hive Beetle. It does help with other things, but the small hive beetle is the target of the diatomaceous earth. Hope this helps.

  • I am getting my first bees this summer though I have helped a couple of beekeepers last summer (about 20 hives between them) so I have a small amount of experience.

    My question is this… in looking at the purpose of the pollen substitute it is to give the bees protein for their young, which I believe the soy is the primary source of. I was looking around and found that ‘hemp protein’ which is meant for protein shakes is 100% ground hemp and much higher in protein than soy.

    Has anyone tried that?

    • MadDog,

      The problem here is you need to feed the protein that contains the essential amino acids that honey bees need. Not every creature has the same needs for amino acids, so you need to compare the ones needed by honey bees to the ones available in hemp protein. You can find that information online and compare it. The second thing is palatability. Will the bees collect it and consume it? If not, it won’t matter what it contains. So there’s another bit of research for you to work on.

  • I wondered if you can moderately safely feed this to bees long term?

    It seems like many people are experiencing long term dearth this year. I hear some people have had trouble with the fall flower sprouts that make their overwintering successful.

    So I’m not suggesting someone substitute real flowers for this.

    But it may be that people with an extended dearth have to do this.

    So I wonder if it would be OK to use it more extensively in those conditions?

    And part of asking about this is because I don’t see other places that really talk about what’s inside the pollen patty substitutes? Are other pollen substitutes also soy meal? (They don’t say. But it would have to be something with lots of protein…and other insects do like soy protein too, so…)

    I have also wondered if a meal made from peanut butter could work as a pollen substitute?

    • N,

      For any long-term pollen substitute, you need to compare the list of essential amino acids the bees require to the essential amino acids available in the feed. Unless you have a way to do this, it’s probably a good idea to use a recipe or product recommended by others who have either done the calculations or have had long-term success with a given product.

    • Jeffrey,

      Each type of flour has a different amino acid profile. Soy was selected because it has the amino acids that honey bees need. Others may not work as well.

    • Peggy,

      Any dry milk should be okay as long as it doesn’t contain a lot of extra ingredients, so check the label. As for yeast, I have a long post that describes why brewer’s yeast may be better than baker’s yeast.

  • If only I could find soy flour anywhere – ANYWHERE! – and that includes online sources. I also used to see dried soybeans on the baking aisle now and then, which I could pulse in a blender, but I haven’t even seen that for a while.

    Do you think soy milk would work? Unsweetened and unflavored, of course, and it would end up being pollen patties rather than a dry mix.

    • Georgia,

      I just checked online and saw it on Amazon and on Walmart. Bob’s Red Mill seems to be out, but they usually have it.

      • Well, sho’ ’nuff. I believe I had searched Bob’s Red Mill, which has a large section of unusual products on my baking aisle, but found no references to soy online. And Amazon’s confounding search algorithm had presented me with a number of gluten-free baking mixtures and other esoteric products, most of which didn’t even contain the word “soy” anywhere in their descriptions. But after you posted, voila! Amazon presented me several options for gen-u-ine soy flour – just like the store clerk who points to the item I’m asking about, on the shelf right in front of me, which ABSOLUTELY WASN’T THERE moments earlier when I looked. So I am now in possession of a multi-year supply of soy flour “for culinary use only” – I will therefore not use it to mix up a whitewash for the hives, and I hope my bees appreciate their future fine dining experience.

        Question remains – what do you think about using soy milk to make pseudo-pollen patties? In case Amazon gets coy with me again.

        • Re soy milk. I don’t know for a fact, but it has a good amino acid profile, so I think it’s worth a try.

    • Brian,

      The list of essential amino acids is slightly different for honey bees vs humans, so you would need to check the amino acid profile of hemp against the list needed for honey bees. The article you cite is for humans.