Never before have I been interested in collecting pollen, but suddenly I’m obsessed with it. Beekeepers often say that the worse part of pollen collection is having to empty the traps every day, and I suppose that duty could get old after a time. But right now, I can hardly wait to see what my bees bring home each day.
I spent many hours last winter studying descriptions of the various traps and reading what other beekeepers said about them. I ended up with the Sundance II top-mounted trap, which is certainly not the cheapest one, but it sounded like it would produce clean pollen and the users mostly like it.
Once it arrived, I found it to be a most perplexing gadget. It was hard for me to understand how it works because I can’t actually see down inside. It comes with instructions and explanations, but not being able to see what they are describing made it mysterious. Of course I get it now. More importantly, the bees got it without reading anything.
A bottom-mounted trap isn’t appealing because I don’t want to lift brood boxes just to add or remove the trap. The front-mounted types sound doable, but the pollen is not as protected from rain and dew as in the top-mounted traps. I could use a side-opening model for some of my hives that are against buildings, but I couldn’t find a top-mounted trap with a side drawer.
After just two week of trapping, I can say the pollen in the top-mounted trap is extremely clean with no hive debris at all. The only thing I have to do is empty the drawer each day and slide it back in the hive.
Problems with the set-up
I had two problems with the trap, and both had to do with setting it up. The instructions say to make sure the bees you use are already accustomed to a top entrance. It took me almost three weeks to accomplish this. At first, I closed the bottom entrance and gave them an Imirie shim with a small entrance just below the telescoping cover, but they just would not use it. By evening, the foragers were all clustered outside the hive and I ended up letting them in at night by opening the bottom entrance.
After many days of this, I took a 3-inch deep shim, drilled three one-inch holes in the front and used that instead of the Imirie shim. That worked. They took to it immediately, and three days later when I replaced it with the pollen trap, they switched over seamlessly.
The other problem I had was with the telescoping lid, which will not fit down over the top of the pollen trap. I tried various spacers, and ended up using two inner covers on top of the pollen trap and then the telescoping cover. Even now I can’t pull out the pollen drawer without lifting the lid about a quarter-inch. I’m sure there must be a better way to set this up, but I’m not there yet. In spite of these hiccups, the trap works really well, and my bees don’t seem put off by it.
Leaving enough pollen for the bees
I’ve read conflicting reports about how long you can leave a trap in place without affecting brood rearing. Some say you should leave the trap open about three days out of every seven. Others say they leave the trap on all summer because plenty of pollen gets through in spite of the trap. I’m sure there is variation among traps, but at this point, I’m still taking it off every few days to be on the safe side.
I’ve also read that pollen traps reduce honey production because the trap slows down the coming and going of bees and therefore reduces nectar accumulation. This makes sense to me, so I’ve identified what I believe are my good honey producers, and they won’t have pollen traps. I’ve also identified two hives that I’m using for pollen collection. At this point, I’m just moving the trap between the two hives every three or four days.
Drones and pollen traps
One question I still have: what happens to the drones? All the traps I’ve seen have drone escapes so the drones can leave the hive. However, as long as the trap is closed, the drones can’t get back in. Do they just drift to other hives as drones like to do? It’s odd, but I never see any drones at the pollen-trapping hives. They seem to know they can’t get back in without even trying. I know that sounds silly, but I am curious about what happens to them and how they figure it out.
I also wonder what affect, if any, the missing drones have on drone production in the hive. The number of drones is regulated by the number of drone cells the workers build, but do the workers build more drone cells when no drones are hanging about, or are they satisfied with the number of drones that were already raised? I don’t know the answers here.
Freezing: do it soon and do it often
As for storing the pollen, I put it in the freezer immediately after collection. I plan to feed it back to the bees in early spring to aid colony build-up. I’m also using it to identify what my colonies are foraging on, although this is a work in progress because I’m just beginning to learn about pollen identification. I’m also thinking about selling it, but just thinking at this point. Many people like to consume local pollen for allergies. Personally, I’m not convinced it works, but if someone wanted to buy it, I might be open to the possibility.
If anyone has experience with collecting pollen, I’d love to learn more. Any advice is welcome.
Honey Bee Suite