honey bee management

Winter patties or pollen patties: how to choose the right one

Do not confuse pollen patties and winter patties. One is meant to enhance brood production and one is not.

Winter patties and pollen patties are not equivalent. In fact, they are completely different types of honey bee food supplements.

A traditional pollen patty is a substitute for pollen. It is high in protein and contains all the amino acids a bee needs for good health. Because ample protein promotes brood rearing, beekeepers use pollen patties when they want to increase the size of a colony.

Modern pollen substitutes can contain roughly 40-50 percent protein. When you insert pollen patties into the hive, the nurse bees eat the high-protein meal. Their glands respond by secreting brood food and the queen responds by laying more eggs. Soon, the brood nest expands and adult bees appear. This is extremely helpful if lots of population is what you need, but often, a high population is the opposite of what you need.

Bad times for pollen patties

Pollen patties fed in the fall can be damaging to a colony because it is hard for a colony to feed lots of bees throughout the winter. Boosting a colony’s size in fall may mean it starves before spring.

Likewise, late winter pollen boosts can be bad if the colony outgrows its pollen reserves before new spring pollen arrives. Once a beekeeper begins feeding pollen, he can’t stop early or the colony may starve.

Good times for pollen patties

Beekeepers who plan on moving their colonies south into early blooming crops such as California almonds find pollen patties useful for boosting colony size. They need to do it early so their colonies are strong by February.

Colonies that are simply too small to overwinter can be boosted in late summer with pollen patties. This may work as long as the beekeeper has good judgment and doesn’t go to extremes.

Please note that so-called global patties are actually high-protein patties that should be used for spring feeding when you want to enhance brood development.

Winter patties have low protein

High in carbohydrates and low in both protein and fat, winter patties make excellent winter feed. They contain mostly carbohydrates with about 2 percent protein and a dusting of fat. Winter patties do not promote brood expansion, the opposite of pollen patties. 

The small amount of protein and fat is ideal for promoting good health within the colony without causing untimely population increases. As with pollen patties, winter patties are probably not necessary in most overwintering colonies, but if you are uncertain, they will do no harm

A tool like any other

Winter patties and pollen patties are management tools, available if you need them. But don’t think you must use them just because they exist. Before jumping into supplements, evaluate your colony’s strength and your plans for it.

Both types of patties should be monitored. If the bees don’t finish them, the patties should be removed before they attract small hive beetles or mold. But if the bees finish them quickly, they should be replaced with more.

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  • Great info. I hope there’s a winter pollen patty recipe article somewhere on this site. I notice you don’t put the dates you post your articles/blogs but I think it would be really helpful! Sometimes you refer to the time of the year in your posts but it’s hard to tell when that is exactly.

  • I have some patties I ordered years ago in the freezer. I think they’re winter patties but can’t be sure. How can I determine if they’re spring or winter?

    • Brad,

      Do they have an ingredients label on them? If so, winter patties should have a protein content in the single digits, usually less than 5%, whereas spring patties can jump up to 40 or 50% protein. It’s a high protein content that stimulates brood rearing.

  • What’s your take on winter patties as opposed to candy boards? I’ve used your candy board instructions the last 2 winters with great success, but it seems like putting winter patties on top of the frames in the brood box would be a lot easier. However, I am concerned about opening the hive in the winter to check on them. Even 3 patties don’t seem like they’d last very long.
    Thanks, Jeanette

    • Jeanette,

      Candy boards are designed to supply energy for the bees in winter. Should your bees run out (or be able to reach) their winter supplies of honey, they can eat the sugar instead. This will allow them to keep warm and continue all their basic life functions.

      Because candy boards are placed in the warmest part of the hive (just above the cluster), the bees are able to get to it without freezing to death. If all their remaining honey is beside or below the cluster, it may be too cold to reach.

      Pollen patties are used for a different reason, which is to raise brood. As such, normal pollen patties are given after the winter solstice (December 24) at the time when bees resume brood rearing. So-called winter patties are made with very little pollen and can be given at any time during the winter. But adding regular protein patties along with a candy board after the solstice well works because it’s then that your bees will likely need both lots of food and high-protein.

      However, if you are feeding only winter patties, you should 1) check their supply frequently so they don’t run out and 2) increase the amount of pollen by giving regular (high-protein) patties as soon as brood rearing begins. You may notice brood increases any time from the solstice onward, depending on local conditions.

      Do not get hung up on opening a hive in winter. It only takes a moment and can have huge benefits.

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