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.

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