A friend sent this great picture of a honey bee trucking home some very dark pollen today. Since flowers are not yet blooming here in Calgary, I’m pretty sure that the ‘pollen’ is coffee. Bees have been known to gather discarded grounds – a couple of years ago, I posted a little video of such a coffee party going on near my niece’s home in Arizona. Here’s the clip again:
Nichol, who makes some great beehives at Ruby’s Bee Suite in Calgary, asked me to confirm that the black pollen in the photo is indeed coffee. I can’t be certain, but it’s likely. On mild, late-winter days (mid-March), bees can be positively desperate for something to collect. I’ve seen them haul sawdust and grain dust from cattle feed troughs. They can be such a nuisance that carpenters quit cutting and cows quit eating.
Anything pollen-like is picked up. I don’t know if the bees actually use the stuff when they get back at the hive or if some foreman/lady scolds them for their stupidity. The best way to redirect the bees’ attention and give them some nourishment is to do what Nichol did – by offering some saved pollen. She noticed that the black coffee grounds ‘pollen’ soon vanished from the returning foragers’ kneecaps.
It’s a good time to begin feeding substitute pollen here in Calgary. Real pollen will be coming in around mid-April so any bee larvae which are developing right now will be nurse bees (and perhaps foragers) by the time crocus and willow are blooming. A good rule of thumb is to give the colony a pollen patties boost (or, less effectively, dry pollen/soy meal) about a month before fresh pollen is available.