Black ‘Pollen’ in March

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.

honey bee collecting coffee grounds in pollen baskets

Arizona honey bee picking up coffee grounds.

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.

About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a bee ecologist working at the University of Calgary. He is also a geophysicist and does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and Earth scientist. (Ask him about seismic waves.) He's based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
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14 Responses to Black ‘Pollen’ in March

  1. Erik says:

    We are seeing both pollen and nectar available, at least when it is warm enough. Though my wife is wondering if the bees can make coffee-flavored honey with the coffee grounds. I told her no, though she still likes the idea.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ron Miksha says:

      After writing, above, that our first pollen shows up in mid-April, a friend keeping bees nearby reported seeing fresh yellow pollen on the weekend. Her bees have a habit of proving me wrong. It was from either pussy willow or crocus. (A CBC Calgary radio reporter said that he saw crocus flowers on his way to work today.) I’ll have to get used to our earlier seasons – they arrive two or more weeks earlier than they did when I was a kid. Last year, a bit of pollen was collected the first week of March. I suppose you are seeing some similar changes in Virginia?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Erik says:

        Yes, absolutely! I started a bloom log a few years ago, and crocus was 2/28 in 2016 and 2/12 this year. The first daffodil bloomed 4/10 in 2015, 3/10 in 2016, and 2/23 in 2017.

        Of course, now that we’ve established an earlier spring, next year it will probably be a month late.


      • Ron Miksha says:

        I forgot about your Bloom Where You’re Planted page with its flowering dates. I just looked at it – nicely done. You are creating a great resource. It will be interesting to see how the variations (and earlier seasons) continue into the future. The daffodils and dandelions are trying to tell us something! Readers can find Erik’s north Virginia bloom dates here:


  2. Pingback: Black ‘Pollen’ in March | How To Raise Bees

  3. Emily Scott says:

    Fascinating! There must be an overwhelming instinct for them to collect.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Black ‘Pollen’ in March | Raising Honey Bees

  5. Mark Mooney says:

    Agreed and thank-you for the reminder to kick start our bees into production. Does anyone know where I can get a pollen substitute in Calgary or do I need to order from Bee Maid? Thanks!


    • Ron Miksha says:

      Hi Mark,
      It’s time! Welcome to spring everyone! People in the Calgary area are incredibly lucky to live near the world’s largest maker of pollen cakes for supplementing bees during spring build-up. Global Patties, located in Airdrie, Alberta, ship their product all over North America. (Their USA sales and production are done in Montana.) Mike, Elizabeth, and Attila produce and package hundreds of thousands of pounds in a variety of mixes. They sell by the semi-load but they also enjoy dealing with smaller bee outfits and sell small lots. Here’s their weblink:


  6. BeeNuts says:

    Well I had no idea bees would collect coffee grounds and sawdust. Fortunately ours have had the mahonia since December, then snowdrops, hellebore and crocus in January/February, and loads of pussy willow these last few weeks. The oilseed rape has just started flowering. With all that work the bees are going to need a coffee break!


    • Ron Miksha says:

      You are so lucky! Western Canada pulls on the winter snow blanket around November first and bees usually have nothing but sawdust and coffee grounds until April! You are as far north as we are in Calgary, yet (to us) it’s almost ropical over your way!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Ron Miksha says:

      Yes! But I had completely forgotten about it! Thanks! The article, appearing in the March 2013 Science journal. is titled Caffeine Boosts Bees’ Memories. Memories?! So maybe that’s why the bees were collecting the coffee grounds!


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