A couple of days ago, on March 22, we had sunlight and heat. Honey bees were gathering pollen. I don’t remember such a rush of pre-season pollen in this area. It’s a lot earlier than expected. I figured their goodies were from pollen-producing trees. Here in the city of Calgary, non-native elms provide some early pollen. Other trees, such as poplar, also give up a bit, even while snow is still scattered around the landscape. We don’t have much oak or maple here, though in milder parts of North America, those are great for spring pollen and nectar. Since it is too early for willow or crocus, I decided that the pollen flow was likely from some big trees. The pollen was pale yellow, apparently from a single source or species, and was packed in extremely small bundles. Here’s a short video clip:
But then I saw something that made me wonder about the pollen source.
This looks strange to me. We don’t often see a honey bee hustling unconsolidated pollen at the front door. She has only a bit in her visible corbicula. It isn’t sticky the way pollen usually is and quite a bit of the dust is scattered outside her baskets. This pale pollen resembles pine, but conifers won’t shed here for a few weeks. It occurred to me that the bees, collecting this uniform-looking bland pollen might be carrying pollen substitutet from another beekeeper’s backyard.
We have a dozen hobby beekeepers within a short foraging flight of our home. Although I don’t set up open-feeding stations for soy or other pollen subs, some neighbouring beekeepers might be trying this latest feeding fad. Pollen supplement feeders can attract a lot of bees on a nice day when nothing else is blooming. Activity can look like this, from beeinformed.org’s website:
I don’t set out substitutes like this myself. I don’t want to send my bees off to feast at an all-you-can-eat buffet where they will meet bees from neighbouring hives, perhaps pick up mites, soil their feet with AFB spores, or get pushed around by bees from colonies that are greedier and bigger. (Maybe you’ve seen similar activity at your local all-you-eat dinner spots on late Friday afternoons, another place where big and greedy is amply rewarded.) In early spring, I like to place pollen cakes on the top bars above the brood. This assures that even weak hives will get some help. Protected, in-hive feeding also keeps food available when a cold snap or rain interferes and the bees can’t access the fly-in diner. What do you think? Pollen or Pollen-lite? What are my bees collecting?