April 7. Our backyard hives are collecting real pollen! Last week, I showed you some fake pollen coming into the colonies. Nothing beats the real stuff. Although desperate honey bees will carry worthless sawdust as a pollen supplement, nothing inspires a colony like a bit of natural pollen and nectar.
My honey bees and I are a long way north, high in elevation, and affected by vagaries of our continental climate. We are in Calgary, a thousand metres above sea level with some rocky mountains in sight along our western horizon. Our semi-prairies, semi-foothills location invites wide fluctuations in weather. For instance, in the past week we’ve been as cool as minus 11C and as warm as plus 21C. (12F to 70F).
The colonies average 6 frames at least 3/4 brooded, which means populations should be up 25,000 more workers in the next three weeks. And there are a lot of fuzzies – I would guess that more bees are already emerging than are dying of old age. This is a critical time for this change-over in bee demographics, with new replacing old. Beekeepers often lose wintered colonies at this time of year when cool wet weather keeps bees from foraging, reduces food resources, and induces nosema. If they get through this, the honey bees will probably be fine.
To help them, I make sure they have enough honey in reserve. Syrupy sweets can push them to expand their brood nest. I also give them all the pollen cakes they’ll take. That’s about two pounds every week. If you choose to pollen-supplement your bees, don’t stop until the weather is stable and the bees are collecting enough natural pollen. When there is a consistent, reliable abundance of natural forage, honey bees will quit eating your supplement. But if you stop feeding the bees too soon, they will likely not be able to feed their developing larvae, which will die. Although honey bees are usually vegetarians, they have been caught eating their own young when food is scarce.
Another reason to feed pollen supplement is that honey bees strip an awful lot of pollen from their neighbourhood’s flowers, potentially leaving less for other bee species. In the spring, when flowers are scarce and foraging days few, your nests of honey bees will need about 200 grams of pollen each day to feed the developing brood. That’s four pounds every ten days. Maybe more. If you feed a high-quality supplement, you do the local wild (non-Apis) bees a small favour because your honey bees don’t need to collect as much from flowers, leaving more for the natives.