In times when flowers are in short supply, bee colonies can fall short on the protein and nutrition that they require from bee pollen. Bee pollen is critical inside a colony because it provides many of the main ingredients in royal jelly and worker jelly that is used to feed developing larvae. Especially towards the end of summer when flowers are in short supply, the bees can rapidly work down their stores of pollen. Once the pollen has run out, unless brood rearing has completely shut down, bees still need to feed larvae. The next source of nutrients that they use to produce feed for larvae is called vitellogenin. It is the very food storage reservoir within worker bees that workers selflessly share with larvae, depleting their own life force in the process.
As a conscientious beekeeper, you do not want your bees to be in a situation where they are cannibalizing their own strength in order to continue as a hive. Long before bees completely run out of pollen stores, a good beekeeper begins feeding some sort of pollen supplement.
As a queen producer, our colonies have an even greater need for abundant pollen than normal colonies. The royal jelly that is fed to all queen cells requires massive amounts of pollen to produce. As a result, we need to be assured that our queen cell building colonies are overflowing with protein sources as well as all the ingredients necessary to produce well fed, quality queen cells. At Wildflower Meadows, we make our own pollen supplement patties, which we feed to our queen rearing colonies year round. The patties are placed between the bee boxes, right under or over the brood nest so that the bees can consume the patties easily and rapidly.
Many commercial beekeepers have their own proprietary blends of pollen substitutes that they use to make pollen substitute patties. Typical ingredients are brewers yeast, soy flour, freeze dried pollen or sometimes pea protein. Most beekeeping supply outfits also sell bags of prepackaged pollen supplements, some of which are secret formulas, but nearly all of which are various combinations of more or less the same ingredients.
Lately at Wildflower Meadows we have been making our pollen supplement patties (shown above) using UltraBee dry mix from Mann Lake, which is a well known high quality supplement.
The bottom line, however, is that when a colony is starving, any supplement is far better than no supplement, and brand preference is much less important than making sure that the bees have the basic nutrition that they need to thrive.