Feeding Attractant

Bees working distant alfalfa fields.

At times, most locations are nutritionally deficient during an active season. Supplemental feeding can become necessary. And adding vitamin C to pollen supplements enhances their attractiveness to the bees.

My Bee Starving Environment

Bees are transported around the world. They are kept in environments that can’t supply all their nutritional requirements. And I live in such an environment. John Lovell in his book “Honey Plants of North America” states this about my location:

Commercial beekeeping is entirely dependent on sweet clover and alfalfa, which grow only on irrigated land. These areas are mere garden spots compared to the great region of dry desert land which makes little besides sagebrush, salt brush and cactus. A colony of bees would starve on a million acres of such a range.

Not much has changed since 1926, when Lovell wrote these words. It’s now drier and tougher for beekeepers than before.

The range also makes poisonous pollen in the spring. Anyone have experiences with Death Camas? It’s a fairly common plant out west. The pollen ends up in the comb and poisons brood the following season.

After the spring herbs disappear to summer heat, alfalfa is the primary nectar source. Alfalfa pollen lacks sufficient nutrition to maintain colony health. Colonies working alfalfa, haul in large honey crops and decrease in bee population at the same time. Sometimes brood rearing almost ceases. Hives are often left in poor condition for winter.

Must Feed!

Feeding Pollen Substitute

Bees chowing down on pollen patties.

I’ve found that pollen substitutes make a big difference in colony health. If the fall rabbit brush fails, protein feeding is essential for good over wintering here.

Bees take pollen substitute, in the spring, when no pollen is available. They even gather it from open buckets protected from the weather.

When natural pollen becomes available, they refuse to forage for pollen substitute. However, they continue consuming pollen sub patties placed directly above the broodnest, but at a reduced rate.

When natural pollen becomes abundant, pollen sub patties are disregarded and hauled out of the hive. After that, it’s difficult to get bees to consume the patties regardless of how much natural pollen is available.

Feed Attractant Advantages

Bees squeezing in for a taste.

If vitamin C is added to commercially available substitute or to brewers yeast. The bees will consume the patty:

  • at any time during the active brood rearing season
  • during any pollen flow
  • without natural pollen additions
  • and continue brood rearing even when little natural pollen is coming in


For a five gallon batch, two tablespoons work. With a smaller five cup batch, I sprinkle a little in, less than half a teaspoon full.

I don’t know how small an amount is effective, but I don’t think they can be overdosed. The more ingredient added, the faster the patties are consumed.

These photos show how bees are attracted to the patty, even during a spring pollen flow and with the patty located a super above the broodnest. When these photos were taken, brood was in the bottom box. Five to fifteen bees per minute were returning with natural pollen.

The bees are so attracted to the sub patty, that they press in two or three deep around the edges. And they lick the patty to oblivion without carrying any out.

I’ve mixed pollen sub with light sugar syrup for a liquid protein “diet”. The bees would take the syrup and leave the substitute. With vitamin C added, they rapidly consume the entire mixture.

The specific brand used was purchased at GNC. It’s called “Vitamin C Crystals with Rose Hips”. I’ve used other hipless types of C. They worked.

Parting Pollen Substitute Thoughts

Pollen is the best bee food. But it isn’t always available or abundant enough. I’ve seen bees try to use ground corn, sawdust and road dust as their own substitute. Sometimes, something a little more nutritious is needed.

Bees like a patty that is as moist as possible. Mix it to the consistency of a cake mix and let it set overnight. It thickens up. Dissolve the C in slightly warm water used for the mix. This helps distribute the C better.

The best placement for the patty is directly above the broodnest.

Bees alter or maintain fermentation around the patty’s perimeter. The color becomes more pale. This isn’t harmful to the bees. When a new patty is introduced, they consume the older, discolored one first.

Feed early if it seems more food is needed. Eventually, by September’s end, the bees refuse to take any patty. They suck the liquid out and propolize the rest up. Several weeks later they refuse syrup.

Pushing Them

As a commercial beekeeper, I pushed the bees. Lots of bees were needed for spring splits to make up for those lost to mites, and for queen rearing. That required stimulating the bees and feeding them.

Since then, I’ve learned to run bees in a different way. Rather than push them, I co-operate with them. This has made my beekeeping much easier. With bees on clean, natural comb, I don’t need to treat for mites. The broodnest stays clean. The bees over winter better and build up faster in the spring.

I now have a bee surplus rather than empty equipment. No need to push the bees. And without pushing the bees, there’s been no need to feed them pollen supplement.


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