The longer I keep honey bees, the more I see the importance of pollen, the bees’ only source of protein, vitamins, minerals, lipids, and sterols, and even an important source of carbohydrates. Honey bees cannot thrive any better than their nutrition will allow. We as beekeepers tend to focus on honey, but what is most important for honey bee nutrition is pollen, and beekeepers often know very little about the sources of pollen for their bees. In fact, we still do not even know some of the very basics. There is uncertainty about which species of plants are most important for the bees at various times of the year – not only verification about which species the bees are actually visiting, but also which species are visited the most.
Once we know these details, we can begin to piece together a good picture of honey bee nutrition through the year, based on the known protein levels of the various types of pollen. Crude protein levels vary widely from one kind of pollen to the next. More research will need to be done to find out the protein content of many of the pollen types in our area, but first we need real data on pollen intake.
It was not as important for beekeepers to understand all this back when beekeeping was easy. But beekeeping is not easy any more.
Beekeepers need to know the times of year when their bees are most nutritionally stressed, so they can step in and take necessary steps to keep their bees in top shape nutritionally. It’s an essential practice for every other kind of livestock – it’s only sane to realize we need to do the same for honey bees!
It’s actually not too hard to find out what the bees are bringing in. All you have to do is trap some pollen throughout the active season, label each sample carefully, and send them to Texas A&M University for analysis. It is $60 for each sample analysed.
That’s where the the Pollen Project comes in. I am in the process of applying for a Farmer Grant with Northeast Sustainable Research and Education (SARE). This will make it possible to get pollen samples analyzed at no cost to the beekeeper! Beekeepers may be able to get pollen samples analyzed from their own area and see the results for free!
Stay posted – the details on how to participate will be coming soon!