The Pollen Hive Product, An Overview
By Harrison Overholt
Editor’s Note: Marking his 19th season in the apiary, Harrison Overholt is a member of the Allen County (KY) Beekeepers. He manages about 35 hives for pollination, honey/pollen production, in south central Kentucky.
His inspiration for beekeeping began after the sudden death of his cousin, beekeeper J. R. Epley, as well as consideration for replacement of farm income from the tobacco income loss. He holds membership in the Kentucky State Beekeepers Association and the Tennessee Beekeepers Association.
The joys of beekeeping can produce many avenues to enhance income. Honey, for which there is acknowledged consumer demand, is the most accepted reward of the world of beekeeping. In many climates, such as Kentucky, the honey window of opportunity is about six to eight weeks in the spring.
Other products of the hive are not as well known as honey, yet can produce income and enjoyment within other windows of the calendar. Beekeeping for pollen is a very manageable practice during other summer and fall months that can reward a disappointing honey harvest.
How Pollen is Collected
Insects perform an essential task in assisting the life of the plant to produce another generation by transferring pollen grains among the reproductive organs. Their efforts are rewarded with the sweet nectar and pollen from the various plants the insects visit. The protein of pollen is essential to build strong exoskeletons, just as it builds strong bones in humans. The hind legs of a honeybee include a comb, rake, and hairs for the collection of pollen from plants. Generally this is referred to as the pollen basket. A beekeeper can monitor the abundance of the area fauna, soil moisture and health of the hive by observing honeybees returning to the hive with pollen.
Pollen grains are of various sizes, textures, and colors; thus the pollen basket can hold several dozen grains, yet look like a small pellet upon arrival at the hive entrance. It is a joy just to watch the bees arriving on the landing board. No experience or expense is needed for this entertainment opportunity.
Pollen is harvested as the bee enters the hive. The harvesting device, referred to as a pollen trap, requires the bee to cross through it before she proceeds to the brood area. There are various pollen trap designs. In my operation I’ve been pleased with the Sundance bottom-mount trap. Other traps include:
A front entrance trap, which you mount onto the front of the bottom board, thus the hive bodies do not have to be removed for placement. My understanding is that this is not a large volume harvesting system.
A top hive-mount trap can be placed under the inner cover, which also means that hive bodies do not need to be removed for placement. However, the bees will have to be restricted from the normal entrance and rerouted to the new entrance. Remember the bees will now travel down to the brood area and across any honey not harvested. It would be much like using your home’s back door instead of your normal front door, and making allowance for the switch.
The variety of trap styles requires some research to determine the best operating method for your hard-working girls as they bring in the pollen.
Managing Pollen Traps
After placement of the trap, it will take a couple of days for the bees to become accustomed to the obstacle between them and their destination. If there are any openings, such as broken corners of the hive body, it will be a golden opportunity for them to make a beeline for alternate hive entry.
Pollen traps have reservoirs for collecting the dropped pollen. As the pollen has some moisture, pollen will need to be harvested daily, especially if there’s high humidity. Beware! There will be other opportunists interested—ants, wood roaches, adult hive beetles and wax moths might also enjoy the dark protein pantry the reservoir provides and is another reason for daily harvesting. There’s no need to cancel your vacation plans to harvest your pollen daily though, as the bottom mount has a sliding entrance board that may be lowered, and the bees will be able to enter the hive above the trap until your return.
After harvesting there will need to be some drying—simply spread the pollen on a flat surface to air dry; it doesn’t take very long. The “pellets” will be soft upon harvesting, and will become hard upon drying.
Some consumers may want to bypass the drying stage of pollen, feeling is a healthier product without the drying. In this case, after cleaning it, be sure to keep the pollen refrigerated, as the moisture level will cause mold.
After drying you will need to remove any debris (such as bee legs, wings, mites and ants) which simply may be blown away as pollen is transferred from container to container. You can invest in a pollen cleaner, which uses the same technique of wind blowing out the debris as the pollen falls into your container. You may have to physically remove adult hive beetles, as their weight will act like the pollen and probably not blow out with other debris.
The next step is to freeze the pollen, eliminating any wax moth eggs that may have been laid in the pollen during the harvesting and drying process. This is a very important step, as the consumer does not like the “value added” protein of wax moth larva. If time is of the essence you can freeze without drying, and dry at a future convenience.
Storage of pollen is best in the freezer. A one-gallon closable baggie holds five pounds of pollen, and allows for easy recording of the harvest period. Condensation will form on the outer container upon thawing, but will not form on the contents during the thawing process.
I hope this will intrigue a little of your beekeeping adventure skills, and that management of your girls will be a sweet and successful venture.
Watch for next month’s issue, which will cover packaging and selling pollen.