Mike Embrey spoke at our November meeting about pollen and its uses. Bees collect pollen from flowers and in the process transfer pollen from plant to plant, pollinating the plants. While foraging, bees will store pollen on their legs in pollen pellets held together with nectar or saliva/lactic acid. Bees can forage an area up to 6,000 acres (about a 2 mile radius) and therefore the pollen they collect is a mixture from various plants of the same species. Bees will collect different varieties of pollen, but only one kind per foraging trip. This is important when identifying what kind of pollen you may be collecting from your bees and what kind of pesticides may be contaminating the pollen. Studies have found a variety of 273 different chemicals in the pollen or comb wax from pesticides in the environment.
Pollen contains several kinds of flavonoids, carotenoids, minerals, organic acids, amino aids, nucleic acids, and enzymes. Pollen is also rich in vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin. While pollen provides bees their source of protein, it is not considered a perfect food for humans and therefore is recommended to be only used as a supplement to the human diet. The human body is unable to effectively break down the silica shell on the pollen grains, so we only get about 10% of the nutrients from the pollen grain.
If you are planning on collecting pollen, you should not collect during the heavy honey flow. There are pollen traps that you can use, but never leave the trap on all year because that will starve the bees. You can use the trap every other week (outside of the honey flow) to allow the bees to collect the pollen they need, while still supplying pollen for you. Pollen can be sold as a supplement, kept for personal uses, or used to feed the bees in the spring. Pollen is used in third world countries for its medicinal properties, as is propolis and honey.
Mike will be teaching a beekeeping class at Washington College in Kent County starting January 28, 2016. Registration closes on January 20, 2016. For more information, please see the class flyer.