Although beekeepers generate the bulk of their income from sales of honey, most supplement this income with other bee-related activities. The sale of bee byproducts such as bee pollen is one method of supplementing income. It is marketed as a high-value health food product, and can command good prices, whether the beekeeper sells the pollen as unbranded raw granules at his own local facility, through local grocers and health food shops in his community, or to dealers who process the bee pollen into capsules or other branded health food products, distributing the capsules nationally or globally.
Bees, of course, have a reason for collecting pollen, and beekeepers who sell pollen must be sure to collect the pollen without disrupting the life of their hive. Bee pollen is the male seed of flowering plants, required for plant fertilization. Some pollen is air borne, but the pollen that bees collect comes from a variety of plant blossoms. Bees collect pollen to feed to their young back at the hive, but much of the pollen is scraped off their legs as they fly from blossom to blossom, thus accomplishing the crucial task of pollination.
Beekeepers, then, must be careful not to “steal” too much pollen from the worker bees who collect it; the bee larvae back at the hive, after all, must be fed so that the bee colony can continue to thrive. Beekeepers therefore devise a drawer in the bottom of the hive called a “pollen trap.” These drawers slide in and out and have a wire mesh bottom, allowing for full air circulation. A new entryway to the hive is then cut out, such that worker bees exiting and entering the hive must pass through the pollen trap first. If the bees have been accustomed to using another entryway, that older way is closed off, and it may take a few weeks for the bees to learn the new route.
As bees fly through the pollen trap, some pollen naturally falls off their legs, falling onto the wire mesh at the bottom of the trap. Most pollen traps are designed such that bees must then pass through a narrow space to get to the brood box, the part of the hive where larvae are raised. Passing through this narrow space, about one-third of the pollen on their legs will brush off onto the wire mesh.
Although collecting bee pollen in a responsible manner does not jeopardize the nutritional needs of the colony’s larvae, worker bees may have to work a bit harder to provide food, as they are losing a third of their collected pollen with each trip. Bee pollen traps work best with strong, healthy hives, with an abundance of worker bees.
It is important for beekeepers to collect pollen from the traps every single day. its raw form is an extremely perishable product. It needs to be refrigerated immediately after collection, and can also be frozen for long-term storage. Some beekeepers dehydrate bee pollen at their own facilities before selling it to the public; dehydration has no negative effects on the nutritional value of bee pollen. Dehydrated bee pollen does not require refrigeration, but if you purchase raw granules from your local beekeeper, be sure to refrigerate the granules at home and consume them relatively quickly; or, freeze some yourself if you purchase more than you can use in the short term.