A Beekeeper should be able to hive a package, catch a swarm, staple a frame, build a box, spot a queen, split a hive, diagnose a disease, destroy a mite, harvest honey, render wax, graft a larva, collect the pollen, take a sting gracefully, work from sun up happily, and die peacefully. Specialization is for insects. – Robert A. Heinlein, (if he had been a beekeeper)
If all you collect from a hive is honey, you had better be prepared. One bad flow and that it is over for the year. The hive is capable of producing a lot more than just honey, and diversifying your harvest is a good way to not put all your eggs in one brood comb. “There’s more to harvest from a hive than honey,” I told my wife as I was contemplating this. “I thought that was just what you said to explain why you never get a decent amount of honey,” she said. Pollen seemed a reasonable way to expand my beekeeping horizons. On my next trip to the bee supply store I asked for a pollen trap.
“I’ve got one,” he said, and began to rummage through his shelves. As I waited he began to stack pieces together. I must confess that I didn’t know much about traps but I was fairly certain that Pollen traps aren’t supposed to be this complicated. First, there was the bottom board mount (which is not the trap.) On that went the frame mount (also not the trap) and the frame mount held the housing (not the trap either). The housing held the entry screen, the collection drawer and the side rails. None of those were the trap. The frame rails, those held an odd piece of plastic with holes in it which was actually the trap. To get the pollen out, one had to un-mount the trap and un-hinge the door guard, then slide the collection tray out to the front. I prefer a trap that has fewer pieces than a ’68 Chevy and doesn’t require the beekeeping equivalent of an engine overhaul to get the goods.
“I think I’m going to have to pass,” I said. He had already started putting away the parts.
“We’ve had it in stock for a few years. I could make you a real deal.” For the sake of my sanity I passed.
My wife suggested I build a trap. I showed her different plans for building them. “There has to be something simpler,” she said, “come up with a plan.” The next day I was ready. “You put a dab of honey on this plate. Then we tie a string to this stick, and prop up the box like so. When a bee with pollen lands to drink the honey, you pull on the string. The stick falls, the pollen is inside the box.
“So is the bee.”
“Then you take the bee out, remove the pollen from each leg and let it go.”
“Two tiny boxes. Inside the other box. One for each leg. Two tiny sticks with strings. The tiny boxes fall on the pollen—“, My wife flung a catalog at me.
“Your plan stinks. Order a trap,” she said. My plan worked perfectly.
I ordered two traps, one a plastic box that hangs from the front of the hive, one a top mount trap that promised “cleaner and more pollen than any other trap”. After converting a colony to a top entrance and giving the bees time to figure out the modifications to their home I applied the top pollen trap to one hive and the front trap to another.
The bees refused to cooperate. They hung in beards from the front of the hives, they covered the top three deep in foragers. In the night I briefly shined a flashlight at the hive top. It was carpeted in bees.. The next day the top entrance had only a stubble of bees on it and that evening they retreated into the hive. The second day the front porch bees gave up and started using the trap as their only entrance. The third day I went down and emptied the trays for the first time.
The front mounted trap has a tray that slides out in front. The downside of it is that to slide the tray out, you have to reach over the top of the hive or stand to its side. I haven’t figured out the upside to it yet. While you are doing so the bees are wondering exactly why you are tearing apart the front porch they just got used to. Think of it like changing the air filter on your chevy – you won’t do it while there are bees flying in and out of the air filter without wearing the suit. Then again if there are bees flying in and out of your Chevy you have bigger problems. The point is that the front mount trap is not to be emptied without protection.
The top mounted trap has a drawer that opens to the rear, in theory so that you can collect pollen without having to face bees. My hive is so full of bees there’s no safe direction that doesn’t involve “facing the bees”. I removed the tray one evening to discover that a small army of bees were waiting on the handle. It turns out I have a front mounted bee venom trap as well. It’s called my arm. Sometimes Diversity hurts.
When I returned with my plastic bags of pollen from each trap my wife was waiting at the door. Her look said it all. It was “That’s it?” and “You paid how much for it?” rolled into one. “The traps collected some pollen,” I said, holding out the bags. She shook her head.
“I think they’re designed to collect money. The beekeeper passes through the first part of the catalog, then his wallet brushes up against the page with the pollen trap, and the money falls into the order envelope and the beekeeper can’t get at it. Isabella has more pollen on her nose from the buttercups than both your traps put together. Pollen traps are an excellent way for a beekeeper to diversify the way he spends money on bee equipment.”
“It’ll get better,” I said. I hoped. It did. As the days went by the cadre of striking foragers dwindled and the amount of pollen in the traps went up. As the days went by I fell into a routine of collecting the pollen, freezing the pollen, and rubbing the stings from collecting it. Soon I had two large bags in my freezer, each filled with gray, orange and yellow pollen.
“Now what, Mr. Diversity?” asked my wife as I weighed the bag one afternoon.
“This is from the top trap. I’m selling it as ‘Pure Pollen’. The stuff from the front trap is ‘Pollen Plus’”
“All the bits and pieces I found in the bottom of the drawer. That, that’s an eye, those are wings, and I’m not sure what that is but whatever it came off of is either dead or in a foul mood.”
“My mother wants a some for her supplements,” she said. I started to weigh it out when she grabbed the scoop, “Not the stuff with bits. Here, I’ll measure it. You, get out there and empty the traps. Oh, and get the orange hive ready for a top entrance, we need to stop collecting dead bees and get the good stuff going.”
It’d complain but my wife was ordering me to spend time with the bees. Then she pointed to the catalog on the table and said, “Andrea wanted some propolis for a tincture and I saw these on sale here. You just collect them from the hives and freeze them. I want you to put one on each of the hives when they arrive. Diversity, remember?”
“We just got used to collecting pollen. If I put anything else on the hive, the bees are going to—“, I stopped. I know that look. That look says “Don’t bother arguing.” So I put on my suit and went out to my bees.