Every fall we send some loads of our bees to Florida to begin our new season. Most arrive in singles and we add a second deep box as we begin our feeding program in mid December. This year we sent one load of double deeps that didn't make the grade to go to California for almond pollination.
We have been adding pollen substitute patties to our hives in Florida this winter and have observed the quick growth of hives from the added protein from the patties and the sugars from HFCS feeding. Most of the hives we brought down to Florida arrived in Nov. and received the first pollen sub and fructose syrup in mid December around the winter solstice. As the days get longer the bees respond well to stimulative feeding and the queen increases her egg laying.
Our goal is to have very strong hives to split in late February for increase, stock additional 5 frame nucs and stock some queen mating nucs.
I had a chance to observe the marked difference in yards of bees that have been on our feeding program and compare these yards to a few yards that didn't get the attention because my son didn't get to them yet. As of late January the bees on our program of non-stop feeding have up to 9+ frames of brood and have been drawing fresh wax all winter. The bees that have had some syrup to maintain the food supplies, but no pollen sub patties and therefore no additional protein are faring well, but only have about 3 frames of brood. If increased brood rearing is your goal, I would highly recommend feeding pollen sub patties.
We have used Mann Lakes patties and Dadant's patties too. A new one that we tried was the "Florida Patty" from Dadant that does not contain soy protein, but brewers yeast and mostly sugar, to avoid hive beetle larvae infestations. They all seem to work well. I'll be running some trials in our cell builders this spring.
Some beekeepers report that hives fed pollen patties during pollination on some crops did much better than hives left to forage for pollen. It is possible that some pollen collected by the bees gets contaminated by fungicides and pesticides and pollen sub provided by the beekeeper dilutes the contaminated pollen and lessens the impact of the contaminated pollen. Another scenario is the pollen collected by bees in a monoculture planting of crops to be pollinated has low protein or is lacking some vital component.
It is possible that some pollen collected by bees is too low in protein at certain times of the year for the bees to maintain sufficient body fat to produce royal jelly. Protein provides the necessary nutrients for the honeybees to put on body fat that can be converted into royal jelly for feeding brood.
When pollen is stored by the bees in times of great supply, they pack it into cells and cover it with honey and the pollen goes through a lactic acid fermentation which predigests the pollen and acidifies it, likely extending its keeping qualities . It may be more nutritious and digestible for the bees. I have wondered if fungicides picked up by foraging bees would curtail or prevent lactic acid fermentation.
When stores of pollen are low, I believe the bees eat it as needed and it may not be as nutritious as bee bread (lactic acid fermented stored pollen) or pollen sub. It is likely that this would be an excellent time to provide supplemental feeding of pollen substitutes.
Many beeks and bee scientists have stated that honeybees that were fed a protein rich balanced diet when young (fat bees), have the necessary body fats to produce copious quantities of royal jelly to feed the next cycle of young larvae to produce more "fat bees". My friend Lawrence Cutts in Chipley, Florida states that "skinny bees make skinny bees" , meaning that bees that did not receive a protein rich diet did not have the body fats to produce enough royal jelly to feed the young larvae, which in turn were skinny.