The Rhythm of the Summer

There are few things as satisfying to a beekeeper as the reassuring but furious activity taking place outside a hive on a hot summer day. As the colony establishes itself, each day brings a new, heightened level of excitement. Inside the hive some very important changes are taking place, as the brood nest increases.

None of this happens in a vacuum. External factors have a huge impact on the activity within the hive and on its eventual survival. One of the more important of these is the "honey flow".

What Is The Honey Flow?

In simple terms, the honey flow is a sweet spot in time, if you'll excuse the pun. It is the time when bees have access to abundant resources, allowing them to dramatically accelerate the creation of honey within the hive.

So, the honey flow is less about honey actually flowing and more about bees having ready access to nectar that will support them creating huge volumes of honey.

jar-of-honey

Let's make that a little more formal:

The honey flow occurs when one or more major sources of nectar are available, along with suitable weather, to allow bees to forage for nectar in abundance.

The flow of honey is the end result of the honey flow - the time when bees have their big chance to create honey!

When Does The Honey Flow Occur?

Suitable flying weather is clearly related to the time of year and, indeed, the summer is most supportive of the honey flow. But it is not always summer. Spring can be an excellent time for a honey flow too as many flowers bloom.

What affects honey flow?
There are many variables affecting when the honey flow occurs. The two basic requirements are access to nectar and suitable weather.

There are various reasons why the weather might not be accommodating, beyond merely the temperature. For example, spring often brings windy conditions not conducive to the honey flow. So, the weather element of the honey flow is variable.

Beehives in field

The other factor - ready access to nectar - can be a little more predictable, based on the types of flowers in the local environment and their flowering schedules. This is one aspect that need not be left purely to nature and the beekeeper has the potential to influence this significantly, with a little planning.

When should I expect a heavy flow of honey?
Beekeepers will see an ebb and flow through the warmer months and there may be multiple times where bees are able to create honey in abundance.

Of course, nature is complex and there are complicated interactions between weather patterns and the blooming of flowers. In general, though, a seasoned beekeeper will be able to tell, with reasonable accuracy, when the honey flow might occur.

How to Spot the Honey Flow

Since the honey flow can be triggered by the blooming of flowers within miles of the hive, it's not as simple as checking local flowers to determine whether the honey flow has arrived. The only precise way to be aware is to check the behavior of your bees.

The most obvious sign is the level of activity and the number of bees out foraging. Bees will come back to the hive fully loaded with nectar, while other bees are leaving to gather more.

The resultant image is one that is heartwarming to the beekeeper - hundreds of bees flowing in and out of the hive. It truly is a sight to behold.

Associated with all this activity will be a rapid increase in the amount of honey stored. While the prudent beekeeper won't be disturbing bees too much by overdoing the number of inspections, it is important to be aware of the potential for swarming.

During the honey flow, it's possible for a single give to gain 5 lbs. or more of honey - in a single day!

In short, if bees can make honey through access to nectar and accommodating weather - they will take it!

What Beekeepers Can Do To Help

The honey flow isn't just a time for beekeepers to smile - it's also a time to be very observant. The honey flow represents a rapid increase in the amount of space bees need within the hive. At a rate of several pounds of new honey per day, a hive with limited space can quickly lead to a colony with thoughts of swarming.

If the colony swarms, it will essentially split in two, with one half leaving the colony for a new home.

Honeycomb

An alert beekeeper is aware at all times of the space available in the hive. Expanding the hive by adding boxes is a key decision the beekeeper will make, offering bees more space for the extra honey and thus reducing the chances of swarming.

Aside from a visual check, the weight of the hive will be an important indicator. An increasing number of beekeepers have ways to weigh their hives and the honey flow is associated with a dramatic increase in weight.

In a more proactive sense, beekeepers can plant flowers that are intentionally chosen to bloom in a staggered manner throughout the seasons. Doing this doesn't just have the potential to bring weeks of color to your garden, but makes for an extended honey flow, as bees move from one type of flower to another for their nectar fix!

Done well, the beekeeper - and bees - can enjoy and extended and beautiful series of honey flows.

8 thoughts on “Understanding The Honey Flow”

  1. Molly, Congratulations on your new venture! You have a lot of fun to look forward in the coming season. Because I am not familiar with your part of the country it would be hard for me to say just how much honey you can expect and therefore how much equipment to have. Here are a couple things to keep in mind though. In your first season you should temper expectations for honey. Its easy to get excited about it, but sometimes beginners remove too much from the hive the first season and don’t leave enough for the bees. Over the coming seasons its probably best to let experience (and local beekeepers) guide you in how much honey to take or leave in the hive.

    With regards to purchasing more equipment, well……, I’ve never had too much equipment. I’ve run short a few times, but never had too much. A little extra is a good thing even if you don’t use it right away. How would you house a swarm if you had the chance to catch one, or maybe you need to split a hive? There will always be situations that will make you wish you had some extra equipment laying around. So while you may not need it right away for the bees you will soon acquire, you still may end up needing some additional equipment for something else.

    One last thought about getting a lot of honey. If you don’t have time to purchase and/or prepare new supers, at least get some extra frames. You can always remove individual frames of honey from a hive and replace them with empty frames if you get in a bind.

    Best wishes for the coming bee season!!

  2. We are absolutely new at this. We have an apiary place surrounded by a zapping bear fence and a large zapping bear gate. (some of the materials from the state). (and a big dog who watches!!). We have ordered our 3 lb bee kits…

    Our hives have two deep and two 8 frame supers. Do you recommend we buy more? Some keepers in the Grand Valley are getting 100 lbs honey…I work and will need time to sand and paint extra supers…

    1. Bees aren’t picky the don’t need sanding and paint is optchional and can be put on while they are in their of corse non toxic!

  3. Figuring out when to add the next box will be challenging. How many boxes can/should be added over time before harvesting if you have medium, 8 framed boxes?

    Thanks again for the info!

    1. Lynn that depends on some factors that need to be in play during nectar flow time. Generally as a cover all plan, the rule of “seven” is used. That is… when 7 of the 10 frames in a 10 frame system are full then place another super on. In an 8 frame system that would be 5 frames.

  4. Designing new flowerbeds now, research for best flowers in my area and yes to a staggered bloom time good idea.

  5. Rick A - Warner

    With so many blooms and flows of different flowers here in florida you really do have to pay attention. UF edu has a guide to help here in florida.

  6. The honey flow seems like a precarious time. It is a boom time for the hive but it could be a bust time for the beekeeper if he or she isn’t paying attention to the drop off in space within the hive due to storage of honey. Interesting dichotomy to think about.

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