Lesson 12 – How to Produce the Most Honey From A New Hive
Honey bees produce honey and in a good year, they produce lots of it, more than they will need, so the beekeeper can remove the excess. This is why most of us keep bees–for the honey. Although, truth be told, we just love keeping bees!
HOW TO PRODUCE THE MOST HONEY FROM A NEW HIVE
If you are starting with a package of bees, then you should be happy if the bees only produce enough honey for themselves. This is good and par for the course. However, I always work my packages to produce honey for me my first year, and most do. My success comes from placing my packaged hives on drawn comb. In my opinion drawn comb is the beekeeper’s third best friend! The hive tool is first, and a bee-vac is second. I would still like to have a bee vac!
Obviously, a new package or nuc will have to build up their hive. This means they will need to produce a huge amount of new comb on the frames. They need ample amounts of comb for the queen to lay eggs and for the workers to store nectar and pollen. Comb building requires a huge amount of consumed nectar. The bees need a large amount of incoming nectar for their glands to produce wax. In fact, it takes 8 pounds of nectar for the bees to produce 1 pound of wax.
Not only must they produce a significant amount of wax to build their new hive, they also need to increase their population. Typically a package contains 3 pounds of bees, which is roughly estimated to be about 10,000 bees. An established hive will usually have between 40,000-80,000 bees. The difficulty with packages and nucs is that before they develop a large number of foraging bees, some key nectar flows may have come and gone. This is why it can be difficult for a new hive to produce extra honey. They are using the incoming nectar to build comb and feed their growing population and they do not have enough bees of foraging age to get the job done.
To accelerate a package hive, drawn foundation is a huge push. Less wax production is needed and more nectar can be immediately stored. However, rarely does a beginning beekeeper have access to drawn comb. And special care must be taken to ensure that drawn comb is free of any disease, especially American Foul Brood. AFB spores can live in comb for more than 50 years. So, just because a retiring beekeeper gave you all of his equipment, including drawn comb, doesn’t mean that you’ve got usable draw comb. If you have access to clean drawn comb, this is one way to help your package produce honey their first year.
Another way to produce honey from a new hive is to capture swarms and add the bees to the hive. Again, you must be sure that the bees you are adding are free of pests and disease. You will need to lay down newspaper between the two groups so that they can become familiar with one another and not fight. Many beekeepers capture swarms for the single purpose of using them to draw comb. Then, the drawn comb is placed into new hives. Swarms are geared to build comb.
With all this said, I still believe the best policies to allow the bees to keep all their honey the first year.
PRODUCING THE MOST HONEY FROM OVERWINTERED HIVES
During the month of February, I will do two things. First, I place pollen patties just above the cluster, usually on the inner cover since the cluster is up high coming out of winter. And I place sugar water just above the cluster as well, one part water, one part sugar. These two food sources are just enough to prove to the older workers that a steady flow of nectar and pollen are available, so that they will stimulate the queen into laying more than she normally would at this time of the year. This helps the hive overall as well, because most hives that starve do so in February and March. The idea is to expand the population of nurse bees so that more eggs can be laid and cared for than what is normally found this time of the year, thus increasing the amount of foragers prior to May 10th.
This is a “common sense” technique. Farmers know when their crops will need harvested, and they prepare in advance to have all of their equipment and workers ready. Beekeepers do this very poorly. Beekeepers must prepare their workers (the foragers) to bring in the harvest! A terrible mistake beekeepers make is that they do not monitor the various ages of their bees. They view all of their bees as foragers. But they are not. Only one fifth of the bees in an entire hive are at foraging age.
You must also make sure your bees are healthy. They need nutrition. They need fattened up so they can remain strong and fight off various diseases. Mite control is essential in keeping healthy bees. The healthier the hive, the better the honey production.
Having a good queen is important as well. It is optimal to replace your queen every couple of years. You certainly don’t have to, and often the hive will replace a faltering queen. However, for maximum honey production, you should replace your queen in September. Then, by the time you start stimulating the hive in February with sugar water and pollen patties, this new, young queen can really begin laying. You must see your honey production season as starting in September!
Finally, you need lots of supers! Research has shown that bees with plenty of supers on the hive at one time do better than supering a hive as needed. I always have at least 3 medium supers on all my hives prior to the nectar flow. If some of those supers have been saved from the previous year and have drawn comb, then you’re that much closer to an excellent honey producing year.
One final note on honey production. Monitor the location of the queen. Keep the queen down. She moves up as she lays. Therefore, you may have to reverse your brood bodies many times in the Spring. However, be careful while it is still cold in the Spring not to divide the brood nest when rotating the bottom two deeps. But, they will need rotated. Get her down, so that she will see plenty of open cells to lay in. This will help prevent swarming as well.