TedsWoodworking Plans and Projects

Are you ready for the Nectar Flow?

1. Do you have enough Supers?
2. Are you using drawn comb or foundation?
3. How old is your queen?
4. Are your colonies strong enough in forager age bees?
5. Are you going to be AHEAD of your bees, or behind of their actions?
6. Do you really know WHAT causes swarming, and how to reduce the chances?

Your success in obtaining a strong honey crop is dependent on how you handled the questions listed above. If you are satisfied with 25-50 pounds of honey every year or so (even less in some years), or maybe, you don’t care about honey, but just want to watch the bees work. A little unusual, but nothing wrong with that. There are some people that rent a room for a week in a hotel just 10 miles from their home to escape the drudgery of home ownership, and call that week a VACATION. Unusual, but nothing wrong with that.

However, most people have bees for the purpose of producing lots of honey so they can sell some, give some away to friends, eat some themselves, use for medicinal reasons like a sore throat, and all want honey as evidence to BRAG that they are a big, brave beekeeper who is not afraid of being stung! Then there is the hunter who has a mounted deer head on his wall, or the fisherman with a mounted sailfish that he could not eat for dinner. Don’t you wonder about the total cost in equipment and time it costs to get that deer or that sailfish? Bees and equipment cost money too, but you can SELL honey and still brag about being stung!

Hoping that I have provided you with a chuckle, but more importantly, I hope that I make you THINK about the things that should be done NEXT YEAR to be better than this year. Let’s take them in order:

Have you got enough supers?
In each of our respective areas, abundant nectar flow is typically anywhere from 6-10 weeks. Each of your colonies should be able to produce 125 pounds of honey most years, if you have followed the management techniques of bee scientists and researchers and forgotten the ways that “Daddy kept bees”. In this short 6-10 week period of nectar production, bees don’t have the time to quickly ripen the nectar into honey, and hence need a good bit of extra super space just to store that nectar until they can ripen it into honey. Since honey is only about 16%-18% water, but nectar is 60%-80% water, it takes a lot of space to store all that thin, watery nectar. Hence, a strong colony of bees should have about 5 (yes, five) supers of drawn comb (not foundation) installed about April 1 -15th, but certainly no later than May 1st. If you were in a location that provided you with a long, drawn out nectar flow without much intensity, you could put on just 2-3 supers, remove 1-2 and extract, and reuse them again. If bees don’t have enough storage space for the nectar, they don’t just quit and sit on the front porch, they swarm to a new home and can build new storage space. In that case you are left “holding the bag”.

Are you using drawn comb or foundation?
I have problems understanding how anyone can believe that these two things are the same or equal; but some people certainly don’t realize the difference! Drawn comb can be used year after year PROVIDED YOU TAKE CARE OF IT when it is not in the hive. However, if you do not have any drawn comb, you must use foundation. Supers of foundation can only be installed ONE AT A TIME. You dare not try to draw just 9 frames of foundation instead of ten, or you will have a king sized mess that probably will have to be discarded. Put 10 frames of foundation, never mix it with drawn comb, in a super, install it directly on top of the brood nest (with no queen excluder), wait until the bees have drawn out 3-4 frames of foundation and added either nectar or SOME BROOD in them, make sure the queen is put back in the brood chamber, install a queen excluder, and put this now BAITED super of foundation back on top of the queen excluder. When the bees have drawn about 6-7 frames of foundation, move the undrawn frames to the center and the drawn frames towards the outside, and add a second super of 10 frames of foundation. Now your super area is well baited with nectar, so you no longer remove the queen excluder to let the bees in. After you get 10 frames of drawn comb made in the super, you can then switch back to using only 9 frames if you like that. BEES WILL NOT DRAW FOUNDATION FOR ANY REASON WHATSOEVER UNLESS THERE IS A NECTAR FLOW ON OR A FEEDER OF 1:1 SUGAR SYRUP (artificial nectar). For some unknown reason, so many beekeepers just don’t seem to understand this and still don’t have any drawn comb in October to store honey for the coming winter. In MO there is NO NECTAR FLOW in July and August, so you have to feed 1:1 sugar syrup then if you want foundation drawn into comb. If you understand bee biology, this fact is easy to explain: Bees have to consume (eat) about 8 pounds of honey (equal to maybe 30 pounds of nectar) to produce 1 pound of bees wax that they build into comb! Isn’t that simple? I hope you new beekeepers understand this. Further, I don’t want you to forget that you CANNOT install two, three, or 4 supers of foundation all at the same time; but you HAVE TO INSTALL JUST ONE SUPER OF 10 FRAMES OF FOUNDATION, get it about 70% drawn and then add another super of 10 frames of foundation, and then a third super, followed by a fourth super, etc.

How old is your Queen?
I don’t want to argue with you, but during the past 15 years, the most emminent bee scientists and bee researchers in the country have found that the major thing that controls swarming or not swarming is the amount of queen pheromone that the queen can produce every day, and they have proved that a queen’s ability to produce this queen pheromone DIMINISHES a little bit each day of life starting with the day she was bred. Hence, trying to put this in “gambling” terms: a queen starting her second spring season of laying eggs is more than twice liable to swarm than a queen starting her first spring laying season; and the chances of swarming by a queen starting her third spring laying season are “astronomical” compared to a young queen. Further, and this has been known for many years, some races of honey bees like Carniolans have a higher propensity to swarm than other races. Many famous migratory honey producers who carry bees all over the U. S. following different crop blooms requeen their colonies TWICE each year to prevent swarming; and essentially all professional honey producers requeen their colonies every 12 months! WHY? The more bees in a colony, the more honey it can produce, and everyone knows that a young 18 year old girl can get pregnant faster than a 35 year old woman; so a younger queen can lay more eggs than an older queen. Perhaps more important is losing a swarm in April or May in Missouri means losing most of your year’s honey crop, and a real young queen is not likely to swarm.

The net result of all this writing is to say that your bees will reward you with much more honey and little or no swarming if your queen is never more than 12 months old. I do know of a very accomplished beekeeper that told me he does not requeen every year and is successful so, suit yourself, but I recommend requeening every year if you want to greatly reduce the chance of swarming.

Are your colonies strong enough in FORAGER AGE bees?
Your children don’t go out to work when they are 10, 12, or 15 years old, but I certainly hope they do some house duties like cutting grass, making their bed, or sweeping the floor when Mother is sick, (or even if she isn’t!). Well, honey bees have HIVE DUTIES to do inside the hive until they are about 19 days old, when they “get their WINGS” and become forager bees, flying out looking for nectar and pollen. The life span of a bee in flying weather is only 42 days, and it spends the first 19 days doing hive work like building comb, feeding brood, cleaning the hive, feeding the queen, cleaning cells for the queen to lay in, guard duty at the front door, unloading nectar from foraging bees, ripening nectar into honey, and many other house duties. Hence, a bee only forages the last 23 days of its life – JUST 3 SHORT WEEKS! Now use your mathematical mind: for example, say your nectar flow ends on May 31st, an egg laid by the queen anytime after April 21st is USELESS to the hive for nectar “collecting” to make honey. An egg laid on April 22nd emerges as a worker bee 21 days later which is May 12th, and it spends the next 19 days inside the hive doing house duties, and graduates to the status of a foraging bee on May 31st, the day the nectar flow ends! If the 2-3 week period of May 5th – May 25th is the height of your nectar flow the queen must lay eggs to produce foraging age bees for this period 40 days ahead, or about March 26th. Making it simple: The egg of a forager bee must be laid by the queen 40 days in advance of the date it goes out to forage. So, do the math further: for the sake of the dates we used as an example you could say it now becomes very important to get a queen laying well in February to produce the bees that can keep the brood area nice and warm so the queen can really start HEAVY LAYING in March in order to produce lots of forager age bees to gather all that pollen and nectar that is only available the last of April and all of May. When your colonies have lots of bees in June or July, you are losing lots of your honey crop, because all those bees are just eating the honey that was collected in May. Take this example (with suggested dates) and apply to your specific area, with regard to nectar flow, and you will know what to do and when to do it.

Are you going to be AHEAD of your bees, or behind in their actions?
So many people, maybe even with good intentions, just don’t seem to anticipate the needs of their bees in trying to help them in honey production or lack of swarming, and the result is a lousy honey crop or losing a swarm. I am aware that there are people who will be late for their own funeral, but I am talking to the rest of you! Take care of your bees! Bees don’t have a calendar hanging in their hive, nor do they know what day of the week it is, so it is your job to ANTICIPATE a need for supers before they are really needed and provide them before your colony swarms. There have been people upset by my pointing out that the loss of a swarm during the nectar flow is 100% beekeeper’s FAULT, and not weather, drought, bad queen, or race of bees. The job of a beekeeper is to HELP his bees, and prevent them from following the ways of primitive nature, which was to swarm and rarely live through the winter. Reverse your colonies in early February to provide laying space for the queen, start feeding 1:1 sugar syrup in February to stimulate queen laying, put your supers in place BEFORE the nectar flow (not after it starts), extract your honey before the dirty feet of the bees turn the pretty white cappings yellow or brown, put your Menthol in place BEFORE September 1st so it kills the tracheal mites, etc, etc. PLAN AHEAD AND DO IT!

Do you really know what causes swarming, and how to control it?
It is fairly safe to say that most beekeepers do not want any swarms, because that generally ruins the honey crop for the entire year; and hence, you would think that they would seek out the knowledge of experts like bee scientists, bee researchers, master beekeepers, or professional honey producers. Maybe they are just shy or embarrassed to ask any of these people. Just don’t make the mistake of listening to the advice of some old timer who loses swarms most years and has to buy new bees every year or so. This is foolish, so let me tell you what causes swarming. By the way, swarming just does not happen, but bees swarm because something is wrong in the makeup of the hive, and this can be corrected IN ADVANCE by a knowledgeable beekeeper. Bees swarm at two different portions of the spring. The first, we call SWARM SEASON, is that period where pollen is being collected and a little bit of nectar is around like in dandelions. The worker bees are forcing the queen to lay high numbers of eggs, 1500 – 2000 eggs every day, and the queen suddenly runs out of “desirable” laying space in the brood chamber, resulting in CONGESTION IN THE BROOD CHAMBER. By the time of the year of February, the bottom brood chamber is EMPTY and the queen is laying only in the top half of the brood chamber, and brood is now up against the inner cover. The worker bees are NOT going to push that queen down to the empty bottom brood box where there is no pollen, no nectar, no honey, and chilly near the front entrance where they can’t keep the brood warm, so they either stop the queen from laying or swarm. You can quickly solve this problem by REVERSING THE BROOD BOXES, so the empty box is now on top and the queen can just move upward into it as the workers gather pollen for it and either a little nectar or sugar syrup to feed the new brood. You may have to REVERSE 2-3 times prior to April 15th; but by doing this, you have reduced congestion in the brood chamber by continually providing more laying space for the queen. CONGESTION IN THE BROOD CHAMBER has been proven the Number One cause of swarming during swarm season by bee research. The number two cause of swarming is the age of a queen! If your queen is over 12 months old, she just cannot produce enough Queen Pheromone to “glue” a large number of bees together as a singular functioning unit, so they swarm. You could have prevented this by having a new queen in place in the spring. By “new” I mean a queen that is less than 8 months old. The bees are only living and functioning in the brood chamber area, which should be either 2 deep boxes or 3 medium (illinois) super boxes. By REVERSING, a beekeeper has HELPED his bees by building a large population without having a swarm!

Sometime about mid April, the nectar flow gets going regularly, and the bees drop all thoughts of swarming and start thinking about nectar collecting to provide lots of winter stores of honey for future bees (It is interesting that a bee collecting nectar in May has never experienced cold weather and will die in June; but collects the nectar, not for herself and NOT for you, but for future bees to live through next winter). Nectar is very thin and might be 80% water, whereas honey is only 16%-18% water. Storing all this thin, watery nectar until the bees can find time to ripen it into thick honey by evaporating most of the water can require a lot of super space filled with empty drawn comb. If the supers are not there exactly when the bees need all this space, they SWARM! Whose fault? 100% the beekeeper’s fault! Supers sitting in his garage or basement did not stop the bees from swarming, and they are not going to wait for his weekend off from work. He did NOT HELP his bees, so they left! Please be numbered among the dedicated bekeepers who take great care that his bees have their needs met.

This will conclude this month’s education. I hope you all will have been able to glean some bit of information that will contribute to your success!

Source: Georges Pink Pages


  1. Kenneth Vanhorn says

    The article on spring management is good, but i don’t think that Charlies is the author. If you will look up George imires’ Pink Pages you will see that he claims to have written the article. Following is a like to his pink pages.


  2. David L Stermer Sr. says

    I just wanted to THANK YOU!Dave

  3. Kenneth, thanks for bringing up Georges Pink Pages, I have referred to them for years as an excellent source of information. I added a credit line to the article.

    Dave, Your Welcome!

  4. Thanks for this very informative article.

  5. John Watson says

    Could you add a super of undrawn frames under a super of drawn frames or would they just skip over and add to the drawn frames?

  6. First of all I think everybody should learn that the actual first swarms are REPRODUCTIVE SWARMS NOT CONGESTIVE SWARMS!!! There IS a difference… When there is plenty of resources like natural pollen and nectar coming in and the hive is building in numbers, the bees want to do a “Reproductive SWARM” because they know they are built up enough that they can pull this off and they also know it increases their chances of survival on this Earth.If one don’t make it the other one might, too often people think that room causes swarms, yes it does but that is not the initial instinct to swarm, propagating and getting their genes into the future is. Now come spring the Queen is ramping up , getting her numbers built in order to be prepared for the honey flow, if she runs out of room ,the bees will put the honey in the first available space which will be in The Brood Nest , where the brood just hatched, then she won’t have a place to lay because the bees put honey there ,then YES they will swarm,This is CONGESTIVE SWARM, but how many times have you heard” I don’t know why they swarmed they had a whole empty super above them”? WELL it was probably because it was a REPRODUCTIVE SWARM, not Always Congestive , because that’s how they REQUEEN theirselves also ,some races, another thing is bees don’t always see Foundation as more room or even drawn comb, you have to put brood above them to draw bees up, then they realize it’s there, how many times have you had an empty box on top of the brood nest and they started making Queen cups preparing to swarm… and lastly a lot of people say when they start seeing Drones that it’s JUST Part of the build-up, well I can tell you when you start seeing Drones the bees are ready to split in a few weeks, that is your first clue that you better be doing something ,because they are preparing to leave, they prepare to swarm weeks in advance and they give you Clues along the way, have you noticed them? Another thing I’m in southern Missouri about 40 minutes from the Arkansas line, if you put too many supers on here they will get annihilated with wax moth or small hive beetles,now I know the author said something about being in Missouri,but I can tell you,I don’t see how …I have lost numerous combs, on Strong colonies too, by putting extra supers out when apples bloomed, to each their own.. Now I do believe you better be ahead of the bees or you will miss out ,but there’s a line there you’ll have to learn how far you can push that.. Overall I’d say GOOD ARTICLE with material I mostly agree with

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