It’s time to harvest your honey. However, when you open the hive, you don’t see any honey. What went wrong? There are a number of factors that affect how much honey your bees will produce; and if you have lots of bees but no honey it is important to investigate why.
It’s important to remember that bees don’t produce honey for humans. They produce it to meet their own needs. A quirk of nature, paired with good beekeeping practices, results in the bees creating a surplus of honey. This allows us to harvest the honey, while allowing the bees to meet their needs as well.
Creating honey is actually quite a complicated process. Some factors that affect honey production can be changed, while others are simply part of the natural processes.
How is Honey Produced?
Before we learn why your hive is honeyless, it’s important to know how honey is made.
Honey makes its way into the hive in the form of nectar carried by worker bees. The honey is passed by mouth from bee to bee. This partially digests the honey and greatly reduces its moisture content. By the time it’s placed in honey cells, the moisture content has gone from 70% to 20%.
Once it’s in the cells, it’s exposed to the heat and wind caused by the bees’ activity. If you’ve ever been on a crowded dance floor, you know how much body heat and movement can raise the ambient temperature. This completes the honey’s drying process.
Honey is only stored in combs and capped after the bees have met their own needs. In simple terms, this is always the reason for a honey shortage. The bees did not have enough honey to meet their own needs and had a surplus.
How Bees Use Honey
Bees use honey in a few ways. In the winter, there’s no nectar for bees to feed on. They rely on honey stores to see them through the winter months. In the summer, honey is used to feed larvae.
It’s made into bee bread, which is a mixture of pollen and honey which is fed to bee larvae. Nurse bees will also consume honey. They then excrete substances that help feed the colony.
Without honey, bees would not be able to survive. Their ability to produce enough honey that we can enjoy it is truly one of nature’s miracles.
Hive conditions are the first place to check if your bees aren’t producing honey. This includes the size of the hive, weather conditions, nectar flow, and the age of the hive.
Age of the Hive
The age of the hive is a major factor in honey production. If the hive is in its first year, you shouldn’t expect a surplus of honey. It takes time for the bees to mature. If they are in a new area, it also takes time for them to determine the best areas to gather nectar.
Size of the Hive
The size of the hive will have a direct impact on honey production. You need a sufficient amount of worker bees to create surplus honey. It’s possible for there to be enough bees in the hive overall but still lack enough worker bees.
In most cases, however, a lack of bees overall is the problem. If your hive has plenty of bees, you’ll need to look for other issues.
Even if your hive has sufficient numbers, if the population is beginning to decline, this can also cause issues with the honey supply.
Weather conditions are a factor you have little control over. They can greatly affect your hive. If the weather is very hot, cold, or wet, the bees will not produce normally.
In the winter, bees stay within the hive. They will huddle together in a group to stay warm. This is the bees’ survival instinct and allows them to survive the cold months.
This is expected during the winter months. However, it can also occur during a cold snap during the foraging season. 50 degrees is the standard temperature where bees will stop foraging and remain in the hive.
However, this will vary from colony to colony. Some colonies will be more cold tolerant than others. Even bees within the same hive who have different functions will have varying tolerances to cooler temperatures.
It’s easy to assume that there’s plenty of nectar for your bees. This will vary based on the plants available in your area. It’s also dependent on the weather.
A winter that lasts longer than usual will cause flowers to bloom later. A dry spring or summer can cause flowers to wither earlier than usual. If the bees don’t have enough nectar, they can’t produce enough honey.
Robbery can also reduce the amount of honey in your hive. In this case, the problem isn’t the bees not producing enough honey. Instead, there are other insects stealing the bees’ hard work in the form of honey.
If your super was getting full and the honey seemed to disappear, robbery might be thecause. It is confusing when the honey is there one day, and gone days later. This is rarely because the bees have consumed the honey.
There are several insects who are famous, or infamous, for their penchant for honey stealing. The yellow jacket is a well-known honey thief. They will attack individual bees in healthy hive, but they won’t attempt a full-scale invasion.
If the hive is weak, the yellow jacket can sense this. It picks up on chemical messages in the scent of the bees. It will then call other yellow jackets, and wage a full-scale assault.
The wasps feed on the honey bees themselves. However, when they get the opportunity, larvae, honey, and pollen are all on the menu.
Other bees can also be the culprits of the theft. Bees are hoarders by nature. This is what allows them to store honey, hopefully in abundant amounts. This can lead them to get honey by any means necessary, including robbing their kin of their honey.
Health Issues That Can Affect Honey Production
In addition to problems with the conditions in the hive, health issues can also negatively affect honey production.
You can identify a strong colony by looking at the brood frames. The frame should have a capped brood. You should also see plenty of adult bees on the frame taking care of the larvae.
Diseases can negatively affect your colony’s production. Deformed wing virus and bee paralysis virus can cause a reduction in honey production. These viruses often occur along with a varrrora mite infestation.
A varrora mite infestation is a sign that a virus may be affecting your bees. Varrora mites can be seen with the naked eye. They look similar to small ticks. They attach to the bees and feed on them. They also feed on the brood, laying their eggs in them as well.
Signs of a varrora mite infestation include white or red spots on bee larvae and bee deformation. Particularly, newly hatched bees will have deformed wings if there’s a varrora mite infestation.
Solving Honey Production Problems
Now that you have an idea of what is causing your lack of honey production, you are likely wondering what you can do to remedy it. There are a few things you can do, depending on the source of the problem.
Feeding is the Bees Knees
Many problems with the hive can be solved simply by feeding your bees. If your colony isn’t getting enough nectar, they can’t produce enough honey.
This can also weaken the colony, or cause them to become sluggish. Lack of nectar can lead to a host of problems that result in low honey production.
There are a few ways you can feed your bees. The first is to feed them honey. If you feed them honey, it should come from your own hives. Feeding honey from other hives can spread bee diseases.
Of course, the goal is to increase honey production. Honey is an excellent food source, but it’s also a bit counterproductive.
If you have a strong, well-established colony, you can feed them dry table sugar. Place the sugar inside the hive on mats, or in trays underneath the lid.
You can also wet the sugar to create a partial syrup. This prevents the sugar from becoming solid, which makes it difficult for the bees to feed.
When feeding dry sugar, the bees will need a sufficient water supply. They will typically source water from outside the hive, or from condensation within the hive. To use the dry sugar, the bees must be strong enough to gather water.
It’s best to feed dry sugar in moist months. Winter and spring are typically suitable for feeding dry sugar. However, during the hot dry summer, sugar syrup is a better choice.
Sugar syrup is typically made in two different concentrations. Each has its own uses. A syrup that is one part sugar and one part water is suitable to supplement existing honey stores. It also stimulates brood production. Lastly, it encourages the bees to draw a comb foundation. This ratio is ideal for spring feeding.
A ratio of two parts sugar to one part water can help bees survive the winter months, or anytime honey stores are very low.
Keep in mind that you should only feed the bees when there aren’t enough natural sources of nectar. In addition to sugar, the bees get protein and minerals from the nectar, which they need to survive. If food is readily available in the form of sugar, they will be less inclined to forage for nectar.
Careful Monitoring and Patience
Rearing bees is not an instant gratification activity. It takes an immense amount of patience, along with hard work. It can be disappointing to expect to see the fruits of your labor, only to come up empty-handed.
However, if there’s a lack of honey, patience is key. It takes time to solve the issue that caused the lower honey production. It can even take some time to determine what the problem is. In some cases, the cause will remain a mystery.
Many honey production issues can be solved by feeding your bees. However, there’s one other component to solving the problem. You’ll need to carefully monitor the hive.
Frequently checking the health of the hive is key. Ensure that the queen is laying an adequate amount of eggs. Check to see if the workers are performing their functions, which includes producing honey and raising larvae.
You should make sure that there’s enough space for expansion in the hive, but that the hive isn’t too large. Every inch of space within the hive must be defended, so you’ll need to strike a careful balance in terms of space.
Lastly, you should watch for signs of a parasite infestation or bee diseases, which can seriously impact the health of the hive. Watch for signs of predation as well, as thieves could be stealing your bees’ honey.
Final Thoughts on Lack of Honey
Beekeeping is a hard but rewarding undertaking. With so many factors involved in the production of honey, careful observation and patience is key to solving the issue.
Remember, your bees will eventually produce honey. If you are just beginning your beekeeping journey, focus on keeping your bees healthy and thriving. The honey will come, in time.