Beekeeping is an incredibly rewarding hobby, and the ultimate reward is nutritious, delicious honey!
Bees make honey as a food source to get them through the cooler seasons. (They don’t actually make it for us!)
Unlike bumblebees and wasps, honeybees spend winter as a colony, hunkering down together in the hive to keep warm. Their food (honey) to see them through the cold weather is made in summer and stored within the hive.
A colony of bees needs around 18kg of honey to survive winter and early spring, but if they have enough storage space, they can make much more – and this is the aim of the beekeeper.
A strong, healthy bee colony can produce twice or three times as much honey as it needs. The average hive will produce an annual surplus of 11kg of honey, which the keeper collects and uses or sells.
Interesting Factors about the Color and Flavor of Honey
The color, flavor, and consistency of honey produced are dependent on the types of nectar and flowers the bees have access to. Canola, for example, produces very hard honey, which is difficult for bees to use. Clear liquid honey arises from garden flowers, while some beekeepers limit their colony’s access to a single type of flower e.g., clover or orange blossom to create a specifically flavored honey.
What Impacts Honey Production?
If there is little or no honey in a hive, it’s because bees have used all of their reserves. Several factors determine the amount of honey a beehive produces. These include:
Declining Bee Population –
producing honey is extremely labor-intensive, and too few bees will not be up to the job. Low or declining population in your colony could be due to an unproductive queen, inefficient nurse bees, or generally low energy within the colony. Too few worker bees are also an issue. Feeding sugar syrup can be a solution to turn things around. If the queen is old or sick, the colony will likely expel her and you’ll need to introduce a new queen.
temperature extremes (hot and cold), bush fires, storms, wet weather, and drought can all impact the hive. Atmospheric temperatures also influence the availability of both nectar and pollen. If flowers are late to bloom or die off early, this too will impact the activity and productivity of bees.
Hive Location –
Bees need time to adjust to a new hive or a new hive location. This includes scouting sources of nectar over a season.
Hive Diseases –
colony diseases can be catastrophic and include bee paralysis virus and deformed wing virus. This needs to be treated appropriately. Additionally, hive pests like varroa mite can destroy your colony and result in barren hives.
The use of pesticides and herbicides in the areas your bees forage are incredibly dangerous and detrimental to your bees as well as honey production.
Age of the Hive –
A new hive needs to be given time for bees to establish a honey production pattern. Surplus honey will only begin to be stored after bees have collected food, built brood comb, and raised their young. Honey in the hive will only increase after the hive has been well established.
How Much Honey Do Bees Need to Survive Winter?
One of the most common mistakes novice beekeepers make is to fail to leave enough honey stores for the bees to survive winter and early spring.
Don’t expect to harvest much (if any) honey in your first year of beekeeping, as your hive becomes established.
It’s really important to understand that you need to leave some honey in the hive so that your bees survive winter. They become somewhat dormant during the cold season, when there are fewer blooms and less food available for them to access outside their hive. They do remain active within the hive.
Bees eat the honey in their hive as their primary carbohydrate source. Without enough honey to eat, they will not only potentially starve, but will also struggle to stay warm.
Monitor your hive throughout autumn to ensure the bees are building their honey stores. A healthy colony needs 18kg (minimum) of honey for winter – this equates to at least 8 full depth frames sealed and full of honey. A single box 8-frame may not be sufficient – it’s better to have a double box. One of these should be full of honey. Frames of unsealed honey can ferment – so do not keep these.
If you are still unsure, check with a local expert apiarist for advice.
Honey’s primary role is the sustenance of the bee colony. The honey produced must be used first and foremost used for this purpose – and only excess removed by a beekeeper for human consumption. Caring for and monitoring your hive is very important for the well being and productivity of your bee colony. Happy, strong bees in a healthy hive will thrive and produce plenty of delicious honey – more than enough for both you and them to enjoy!