Flow is a somewhat confusing term that beekeepers use to indicate that there is enough nectar forage available for bees to not only satisfy their immediate needs but to also store the excess as honey. Flow, Nectar Flow, Honey Flow – they all mean pretty much the same thing.
Sometimes a flow happens in Early September when Goldenrod blooms, and occasionally there is enough good weather in March for the bees to store some maple honey, but here in Cookeville TN our only reliable honey flow is around May 1st when Tulip Poplar and Black Locust trees bloom. In many years both of those highly productive blooms happen at the same time – which is unfortunate because the bees just can’t gather all that nectar at once. Based on my informal survey of trees in my area Black locust is nearly in full bloom right now – April 21, 2017 (suddenly in just the last 2-3 days) but Poplars are not yet in bloom. This is actually good because with a little luck the main flow will last longer than usual.
Show Time! This is it – the main beekeeping season. So, what does this mean for you the beekeeper? What should you do to help your bees make the best of this short, but crucial period? Several things…
Add Honey Supers – if you have supers of drawn comb you are going to want to start adding them to productive hives right away. If you don’t have comb then you need to add supers of foundation, and be aware that swarm prevention is going to be more of a challenge for you.
Remove Mite Treatments – As a general rule you should remove mite treatments before you add honey supers.
Prevent Swarming – A hive that swarms usually does not produce much of a honey crop.
The first line of defense against swarming is to provide lots of room in the form of drawn comb. Also transferring bees and brood from very strong hives to weaker ones can help to prevent the strong hive from becoming swarmy, while also making the weaker hive more productive. Aggressively splitting a hive may or may not prevent it from swarming, but it’s worth a try if a hive is obviously swarmy – indicated by dense populations and the presence of many queen cells along the bottom edge of frames.
The tried and true old school method of swarm prevention is to remove queen cells manually every 7-10 days (7 is much better than 10) – this works, but it’s a lot of hard work and requires you to be very fastidious. On the other hand, if you can prevent a strong hive from swarming for 20-30 days during the main flow it might be the difference between a large honey crop (worth as much as $3-400.00) and none at all.
Make Increase – This is the main reproductive season for bees, and the abundant availability of nectar minimizes robbing, and generally bee stress is at its lowest and health is at its peak. All of these factors make April 20 – May 20 (more or less) the absolute best time to make increase by splitting or any other means.
Combine Weak Hives to maximize honey production – 2 or 3 weak hives individually might not make any honey for you to harvest, but if you combine them at the beginning of the main flow the resulting strong hive very well might. This has been very successful for me in the past. “To make a lot of honey you need a lot of bees.”
Do Your Inspections! – Especially monitor hives for queenlessness. What to do when you think a hive is queenless…