A thriving hive often produces excess honey, meaning beekeepers can harvest a portion for themselves. While this may sound appealing, things don’t always go to plan.
The two basic requirements for excess honey production are hive strength and nectar availability. Keep reading to discover some common reasons a hive has bees but no honey. You’ll want to pay close attention to number six lower down the page.
6 reasons a hive doesn’t have any honey
Bees may not be storing honey in the provided supers because bee numbers are low or the hive is new and getting established. Poor weather, insufficient nectar flow, incorrect hive placement, and health issues can also severely impact honey production.
1. Low number of bees
Producing honey requires a sizeable workforce. It is labor-intensive, so a large, growing population is a prerequisite for a harvestable surplus.
While there are many reasons for a hive to have low numbers, it may be a case of low energy. Hives that are getting established often suffer from this problem. Feeding them with sugar syrup will often remedy this situation.
Another common reason for low hive numbers is an unproductive queen that’s old or sick. Healthy colonies usually deal with this situation swiftly, so if you see queen cells, it’s a signal that a new queen is being reared. It is often best to let nature run its course and wait for a more prolific queen to begin laying.
Extra reading: How do I know if a hive is queenless?
2. New hive priorities
New beekeepers are excited and enthusiastic when they get their new bees. But it’s best to temper expectations in year one. The colony is getting established, which can take time.
Over spring and summer, they will scout the area for nectar sources. Bees also have other more important jobs like building the hive and defending it, raising young, collecting water, and feeding the adult bees. Don’t be disappointed if year one doesn’t provide the bounty of honey you hoped for.
3. Poor weather conditions
Weather can play a big part in a hive’s success, and climate change isn’t helping. Flying in rainy weather isn’t possible for most bee breeds, although Buckfast bees deal with wet weather better than most. If bees can’t leave their hive to forage, then honey production must be delayed until the arrival of sunny days.
Unseasonal cold temperatures will also stop foraging activity. In temperatures of 50°F or less, the colony is unlikely to venture out. Instead, it will form a huddle to stay warm and conserve energy.
Activity will slow if it’s too hot or dry. In this situation, flowers are in short supply, and bees are more likely to festoon on the hive’s outside.
4. Low nectar flow
If plants near the hive aren’t providing nectar, then honey production will cease. A nectar dearth may result from an extended winter or unseasonably dry weather.
While sugar syrup will help the hive through a tough period, it doesn’t meet the requirements for honey-making. To learn more about this process, our guide on how honey is made is well worth a read.
Some breeds of bees are affected by nectar shortages more than others. Pure Russian bees will typically shut off their brood rearing and wait for forage availability. While this frustrates some beekeepers, it is a valuable trait that helps with overwintering and fighting off varroa mites.
5. Bad hive placement
Make sure your bees are positioned in the right spot. Some locations are much better than others, so check out our article on where to place hives to give your colony a fighting chance.
6. Health problems
If the hive has had time to get established and all the conditions seem perfect for honey production, there may be a severe problem. Inspecting the hive will give you a better idea of the hive’s strength.
Check for healthy-looking capped brood that is covered with adult bees nursing larvae. Look for all stages of development: eggs, larvae, and capped brood.
Open brood isn’t a good sign, but various pests and diseases can cause it. Below are some valuable resources to help:
- How to test for varroa mites.
- Symptoms of American Foulbrood you need to know.
- what are the signs of European foulbrood?
- How to check for small hive beetle.
Quick tip: Avoid adding an extra super to encourage honey production if your hive doesn’t have strong numbers. This will have the opposite effect, forcing the colony to defend the space, build propolis, and deal with new temperature control challenges.
How do I encourage bees to produce honey?
Remove the queen excluder: If you’re using a queen excluder, consider temporarily removing it for 1-2 weeks. This step will encourage reluctant bees to move into the adjacent supers and start working. Replace the excluder if you get results, but ensure the queen is in the brood box on its return.
Supplementary feeding: If your hive has insufficient food sources, stimulate hive strength with a 1:1 sugar syrup. Brood rearing can be encouraged by providing pollen supplements. You can learn how to feed bees here.
Wax the frames: Brush the foundations with melted beeswax if you’re using plastic frames. Beekeepers often notice this simple practice helps. Spraying sugar syrup on the frames is also an excellent way to draw bees into supers.
Use a drawn super: For foundationless beekeeping, it helps to add a frame of drawn comb to the super. This step will encourage bees to enter the new box and start building.
What are the signs of good nectar flow?
You’ll know there is sufficient nectar flow when flowers are visible on a wide range of plants. Bees at the hive entrance with full abdomens and heavy bee traffic are also signs of heavy foraging. Other signals of nectar flow include increased hive weight, wax production, and the aroma of ripening nectar.
Why do bees store excess honey?
Bees keep an excess store of honey as an energy source to help them survive months of cold winter weather. It also helps them get through periods of nectar dearth and sustains the colony’s developing young.
Bees are hardworking, highly productive creatures, but they need time to get established before beekeepers can expect to harvest honey. The first year for a new colony is especially rigorous, so don’t expect too much from it.
Hives that have had time to get established may be struggling with poor weather or low levels of nectar.
When conditions seem right for honey production, check that the hive is positioned well. If it looks fine, you’ll need to inspect the hive for symptoms of disease, mites, or other pests.
Dealing with threats swiftly will often get the hive back on track. However, the honey harvest may need to wait until next year.