Importance of the Nectar Flow in Beekeeping


plant in bloom

It's late April in Middle Tennessee and our nectar flow is on! In my first year of beekeeping, I made a lot of mistakes because I didn't understand what the nectar flow was or its importance. Since then, I've learned to watch the bees, learn from them, and work with them as the season progresses.

What Is the Nectar Flow?

The nectar flow is the time of year when the native vegetation is in full bloom. Here that starts about mid-April, when the trees begin to flower, and continues through May with blooming shrubs like blackberries, honeysuckle and, yes, even multiflora rose and privet, as well as a multitude of wildflowers. Then at the end of June, the summer dearth begins with little blooming other than clover. In the fall, we usually have another, smaller bloom of asters, goldenrod, and other wildflowers. In very dry years, this fall bloom can be pretty minimal.

Why Is the Nectar Flow So Important?

bee hive

It's important to understand how the bees respond to the bloom. Even before the flowers begin to appear in the spring, the trees will begin to produce pollen. At the same time, the queen resumes laying eggs to build up the hive population that will soon collect nectar and make honey. The worker bees bring in this first pollen of the year to feed all the new larvae that will metamorphose into adult worker bees. By the time the flowers begin to bloom, the population in a healthy hive is exploding and drone bees also begin to appear in preparation for future swarming.

With the bloom, the bees can build new wax. It takes several times more nectar to make a pound of wax that it does to make a pound of honey, so the bees can't make wax unless they have lots of nectar--only during the flow. As the spring bloom builds, healthy hives may produce queen cells in preparation for swarming, their normal method of making new colonies. The old queen and a large swarm of bees will go off and begin a new hive.

Knowing the specifics of the flow for your geographical location is important in managing your bees to maximize hive health as well as honey production. If you create artificial swarms or nucleus hives (nucs) when the bees would normally swarm, the bees get to start a new colony and you get to keep more bees. And because you won't lose up to half of your bees, which can happen in a normal swarm, more bees will be left to produce honey. The original hive will think it has swarmed and settle down to building its stores. The purpose of a spring flow, for the bees, is to provide food for the rest of the year. (Many of my customers are surprised to learn that bees do not make honey all year long and that a bee hive isn't a year-round spigot for honey.)

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