One of the most satisfying aspects of beekeeping is to watch a colony’s population explode and the hive fill up with honey. Bees on a honey flow are fascinating to watch, and if you’re lucky enough to find your hives foraging on rich nectar sources you will be amazed how quickly colonies can produce staggering amounts of honey!
Of course adverse weather or other unexpected events can thwart your and your bees’ expectation. Also, don’t forget that the dynamics of colony expansion and honey production will differ based upon apiary location and nectar resource availability. How long your colony has been established, the age of your queen(s) and how successfully you managed previous challenges earlier in the year will have an impact on colony productivity too.
As my father and grandfather taught me there are a few things you can do to help your hive maximize honey production – like making sure you have good queens, strong populations and your stock of bees are avid nectar foragers. But they always emphasized that once the honey flow is on, the most important technique to master is supering – knowing when to super and how many honey supers to allocate to each hive. Preferably you can wait until your existing combs are almost full of honey before adding more room, but if you underestimate their rate of accumulation then you can lose honey, or worse, force swarming.
The guidelines I recommend are to add at least one super when you observe your bees whitening comb in the top of the hive – fresh wax on the frames in the middle of the topmost super, though if you’re in an area where the flow will be intense you may want to add two, or even three at a time. Remember not all colonies will fill at the same rate, and it takes a bit more experience to gauge which colonies are likely to fill multiple supers before the neighboring hives, but paying careful attention to population at the entrance, foraging activity, current weight and similar indicators are all useful clues to which colonies will need more room first. Of course, this problem assumes that you have the luxury of abundant honey supers on hand in the first place. If you don’t then you will have to extract combs immediately as your super fills and then get the extracted comb back on your hive right away (the same day). Don’t hesitate to add supers if you have them – you can always shuffle them around to the most needy hives later if the colony you put extras on doesn’t need them.
Like my grandfather used to say, there are only a few things you can count on about a honey flow, but you can be sure you won’t be extracting honey from supers that you never put on a hive.