Why Are My Bees Not Making Honey?

Pinterest Hidden Image

For beekeepers who start a hive with visions of endless jars of golden honey, reality can be a bummer. This leads them to question if they are doing something wrong – why are my bees not making honey? Even though honey bees are well-renowned for their ability to make a lot of honey, they are not machines. Many factors are involved in honey production – some of which we have no control over.

Worker bees not making honey in super box.

Years ago, during my first seasons of keeping bees, I had visions about large amounts of honey to harvest based on a per hive count. Those dreams are long gone because I now understand more of the factors involved.

Bees Not Storing Honey in Supers

Let’s talk about how bees normally store honey in their hive and the resulting honey production for beekeepers.

One of the most common hives in use today is the standard Langstroth hive – a favorite of beekeepers who want honey. This style of beehive involves several boxes stacked vertically. 

Ideally, the colony uses the bottom boxes (brood boxes) for their nest and food storage. Once this space is in use and some food stored for the bees, a beekeeper adds another super for the surplus honey.

These top boxes are usually referred to as “honey supers”. They can be any size but the shallow supers (with a height of 5 11/16″) are most commonly used.

How much honey your hive can produce is based on many factors. In general, beekeepers hope for at least a box or two per hive. 

So, if you go out to bring in the crop and find no honey in the supers – why not? Are your bees on strike? Is something wrong with your bees? Is something wrong with the beekeeper?

Worker bees gather nectar and beehives with honey supers for storage.

What Bees Need to Make Honey

Honey bees are hard working cold blooded insects. They live together in large colonies and work together to sustain the hive. Worker bees are responsible for foraging outside the hive for food. 

Bees are not lazy. Otherwise, you would not find so many quotes about bees being hard workers in our literature. They continue to work as long as possible – they don’t just say “okay that’s enough and stop.”

However, there are a few things that bees need to make honey and fill your supers.

  • nectar flow available to collect
  • a place to store honey

If the local area has abundant nectar and the hive has empty storage space, these two needs are likely being met. Now, we must look at other reasons for why the bees are not making honey.

Join Our Beekeeping Community

Free "Secrets to Successful Beekeeping" plus weekly newsletter with info about bees, beekeeping and more...

Honey super with frames full of capped honey.

Factors that Affect Honey Production

Each honey bee colony is different because of the genetics involved. Due to variations in types of honey bees or breeds, one hive may forage on cooler days or be more prone to bee swarms, etc.

For most of us, honey production is not a year round event. Honey bees do not produce honey during Winter – they are trying to survive until Spring.

Therefore, if your bees are not making honey for you – consider the following conditions to see if they can help explain why your honey supers may be empty.

  • first year colony
  • lack of nectar or pollen just before the honey flow
  • bad foraging weather
  • lack of enough bees
  • unhealthy hives

It is the First Year

First year colonies, especially those new hives started when a beekeeper buys a bee package often need the whole season to get ready for Winter. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule.

Don’t expect a honey crop until year two – many new beekeepers take honey thinking the bees have plenty of time to “make more” before cold weather and end up starving the colony. Don’t be that beekeeper.

Lack of Nectar or Pollen

When a large amount of nectar is available, this is called the time of the “honey flow“. But, nectar does not always flow strongly.

Perhaps, there has not been a lot of nectar for the bees to collect. Blooming flowers are not a guarantee of nectar. Some flowers do not produce nectar as they do not need insects for pollination.

Also, weather conditions such as late frost or a severe drought can cause flowers to have little nectar – this is called a nectar dearth.

Bad Foraging Weather

Even the best colony of bees will have trouble making honey if the foraging weather does not cooperate. High winds, too much rain for bees to fly or unseasonably cold temperatures all affect the amount of nectar bees are able to bring in.

Lack of Enough Bees

So many things are happening inside a hive, honey production, pollen storage, comb construction, etc. In addition, nurse bees are busy rearing larvae to become the next work force. 

What does this have to do with making honey?  A colony needs a large work force to make a lot of honey. If your colony has a small bee population – there are not as many workers to go out and collect nectar.

Unhealthy Hives Make Less Honey

Any colony troubled by varroa mites or similar health issues will not be as productive as a healthy hive. When is the last time you did a test or check for varroa mites in your hives?

Sick bees are not as strong and do not live as long. Varroa control treatments (if needed) are vital to having productive hives. And action has to be taken before the honey flow arrives.

Tips to Encourage Bees to Fill Supers

There are many things that are out of our control as beekeepers. But, there are some things we can do to help our colonies be more productive.

So many aspects of beekeeping are related to the region in which you live. Most areas have a limited number of warm days when bees can collect needed resources.

FAQs

Why do I have lots of bees and no honey?

Weather conditions are often to blame for a lack of honey production. Even if nectar is available, bees can not forage in cold or rainy weather.

Why are my bees not filling the super?

The workers are not able to collect enough plant nectar to fill the super. Or if the colony population is small, they may have a lot of room in the brood next boxes to store honey.

How long does it take bees to fill a super?

This depends on weather conditions, colony population and food availability. On average, it takes about two weeks for an average colony to fill a honey super.

Can you get honey for a first year hive?

In general, first year hives may not be able to produce excess honey for the beekeeper. However, if the colony builds up quickly and abundant nectar is available – it is possible to harvest a little honey.

A Final Word

Rest assured that bees want to be productive. If your bees are not making honey, it is because some part of the equation is missing. Healthy strong colonies are the first step. Given the proper timing and forage and you should be on your way to harvesting fresh honey from your hive.