What Is Honey Flow? (Abundant Nectar Flow!)

Bee gathers nectar during honey flow

Updated on December 28th, 2021

Nectar is watery, sweet liquid produced by flowering plants. Plant nectar, which contains sugar and other components, is collected by honey bees as a primary building block for the creation of honey.

Honey flow is when nectar is so abundant that bees gather enough for their current dietary needs and store surplus honey for the future. Thus, honey flow is really about nectar flow. Surplus honey feeds the colony during low nectar times and provides honey for harvest by beekeepers.

The length of honey flow is dependent on the type of nectar-producing plants available, general climate conditions in an area, and specific weather conditions in any given year.

Beekeepers need to recognize when honey flow begins and ends to help the bees achieve maximum production. The more bees produce, the more the beekeeper can harvest from the bees’ extra honey.

This article is a guide to recognizing the signs of honey flow and how to deal with it.

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What Is Honey Flow? (Abundant Nectar Flow!)

When Is The Major Honey Flow Period?

Honey flow is typically heaviest during the spring flower blooms. However, you may have summer and fall flow also. Honey flow periods occur any time weather is suitable for providing the bees access to nectar.

The plants in your area, general climate, and specific weather conditions govern the exact timing of the flow.

The United States Geological Survey (from the U.S. Department of the Interior) explains, “Weather refers to short term atmospheric conditions while climate is the weather of a specific region averaged over a long period of time.”[1]

For example, here in the Hudson Valley in the northeastern U.S., the season’s last frost occurs around mid-May. After the frost, flowering plants bloom, producing significant nectar flow.

While honey flow may last only 2 – 3 weeks in some areas, our vegetation is varied enough that we can have an extended honey flow. Also, nectar flow coupled with longer days for bees to forage provides an opportunity for substantial honey production through June.

Honey bee on blue aster
Honey bee on blue aster

By contrast, warmer regions will experience earlier nectar flows.

A Calendar For Beekeeping In Central North Carolina indicates that nectar flow is often heaviest in April and continues into May. Thus, central North Carolina is around 4 – 6 weeks ahead of us.

Moving further south, a Florida Beekeeping Management Calendar from the University of Florida states that primary nectar flow can begin in April for North Florida but may start in March for Central Florida.

While we may have good fall nectar flow from plants like goldenrod, fall nectar flow is rare in the mountain region of the western United States.[2]

Below is an excerpt from a presentation by the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (“NASA”) showing peak nectar flow periods in the eastern U.S. for 2009. Note that peak nectar flow occurs later as you move north.

2009 Median Peak Nectar Flow NASA map

According to the map, nectar flow peaked from March 25th to April 22nd in the southernmost states. However, in the northern U.S. and southern Canada, peak flows occurred about 2-1/2 months later and only lasted one week (June 10th – 17th). [3]

Learn to identify the flowering nectar sources in your area. Local beekeeping associations are a good source of information about what to expect regarding nectar flow in your area.

How Do You Know When There Is A Honey Flow?

There are several ways to tell if there is a honeyflow in your area.

First and foremost, pay attention to honey bee behavior.

When nectar is abundant, bees will draw out comb quickly to take advantage of the flow. Fresh white wax appears on previously drawn comb.

Foraging activity increases substantially. You will see lots of bees coming and going all day long. Returning bees may have little pollen, but distended abdomens indicate they are carrying nectar.

When our honey flow peaks, bees come out of the hive as though shot out of a cannon. Activity is hectic, with bees heading off in all directions.

The bees will be relatively easy to manage with all the foraging activities. Also, with plentiful natural resources available, there will probably be no robbing activity.

On brief inspections, you will see a significant increase in stored nectar. During honey flow, keep inspections short and limited to the supers. Avoid disrupting the colony’s activity as this is the time you want them working.

As bees gather nectar, the weight of the hive increases. You can use scales like these available at BetterBee to monitor the hive’s weight. Alternatively, pay attention to the weight of your uppermost honey super as the bees begin to fill it.

Beekeeping During Honey Flow

As we mentioned earlier, limit hive inspections to the supers during the honey flow. You want the bees to gather and ripen as much nectar as possible.

Maximizing honey production helps assure the colony’s survival through the season while providing surplus honey for your harvest and consumption.

When the uppermost honey super is about 75% drawn and full, add another super to provide expansion space. Keep doing this until expansion slows noticeably and you see that nectar flow is coming to an end.

How Do You Know When Honey Flow Is Over?

As nectar becomes less abundant, foraging activity noticeably declines. So, while bees are still leaving the hive, it will not be as furious as during peak flow.

Bees will shift from foraging to defending the stores they worked so hard to gather. You may find they have become more defensive.

As natural resources dwindle, bees will need and thus draw less comb. Robbing activity may commence as nearby colonies look for food without access to nectar. .

Dearth Periods For Honey Bees

Nectar dearth occurs when plants slow or cease the production of nectar. The most obvious time of nectar dearth is the winter. However, summer nectar dearth during exceptional hot and dry weather can put significant stress on your colonies.

See What Is Summer Nectar Dearth? (What To Do For Your Bees) for more information.

Conclusion

One of the main reasons we keep bees is to harvest honey.

Being alert to the honey flow (or nectar flow, if you prefer) will help you manage your beehives efficiently and help the bees achieve maximum production capacity. Greater production benefits both the bees and the beekeeper.

This article is part of our series about honey for beginning beekeepers.

Additional Reading

Nectar Flow Be Readyby Ross Conrad in Bee Culture Magazine


[1] What is the difference between weather and climate change? From the USGS – U.S. Department of the Interior

[2] Nye, W. P. 1980. Beekeeping Regions in the United States. Beekeeping in the U.S. USDA agric. Handbook.

335. pp. 10-15.

[3] Source: Mapping nectar flow phenology with satellites and Honey Bee hives to assess climate impacts  Wayne Esaias, J.E. Nickeson, B.Tan, P. Ma, J. Nightingale, R.Wolfe NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, Emeritus; Dept. Entomology, Univ. Maryland

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