Honeybee Explosion

In my 7 years of beekeeping, I have never seen a honeybee hive like the one I saw recently. My mentor, who has been keeping bees twice as long as I have, hadn’t either. What did I see in the hive that I have never seen?  Well, it all started this spring.

I wanted to expand my hives. So, I bought a three-pound package of honeybees, which is just a small clump of bees, to put in a new hive.  I put them in Layens hives; some people believe these hives are more natural and can be healthier for the bees. These hives have a deeper hive body and 1 frame equals almost 2 frames of the more commonly used Langstroth hive. So, with that in mind the hive itself only has 15 deep frames. The packages of bees arrived May 2nd. These bees were nothing special and came from a local producer. We installed them the next day with no problem in the hive that was positioned in the edge of the woods next to a native wildflower planting and started to feed them. The package of bees did not come with any food stores, so I expected to feed sugar water anywhere from 1 to 2 months to get the hive off to a good start.  

During our first inspection ten days after the installation, I expected that the bees would have consumed about 5 gallons of sugar water.  However, this hive had significantly slowed down eating the sugar water; only eaten one quart of sugar water had been used.  I was concerned and wondered if they were doing okay.  So, I looked in the hive and noticed that they had built 2½ frames of comb, which is the equivalent of 5 Langstroth frames, and I thought to myself that these bees were really getting going.    

I started to investigate why the bees were not eating sugar water, I could tell that the bees where healthy because of all the fresh comb they were building. Why were they not eating the sugar water?  As I looked around the hive, I concluded that the surrounding native plants were blooming earlier than other common plants, and the native plants were providing so much more nectar for the bees.  The bees didn't need to eat the sugar water I was giving them because there was such an abundant amount of fresh nectar from the plants, which is much healthier and has more amino acids, so the bees prefer the fresh nectar over the sugar water.

The next inspection I was totally shocked again. Twenty days after installation the bees’ progress had really exploded. After consuming again only 1 quart of sugar water, the bees had drawn out 8 frames of comb, brood, and nectar when normally a hive would just have 1 to 2 frames drawn out. (The 8 frames would be the equivalent of 16 frames in a normal hive.) I was so shocked that a hive could do this in their first year. Even now, in the first part of August, the hive is almost full, and we will be harvesting honey from our bees when a lot of other beekeepers are going to have to feed sugar water because their hives don’t have enough nectar.

In all my years of beekeeping I have never seen a hive explode and make honey in the first year without sugar water as much as this hive, which is surrounded by native flowering plants.

To learn more, read our observations of a honeybee’s favorite native plants or habitat for native pollinators.


This article was written by Dawson Smith.  Dawson is an enthusiastic learner about beekeeing, grazing sheep and cows, and sustainable farming.  He and his wife, Shaela, also enjoy learning new native plant species and the plants’ uses.  At Hamilton Native Outpost, Dawson is in charge of many seed production activities as well as beekeeping. 

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