Honeybees don’t naturally store up large quantities of surplus honey. So, a tbh beekeepers manages the free space inside the hive for honey production.
A quick inspection of the hive’s honey storage area leaves the broodnest undisturbed and indicates what should be done. To increase production, a beekeeper can:
- harvest frequently
- in larger tbhs, rotate comb
- run additional tbhs
Managing a tbh for honey production is an art based on several season’s experience. Until a beekeeper gains that experience, it’s best to judiciously harvest honey. And be ready to feed.
A colony doesn’t mindlessly work floral sources and needlessly store honey. When it has enough food reserves and the bees are at an optimal cluster size, a colony reduces all of its activities including foraging. Then colony activity appears much as it does just before the bees swarm in the spring.
Exceptionally large surpluses don’t naturally occur. Storing an excess surplus would:
- needlessly expose forages to increased risks
- task bees preparing to overwintering
- clog open cells needed for overwintering and spring brood rearing
Unfortunately, this natural behavior doesn’t leave much surplus honey for the beekeeper. Tbh honey production consists of managing comb and free space so that:
- the bees are not quite ready to hunker down
- they still have enough space to store a surplus
- most of their winter stores are left intact
- honey production ceases early enough allowing the colony to overwinter
Frequent harvests are one way to manage comb and free space. A few full honeycombs are harvested before the bees hunker down. It’s a delicate process that requires a thorough understanding of:
- typical seasonal nectar flows
- individual colony capabilities
- overwintering requirements
- effects of divergent weather or flow conditions
- equipment limitations
That understanding is based on several seasons experience. Harvesting:
- too much, too soon, produces hungry, demoralized bees that must be fed to survive
- too little honey doesn’t harm the colony much. But it can cause the bees to hunker. And discourage a honey focused beekeeper who sees lots of foraging resources, but few foraging bees
Until a beekeeper has that experience, it’s best to move judiciously when harvesting honey. Better to little harvested than too much.
When a tbh has enough room, honey production can consist:
- of rotating full combs away from the broodnest toward the rear of the hive
- and inserting empty comb or top bars nearer the broodnest
Then the bees protect the remote comb from pests. And they can be harvested later in the season:
- when colony overwintering needs and resource are easier to access
- and it’s more convenient to harvest most of the honey at one time
If producing the most honey per hive isn’t a priority and more honey is wanted, it’s easy to just run another tbh. A new tbh costs about the same as a deep super with frames and foundation.
Tbh Versus Lang
Tbhs typically yield less honey per hive that vertical hives. These differences increase in areas that obtain surplus honey from later nectar flows.
Initially, early in the season, my tbh’s honey production surpassed my conventional hive’s production. They easily kept up, even while having to draw out new comb.
But that changed as the season progressed. When the tbh had drawn about 2 deep supers worth and packed it with honey, they hunkered down:
- hive activity diminished
- the bees became complacent with their situation
- honey production quickly fell behind my conventional hives
- they continued to draw out some comb, but at a reduced rate
Other tbh beekeepers report that bees reluctantly work past 20 top bars.
Lower yields a benefit?
A lower honey yield can actually be an advantage when a beekeeper is more interested in bees, pollination or queen rearing than producing tons of honey.
Did I actually say that? 😉 Yet, after processing semi-truck loads of honey, that’s the situation I find myself in. As a hobbyist, I have more honey than I can use or parcel out.
So, you’ve managed your tbh for honey and now you’ve got some. What should you do? For some ideas, check out my Harvest page.