March 9, 2023

Preparing for the First Nectar Flow (116)

Preparing for the First Nectar Flow (116)

It’s early March, bees are flying every few days, early maples are blooming. Are you asking yourself, “Are my bees ready for the nectar flow?” On today’s episode, Kim and Jim look at what’s going on in their hives now that spring is starting...

It’s early March, bees are flying every few days, early maples are blooming. Are you asking yourself, “Are my bees ready for the nectar flow?”

On today’s episode, Kim and Jim look at what’s going on in their hives now that spring is starting to get serious. What should the colony be doing, what should you be seeing, and just for giggles, what should you be doing to stay a half step ahead of the bees?

One thing for sure is that you’ve got to take a look inside the hive. While we’re at it, how is your mite control?  Assuming that you have them under control, is there space in the hive for bees to place nectar to dry? Is there space to store capped honey? Where is the brood nest? If you do need room for nectar and honey, where do you put that empty super? Just above the brood box, or way up on top? These are the questions Jim and Kim toss around today.

Are you ready for the spring nectar flow?


Thanks to Betterbee for sponsoring today's episode. Betterbee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customer BetterBeeservice, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, Betterbee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at


Honey Bee Obscura is brought to you by Growing Planet Media, LLC, the home of Beekeeping Today Podcast.

Music: Heart & Soul by Gyom, All We Know by Midway Music, original guitar music by Jeffrey Ott

Copyright © 2023 by Growing Planet Media, LLC


Honey Bee Obscura

Episode 116 – Preparing for the First Nectar Flow


Kim: Good morning, Jim. How's it going?

Jim: Everything's all right, it's early springtime here, now. I mean, really late winter/early spring, so I've got a little bit of fever, here.

Kim: I walked out to get the mail yesterday and I see spring bulbs blooming in my garden.

Jim: Little green things popping up. Now, I know there's people in warmer areas chuckling and I know there's people in colder areas being envious, but the season moves along, Kim, for better or for worse.

Kim: That's a good question, to do bees right, you got to be a half a step ahead of them so that you got things ready when they get there. One of the things you have to have ready is how much space do they need? How do when to make space for a bee in a hive?

Jim: For both the brood and the honey storage area, right?

Kim: Yes.

Jim: All right, let's talk about it.

Kim: Hi, I'm Kim Flottum.

Jim: I'm Jim Tew.

Kim: I guess what we're going to talk about today is how the season should progress. Hopefully it'll progress the way we think it should.

Jim: I hope things progress the way I think it should.

Introduction: You are listening to Honey Bee Obscura, brought to you by Growing Planet Media, the folks behind Beekeeping Today Podcast. Each week on Honey Bee Obscura, host Kim Flottum and Jim Tew explore the complexities, the beauty, the fun and the challenges of managing honey bees in today's world. Get ready for an engaging discussion to delight and inform all beekeepers. If you're a longtimer or just starting out, sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things honey bees.

Kim: While I was walking out to the mailbox, like I said, I looked down to the ground and I saw some spring bulbs just starting to poke up, and I looked up and there's a maple tree blooming. I know that things are starting to happen, and if I know it I know the bees know are aware of it, so what do we need to do to stay a half a step ahead of them?

Jim: You keep saying a half a step, I'm trying to get five or six steps ahead because-

Kim: Dream on.

Jim: -I'm always a half a step behind, but if you want to measure this in steps. I'm lucky. I've got some supers ready. They're just this equipment, I don't have to build anything anymore. Did it years ago and you got this old stuff. I'm good to go, I just got to get the bees built up.

This could turn into a real lecture that I'm not qualified to give without some notes and background, but if the bees are in good shape and I've got my mites under control and they got a good brood population going, then everything is in sync, it's time to get ready because once they begin to put that nectar in the brood nest area too much, then I want to begin adding supers up top.

Kim: I think it was a book title or a story title called Nectar on My Boots. Did you ever hear that?

Jim: I didn't hear it, but I know what that person was talking about.

Kim: Exactly. I suspect, it's early March, if I went out there today, I'd probably get some nectar around my boots once I lift the frame up. What do I need to do next? What do you think we should be doing next if you got nectar on your boots?

Jim: First of all, you said a half a step back, and I agree with that. Somewhere back here I've got these supers stacked up from last season. I dried them out so they wouldn't be moldy. I got all that work done; they're sitting there now. I got to disrupt the mice, probably, and move them out. Now that I got the supers ready to go, Kim, the thing we should be doing, probably today, is to be sure we got that mite population knocked down with that late winter/early spring mite control before they really brewed up in a big way, and then watch for the seasonal flow.

You're better at than I am. The way I learned to watch that seasonal flow is just by doing it year after year after year after year. I know when you say that maple has popped open, why that makes my eyes go weepy? Because in my bee life, that's the first real nectar flow that starts up. It's like, "Gentlemen--" or I should say, "Gentlepersons start your engines, it's the season starting." Maple is a cue that you need to start the game this year, for us right here in northeast Ohio.

Kim: Keeping in mind northeast Ohio, because I'm sure Georgia's different and Saskatchewan's going to be different. I have an unconscious way, when I see something-- I don't even think about it anymore, it just happens. When I see in the top box, when I take the cover off and I lift the frame up and I look at that frame and bottom third is full of nectar but not capped, and the top third is still empty, there's no nectar up there, but if the bottom third is full of nectar uncapped nectar, you could bet that the top third's going to be full of uncapped nectar in a day or two. When I see a frame half full of uncapped nectar, something clicks and I just put a box on right now because I know it's going to be full--

Jim: I like it. I agree. If you're in the front part of that flow, and you've already been through the early indicators of spring, maple, later on basswood and then fruit bloom, then you know. I was really relieved that you said in a day. They can put up honey, on a good day, put up nectar amazingly fast. If you know it's coming and the big components of the nectar season have not started then in the early part of your management scheme, over super. Have too much space on.

Kim: You know what else that does? When nectar comes in and a forager comes in and she gives that drop of nectar to a house bee, that house bee's going to go put it someplace to cure for about overnight, but they got to have a place to go to let it cure. If they don't have that place, if that extra box doesn't get on and all the cells in the top third of that frame that I just looked up are already full of nectar - because they will fill them up with nectar and they wait for it to dehydrate a little bit. If they got no place to put it, they're going to tell that forager to, “Take it out. I got no room, get out of here!”

Jim: Yes, or almost as bad, they're going to put it in the brood nest.

Kim: If there's space there.

Jim: They're going to begin to take space away from the brood, so they're robbing Peter to pay Paul, more or less. What a conundrum the bees must be faced with. Do. you want this honey crop stored or do you want baby bees? If you’re the bees, you’ve got to choose because our incompetent beekeeper didn't give us enough space but did give us a turbocharged queen.

Kim: Maybe something we should look at is leaving.

Jim: What do you mean? Us leaving them alone? Us leaving what?

Kim: One bee to another, we got an incompetent beekeeper, supercharged queen, no place to put nectar. Maybe we're living in the wrong place.

Jim: Oh yes, right. They might either begin swarming preparations. Are you going down the wrong path now? (Laughs) This season is not yet tarnished. We're going to do things right this year, we're going to get out of these recliner chairs and get out from in front of this recording system, here. We're going to go work bees for a change.

The thing that I've seen, unfortunately, and you just can't be on the ball every time, every hive, everywhere. Things happen. If you're out there and you've already been through fruit bloom and clover's started and you think you'll have a look and see if they need space and you can't get that inner cover off, you pry and you snap and you pull it off and the bees have a violated bee space and put burr comb between the top bars and the inner cover, you've lost part of a crop already, Kim. You've lost part of it.

That is just a screaming indication that those bees are crowded. Now at this point comes a trick question, but doesn't mean to be. Do you put the next super on top of the brood nest or do you put the next super on top of the full super? You can do either one. Where do you put the empty equipment that you add? Some beekeepers say put the empty equipment as close to the brood nest as you can. Then other beekeepers, and that's usually me, says, I don't want to pick up that full super that's already there. I'm just going to put the empty equipment on top. Does that make sense?

Kim: Yes.

Jim: Are you understanding what I'm saying?

Kim: I am, and I go through that conundrum just about every year. How bad is my back today?

Jim: That's it. That's it.

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Jim: As a younger beekeeper, I would pull off the full equipment, or the equipment that's already full of nectar. It may not be full of capped honey yet. Then I would put that empty equipment right next to the brood nest. I was told by the old masters of the day that bees just hate that nest being broken up by that space, and they will work intently to fill that super that now separates their brood nest from their honey stores. I don't know. Take a shot at that, Kim.

Kim: My historical perspective always comes back to what's probably good for the bees isn't good for the beekeeper, and what's good for the beekeeper probably isn't good for the bees. That's what you're facing right now. If I just put that box on top, it's good for the beekeeper, but are the bees going to be able to use it, or they're going to go up and they're going to see, "This is all capped honey. We're going back down below, and we're going to fill up the brood nest." That's not good for the beekeeper, either.

It comes down to how good is my back today? I know that I should be putting that space next to the brood nest as the most efficient move that I could make relative to keeping the bees working.

Jim: For those of you listening who haven't done this forever and a day, when we make the bees walk over the capped honey to get up to that new empty equipment, then they travel stain those white cappings. If you're trying to produce brilliant, snow-white capped honey, that's one primary reason that you'd want to move that, so the bees don't keep walking on it - like kids coming in the house with muddy shoes. There is that. I put it up top, Kim. I'm not a young guy anymore. Probably, I can't tell if I'm lazy or if I'm just old or a combination of both, but I put the supers on top.

One of my reasons are, is that it seems to cause the least disruption to the colony. I don't have to smoke the colony. I don't have to rip into it, alert it, set it on high defense. I go in boom, boom, light smoke, put the thing on the top and get out of there. I like to think that that justifies top-supering instead of the other method called bottom-supering. Can you live with my defense? It causes the least consternation to the bee colony to put it on top.

Kim: And my back.

Jim: And your back, and my back.

Kim: That's two for two. I think that's good.

Jim: That was the justification I've come up with. One of the things that will give you a real clue, and when you see it at first you think it can't be that time of the year already. What do you call it? You called it icing or whiting. When the bees are producing wax and they're rummaging around inside the hive and anytime they drag their wax-ladened abdomen over an edge, it deposits a light film of new wax on it. So, the edges of the equipment, the edges of the combs, have new white capping, that new white wax on it. Some books call it icing. What did you call it in your book? Icing, whiting?

Kim: Whiting. I got to back up a half a step here. Some bees I've had I've never seen that. Never once. Some bees I've had I see it every spring. I'm wondering, because I haven't paid that much attention to this, are there some bees that just do that, like Italians and Carniolans never do it? I don't know. If you see it, you can know that things are moving along, but things could be moving along even if you don't see that.

Jim: That's perfect, Kim. That's perfect in so many ways. American foulbrood, it may not rope out every time. There are all these things where you don't have to see every characteristic every time. Now, you brought it up about 25, 30 years ago you'd be out to check a colony, pull that frame out of that top super and flip it over to have a look, and then as you said earlier on in this segment, pour nectar right on your shoes. It would pour out like water. You think, "Well, I hope the bees can clean that up, and recapture it, because I just poured out a whole frame of nectar on the ground – it dribbled it out."

Kim, I don't see that much, anymore. Now, this probably just my yard, right? I haven't had an instance where I went out and just saw frame after frame of nectar. I keep bees in about three places, now, and maybe that's the characteristic of those three places. I don't get this intense flow that bees bring it all in. So, I don't see all that nectar brought in over a day or two period the way I used to see it, but that doesn't mean that the season's not progressing. Just like you said, not seeing whiting or icing, there's a third name for that, and I can't think of it. Just because you don't see those white edges doesn't mean the season's not progressing and you shouldn't be ready.

Kim: I go back and check out that phenology thing that came out of Ohio State a bunch of years ago about what should be blooming about when. There's a lot of those around depending on where you are, and you certainly should take a look. I'm looking at one right now, and it says that elms, maples, alders, and willows are going to be blooming real soon. I don't have alders and willows very near me. That may be one of the things that you're going through, is you don't have enough of these early things to allow the bees to build up that much nectar that early.

Jim: Then I get mysterious, Kim. I think, "Well, that's because we're using that so many more herbicides now."Then I try to make reasons for why I'm not seeing this. Who knows? I don't know.

Kim: I'm going to go find out.

Jim: I guess the point we want to make while we stumble over each other here, is that you may not see every characteristic every time, but if you know the calendar year and you've done this before, or you've got friends telling you to get ready, something big is coming, clover, basswood, tulip, poplar, you need to be ready before, not during or after, that flow hits. If it hits, and it may not hit. Weather is everything.

Kim: Being ready before. Dream on. [laughs]

Jim: Let's take half a step back. Can we stop the world? I didn't feel well for a few days and so I missed the supering on that. Let's take a half step back and let me catch up.

Kim: All right. I'll let you do that.

Jim: Listen, if I had to do one thing that's simple, I like for the top equipment to be empty. Now, that is usually an indication that the bees were never tight for space but, quoting Kim Flottum, not every time. It doesn't always mean that, it could mean they swarmed and never used that space or any other space. If you take that inner cover off and it's massively stuck down, then you missed part of your flow. Have the top super empty, super before the flow starts, keep up with the calendar and know that no matter how much I dread it, don't want to do it, should do it, maybe I'll go do it, every day the season progresses one day whether or not I'm on board.

Can we do a throwback here quickly, Kim? Let me say that I said it in a segment, some segments ago, we said that we use twigs to clean our bottom board and we got spanked for that one. There's a device, Betterbee sells it, specifically made for scraping the bottom board out. Did you get emails on that, too?

Kim: Well, I saw them come in. I guess I didn't pay enough attention to it because I just glossed over it. When you say clean off the bottom board, does that mean taking the super off and cleaning or leaving the super on and sticking something underneath?

Jim: No. When you go out in the winter and you want to be sure the bees have winter flight and dead bees are not blocking the entrance, then you use this probe to reach in there and pull those dead bees out and litter and whatever else has dropped down there, wax cappings, to be sure you keep the entrance open. You and I chuckled and said we use twigs. I didn't realize at the moment that one of our sponsors actually has a plastic device that they will happily provide for doing that very job. I want to thank Wes, W-E-S. Thank you, Wes. for being the first one to contact me on that and point it out.

Kim: I'm probably going to have to check that out because I'm running out of twigs. I think we've got this one covered. Add a super, where do you add it, when do you add it, what's going to bloom next, and how far behind are you this year?

Jim: A half a step. All right, Kim, I'll do the best I can. Another season, another series of new excuses, or maybe just the old excuses repurposed. This time, though, I've got a device to clean my bottom board next winter. I'm good to go. We are growing and developing, Kim. Even though we're old, we're growing and developing.

Kim: It's good. I'll talk to you next time.

Jim: Until we do it again. Bye-bye.

[00:20:36] [END OF AUDIO]