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How to Know When the Nectar Flow Begins and When to Add a Honey Super

By Blake Shook and Chari Elam

Learning to tell when your primary surplus nectar flow begins is critical to determining when to add supers, when to work backward from making splits, when to harvest, and so on. Bees can begin bringing in nectar as soon as flowers start blooming in the spring; however, they often don’t produce enough nectar to provide a surplus. Therefore, we usually distinguish between a nectar flow and a surplus nectar flow.

In the vast majority of cases, the late spring/early summer surplus nectar flow is the one that makes the most honey for us to harvest. The methods for determining if it has begun are the same for spring and summer as they are for fall. However, in most cases, a fall flow is going to be more subtle. In about two-thirds of the country, the fall honey produced isn’t enough to harvest and is left for the bees.

Here are some of the ways to tell if a flow has begun:

  • Ask local beekeepers. They are going to be an awesome resource for you. In a quick conversation, they will be able to tell you when the flow usually begins most years and what flowers to watch for. However, each year can vary by a few weeks, and even a handful of miles can make a difference in the quantity and type of forage.
  • Read the flowers! Once you become a beekeeper, you’ll be constantly watching the road ditches, empty fields, and your property for flowers. Learning what the primary nectar-producing flowers and plants are in your area is critical. Once you see them beginning to bloom, you’ll know the primary nectar flow has begun.
  • Is it the right time of year? While the date on which flowers bloom can vary somewhat each year, it’s not normally more than a few weeks difference.
  • What are the bees telling you? This, along with watching when high-nectar-producing flowers begin blooming, is the most accurate way to determine if a nectar flow has begun. If your bees are readily drawing comb, you see frames of shimmering nectar (and you aren’t feeding), and your bees are adding bits of white comb to the top bars of your frames, the honey flow has begun.

Look closely—the evidence of a nectar flow is right on the top of the frames in the form of white wax.

Can I add a honey super?

Depending on your location, half of the US will be adding honey supers by the end of this month. Determining when to add a honey super can drill down to being colony specific. Some may be ready while others are not. Logic tells us the previously mentioned indicators will be the first clue, but more than that—is this hive ready?

Things to look for:

  • A healthy population of bees in both the top and bottom boxes
  • Frames with 80% drawn comb (virtually no empty frames in the brood boxes)
  • Visible white wax being built
  • Nectar coming in and being stored in your hive

Listen as expert beekeeper Cameron Crane gives us his thoughts on which size honey super to use.

What size honey super should I use? That answer might depend on how much you want to lift after it's done! Deep = 60-85 pounds (5-8 gallons) Medium = 35-60 pounds (3-5 gallons)


  • To maximize your honey production, utilizing drawn-comb foundation (if you have it) in your honey supers can speed up the process exponentially.
  • Are your frames stored with Para-Moth? If yes, it will be time to take them out of storage to air within the next week or two. For frames stored in a freezer, you need to take them out to thaw only a day before installing.
  • Adding new undrawn foundation in your honey supers? Once installed, continue to feed syrup for a week or so, allowing the bees time to start drawing comb on the new frames. When a fist-size amount of wax is being drawn on the frames, stop feeding and add a queen excluder if you use them.

ASK THE EXPERT: When should you add honey supers?

Tara Chapman (Two Hives Honey) says: "I'd rather be a week early than an hour late adding my supers!"

Watch as Blake shows us what a colony that recently had a second deep added and is now nearing time for a honey super looks like. He also gives great advice on how to speed up the process of drawing comb on foundation.

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