Why aren’t the bees drawing out the foundation in my honey supers?

Why aren’t the bees drawing out the foundation in my honey supers? This is a frequent question that I receive this time of year. My answer is that there are just a couple of factors involved in bees making wax and drawing out foundation into comb. These factors are strong bee populations and the presence of a nectar flow. The colony with a large population has more bees available to draw comb, plus a larger number of bees foraging and returning with nectar and bee bees available for processing the nectar into honey. We can think of a hive as a factory whose product is stored honey, the comb (which the workers must manufacture) is the storage units in the factory, the nectar is the raw material that must be brought into the factory to be processed and the bees are the workers. A honey factory short of workers cannot build the required storage (the comb), plus will have a reduced number of workers available to bring the nectar in. Without a nectar flow the workers have no need of additional storage and will not build the comb.

I thus tell beekeepers that report honey super foundation not being drawn out, does your hive(s) have this strong population? Is the hive(s) full of bees? Are bees covering every frame and is all of the comb in the brood chambers drawn and being utilized in the hive for either brood rearing or honey storage? I also ask, is there still a nectar flow in your area? And is this flow strong? This can be a harder question for newer beekeepers. I determine this answer by observing my hives. Are there large numbers of bees flying during the day? Do I see a lot of in and out movement of bees in the hive? I also notice in the comb in the hive (by opening hives and removing some frames) the presence of fresh, uncapped nectar. My determination is also made by experience and knowledge of what is blooming in my home area.

My observation is that in my home area (I live about 20 miles south of Lexington, Kentucky) the nectar flow is slowing down and has been for the last few weeks. This time of year our major source of nectar is white clover and the dry weather is quickly drying up our clover nectar flow. While I’m seeing bees still flying well and lots of bees on clover around my home, the bloom is clearly reduced and I suspect will be gone completely within a couple of weeks. This is in tune with the normal flow here, which normally ends in the first two weeks of July. In addition I placed supers with new foundation on two of my hives about 2-3 weeks ago and I’m seeing no foundation being drawn and I’m not surprised. (One of these hives was hive #1 in my “Tale of two hives posts”. The bees sense this reduced nectar flow and are not attuned to make more wax, additional storage is not required.

So if your hives are strong and your bees are not drawing out your foundation, bee assured it is nothing personal, they just don’t require the storage right now.

2 responses to “Why aren’t the bees drawing out the foundation in my honey supers?

  1. We have hives with 20-30 frames of honey. Well we had that 10 days ago. Should we go ahead and harvest the honey during this drought? We have brown crunchy grass and no clover bloom. The Buckeye trees have dropped the leaves as well as the black walnut. The question is will the bees removed honey from the supers to survive?

    • Reg

      If you have two deeps on your hives and there are substantial amounts of honey in the brood boxes, you can safely remove the supers. In fact, with that much honey in the supers, I’d almost guarantee that you have enough in the brood boxes to sustain the bees until the fall honey flow begins. (You did not say where you live, so I’m not sure what typical honey flows are like in your area.)

      I would remove the honey and then check the brood boxes for honey stores.