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What is one bee worth

What is the value of one bee? Look at pencil eraser. One bee produces almost that much honey in it’s lifetime. Although thats only a small portion of teaspoon about 1/12  it all adds up. When you add it with the others it adds up fast.   Depending on your season a typical hive could potentially produce up to 30-60 lbs. of honey. Here in the Western Slope of Colorado and Eastern Utah we have a lot of irragated farms and ditches. These areas produce nectar in waves. Spring being some of the most abundant flows, yet some nectar flows in late June early July can be overwhelming. In a healthy established colony one hive can have up to but not limited to 50,000 to 70,000 bees. So what does it take to make a pound of honey? It’s suggested that the bees need to visit about 2 million flowers.  A bee on a forage trip can visit up to 50 to 100 flowers.[1]  Proximity to these flowers will dictate how many trips the bees can make.  Generally we want to see the same bee make at least a dozen to up to two dozen trips a day if not more.  Less flight time and more gathering the better. Its estimated that a bee may fly up to 55,000 miles to bring in one pound of honey. Now thats some distance and a ton of risk a bee takes when you consider what can happen out in blue yonder. Bottom line, consider setting your hives near fields of gold, near small acres of different crops if possible. If your in an alpine setting prepare proper protection from wild life and expect a reduced production due to season length. Near large farms? Observe the wild flowers that grow on the sides of the fields and nearby ditches. These will be your nectar sources when the blossoms on trees fall or a crop like alfalfa is cut. If your area sprays a lot of pesticides and herbicides than it may be less than ideal conditions. Consider the risks, then decide. However be considerate of your neighbors, and educate yourself with productive positive information about the crops they grow. Beekeeping is gaining ground and people do want to help the bees, however no farmer, grower, or land owner is obligated to think of your bees first.

The Critical Comb

Honey comb is probably the most underrated component in the hive.  If the hive is a newer the bess will be forced to draw out the comb with bees wax.  Typically this done on prefabricated foundation both made in wax or food safe plastic.  Specific worker bees will secrete beeswax from a series of glands on their abdomen. They use the wax to form the comb.  However, not all beeswax/comb is created equal.  Bees are a lot like us in many ways.  We all do things in our own way.  Not to sound negative, but bees don’t always draw out the comb perfectly from these prefabbed starts keepers give them.  Sometimes bees draw out comb called burr comb.  This comb is less than ideal for storing the honey crop and is makes for a difficult harvest.  In the end with newer hives it is critical for the keeper to make sure the bees are drawing out what we call pretty/standard comb.  Once this is established the bees will work much more efficiently.

Access to flowers, water, and the hive

As suggested above the forage that the hive has access too is critical. The type of honey your bees will produce will change as the season moves on. Every Spring in the West we grow a lot of Cherries, Apricots, Pears, Peaches, and Apples. We also see flowering trees, dandelions, and the first blossoms on alfalfa fields.  These all produce some nectar but not typically enough to start harvesting until late June or even early July. It’s sorta like the fruit trees are the beginning and it just keeps getting better as Spring moves on and Summer arrives. Most of your wild flowers will start blooming in May and June. Of course as you move up in elevation these times will be later. Consider this with your elevation and natural blooms that occur. When we talk about access to the hive think about the flight path a bee might take.  Keep any vegetation from blocking the entrance of the hive.  Place hives in areas where bushes might offer wind block, but not to close to the entrance to make it difficult access.  Avoid hill tops to limit the exposure or wet, damp,  or soggy areas.  The sun plays a huge role in just how early the bees start to work. We like to see our bees wake up with the sunrise, have afternoon shade from the midday heat and then exposed to sun again until dusk. Cottonwood trees, elms are dandy covers for that midday heat. Clean water is critical to maximize the hives performance. In the last dozen years or so we’ve seen growers start to really save on water by going to drip systems. Although we know this is move in to preserving the precious resource it’s tuff on the bees if they don’t have alternative sources nearby. Keep in mind that the bees need access when it gets hot. We try to pick locations where fresh flowing water occurs. This comes at a price, it also harbors other wildlife such as raccoons, skunks, and bears. Your bees too need that supply of water to keep them healthy and alive. When we see our hives growing and were adding additional equipment we sometimes will crack the lid on top and allow access for the bees to come and go from the top rather than have the foragers enter the bottom and have to climb to the top super to deposit it’s contribution. This is huge tip because it allows for the hot air to escape, and it saves a ton of time for you forage fleet. Not all hives will take advantage of this, in fact they will likely plug up any holes or cracks you provide.  Don’t give up it sometimes takes time to train a “old dog” new tricks.  If you have the ability to play around with this technique it could result in a worth while percentage increases.   A lot of commercial keepers have lids designed with these top accesses just for this reason.

A recap on some simple ideas. Place near forage that changes threw out the year. Place front door East or facing sunrise. Provide noon day shade if possible, yet allow for sunset or sun to keep the hive working late. Water access is critical to regulate temps inside the hive, in some cases it’s the law to provide a water source. Check with your local code so you can comply.  Remember we don’t claim to have all the answers, we just have ideas that we hope can help you become a better beekeeper.  You can always email us at for tips, ideas, or suggestions.

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Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. National Honey Board