As a new or budding beekeeper, the million dollar question is ‘How long will it take my bees to establish a hive? It takes a lot of effort and love to set up a new hive and it is good to know how long you should expect it to take for that new hive to become fully setup and producing honey. So, if you have ever asked yourself this question, please read on.
Typically, it will take honey bees 3-4 months to fully setup a new hive and potentially have honey for you to harvest. Although bear in mind that this amount of time can vary depending on the strength of the bees within the hive and several other factors (such as the climate and what you feed them).
Let’s dive deeper into this topic and discuss the main factors that go into setting up a new beehive.
8 Factors that Contribute to the Speed Bees Setup a New Hive
1. Strength of the Colony
The strength of the colony of bees being put into a new hive is one of the biggest factors that go into how fast they can set up a new hive and start producing honey. The queen bee needs to be working well with the other bees in the colony to create a healthy and strong bee population. This is the very population that will be doing all the legwork in the process of setting up this new hive. A strong queen bee equals a strong set of bees that can fill out a hive faster.
If your colony is an already established one that you have simply moved to a different hive, if they were strong before they will probably be strong in the new hive. But quite often you are putting a new colony into these hives with a new queen, so it is much harder to predict how strong your colony will be.
If you have sourced good quality bees, this could help, but a lot of the time it is just a matter of luck how well the queen and new colony get on together and get to work. Keep a lookout for a weak queen in your new colony and be prepared to replace her if it is obvious it’s not working out!
2. Honey Flow?
The honey flow refers to the ‘perfect storm’ of conditions that are ideal for honey bees to make honey. This would mean that there is an abundance of flowering plants that they can gather nectar from and weather that is ideal for the bees to go out in and travel through in order to get this valuable nectar back to their hive.
If your new beehive has been setup within a period of good honeyflow, then you can expect it to be established and start producing honey faster. This is something you shouls consider carefully when choosing the time of year to set up any new beehive.
3. Weather & Climate
The weather and climate at the time your new colony is trying to set up its new hive is vital. The bees need to get out and ‘work’ the local environment, which in basic terms means they need to fly around a lot gathering nectar from flowering plants. This is made much harder with high winds, colder temperatures or excessive rains and/or storms. In these cases, your bees will probably be found huddled up inside their hive, making the setup much slower.
On top of the food that bees can naturally find in their local environment, some beekeepers like to boost their bee colonies by giving them extra or supplementary food.
There are several ways that beekeepers approach supplementary feeding. Some like to do it in the Winter or early spring to help a colony to prepare for the major honey flow period coming up in spring or even to help a struggling bee population outside of the main season. Other beekeepers may even give their bees extra food in the spring if they feel that they are weak or not producing honey well.
By giving your beehive supplementary food, you are giving them an extra boost of nutrition and energy while they’re busy making honey. This often takes the form of sugar syrup, pollen, and protein powder, like bee bread. Whether or not you are giving your bees extra food may affect the speed with which they can set up and establish a new hive.
5. Bees Swarming
If bees fill out a beehive too fast and feel like they are starting to outgrow it, they may start swarming. This is their natural way of finding a new home to grow into, by basically flying around the local area to hunt one out. Of course, if your new beehive’s colony is swarming, this means they are not setting up their current hive, which could mean it takes longer to establish.
So pay attention! If you start seeing your bees gathering or clustering outside of their new hive, this could be a sign they are getting ready to swarm. You should do something to either lower the likelihood of this happening or at least to capture the resulting swarm so they are not simply lost!
6. The Colony/ Hive Match
You need to make sure that the beehive you provide for your new colony matches their size. If a beehive is too small, they will quickly outgrow it and start swarming for a new, bigger home. On the other hand, if the hive is too big, they will struggle to fill it. And the extra space inside the hive will allow too much outside air to get into the hive and lower the temperature. The bees will then need to spend time increasing the hives temperature rather than being productive and establishing their hive.
7. Disease & Pests
Honey bees are susceptible to a variety of pests and diseases, many of which can be detrimental to the health of a honeybee colony. Some of these disorders are more common than others, but it is important for beekeepers to be aware of them and learn how to identify and effectively manage them to maintain healthy colonies.
In short, read up on the typical pests and diseased in your local area (maybe talk to other local beekeepers) and make sure your new hive is set up to best defend and minimize the possible effects of these. If your new hive is fighting pests and diseases, they won’t be as productive and the time to become established will increase.
As you can see above, there are many factors that go into how well a new bee colony can become established in a new hive. The best thing to do is to be aware of all these factors and try to perfect the timing, infrastructure and care you give your new hives to provide the best opportunity for success!
8. NUC VS Package?
When starting a new beehive, the two main methods beekeepers use are as follows. Firstly, you can buy packaged bees. As the name suggests, this is just a package of bees. You can buy a queen alongside this package, but often this queen will be new to the bees in the package. The other option is to buy a NUC. A NUC usually consists of several frames that are already established with a set of bees (including queen) that are familiar with each other.
Beekeepers often go for the package option because it is cheaper, but by buying a NUC you are buying a bee colony that is already more established. Building comb is a massive part of setting up a new hive and with a NUC, the bees already have the comb started. All in all, this is why starting a new hive with a NUC will speed up how fast your new beehive itself gets established.
The excellent video below from Paul Kelly from the University of Guelph shows how a new beehive setup with a NUC can do a lot of work in only a few short weeks.