The honey flow is a time of abundant nectar and, therefore, much honey. It’s important to distinguish this from a normal nectar flow – during the spring, summer, and fall, there are many nectar flows that will happen when different native plants, flowers, and trees start to bloom. These supply a honey bee colony with what they need to survive and grow. As compared to dearth, it is a time when there are no flow or few sources available, so the colony is burning through their honey and pollen.
The ‘honey flow’ is basically many nectar sources blooming all at once or one major one(in terms of acres). It is an overabundance of nectar. During honey flows, a strong colony can fill up a super in days, or a medium colony can add about 10 pounds daily in honey. It is a hectic time for the colony – every honey bee worker is doing something, and everyone has a job.
In many areas, it will happen sometime between June and August. Weather conditions can push or pull these dates, so it depends a lot on your area and your weather. (Mitchener, A. (1947). Manitoba Honey Flows 1924–1946. Journal of Economic Entomology, 40(6), 854-860.)
With this in mind, not every area will have a honey flow. This is why it is essential to study your site (if you are a hobbyist). Commercial beekeepers either have to move their hives to areas that will have a honey flow, or keep their hives in the regions that are known to have flows every year.
You can think about it in terms of supply and demand. The demand will be how many native and honey bee pollinators there are in your surrounding area. How many feral colonies are around you? Which of your neighbors also have honey bees? The supply is the availability of nectar – when the supply is well over the demand – a honey flow will happen.
Honey bee colonies can fly many miles away from their hive; you can take 3 miles as a good radius (some honey bees travel closer, some farther – according to one research done – 95% of all foraging was done within 3.7 miles of the hive.) (Beekman, M., and F. L. W. Ratnieks. “Long‐range foraging by the honey‐bee, Apis mellifera L..” Functional Ecology 14.4 (2000).)
So in that radius, what types of food sources are there? If a farmer has 100 acres of clover – well, you know exactly when your honey flow will be – during the clover bloom. What if you live in a city? This may take more time to look around your area and see what is available and when a honey flow may happen.
Depending on your area and level of competition, you may not get a honey flow – perhaps one year you did, and another you did not? If you know the area, you may find out that a farmer changed up his planting from clover to grass, and that is why you did not have a flow.
Honey flows are not talked about a lot simply because there are so many variables that can change the outcome. It truly depends on your area – for commercial beekeepers, they need to chase the flow – for ones who have honey bees in their backyard – you are at the mercy of what your area supplies. If a farmer changes his crop from year to year – your honey flow may change from year to year.
To make one pound of honey, it’s been said that a colony needs to visit 2 million flowers. Since honey is their food as well, you can see how in some areas, honey bees have to be feed sugar to survive (for most of the year), and in other areas they have many honey flows every year. Some nectar sources refill their nectar in a matter of minutes, and some it can take all day. How much nectar they have to give depends on many factors. But nectar is a reward for pollination – once that process is done – nectar stops. This can vary from place to place and plant to plant.
This article was not meant to give you an exact answer; as you can see, there is no straightforward answer.
A good starting point is our article on nectar and pollen flows – use this to see what is in your area, and when it may start to bloom. A single tree or a few flowers will not be enough – you need to think about acres and acres of plants for every hive you have. Now a 3-mile radius is a lot of land to cover – and honey bees are masters at finding food, but perhaps this article will assist you in knowing when to feed and when to super. Also, take notes! Markdown year after year when a honey flow happens in your area, and super accordingly- this will help you understand honey flows in your area.