How To Get Over 70kg or 150 Pounds of Honey Per Hive (in Newfoundland)

This came up in a Google search today.*

It’s an article where I mention that I get anywhere between 20-50 pounds of honey per hive in the beeyard next to my house in Flatrock. That’s about right for Flatrock.

Flatrock is without a doubt the worst place, in terms of honey production, that I’ve kept bees in the past 11 years on the island of Newfoundland. No matter how I manage my bees, I doubt that I’ll ever top out at more than three medium honey supers on any hive in Flatrock. There just doesn’t seem to be enough resources (nectar) in Flatrock for my bees to bring in. And it’s cold.

My beekeeping practices haven’t changed a great deal in the past 11 years. I pretty much do today what I did when I started. Newfoundland beekeeping in a nutshell: Feed them like crazy when they’re nucs and then make sure they always have room to grow. The only thing that’s really changed is the location of my hives.

When I saw a drop in honey production from one location to the next, I used to wonder, “What am I doing wrong?” (Especially in Flatrock.) But I wasn’t doing anything wrong.

I’ve come to realise that beyond basic beekeeping practices which aren’t that complicated once I stop making them complicated, my success in beekeeping, in terms of honey production, comes down to the location of my hives. If the sun is shining and there’s nectar in the area, the bees will collect it. Even colonies with the most out of whack queen situations will often collect nectar if nectar is available. Most colonies will fill every honeycomb cell in their hives with nectar until the queen runs out of room to lay. Which brings us back to beekeeping in a nutshell: give them room to grow. It’s not brain surgery.

Please don’t mow down white clover. (July 13th, St. John’s, Newfoundland, Memorial University.)

I met up with a Newfoundland beekeeper yesterday who keeps a small number of hives just like me, in a location I’ve never been before. They don’t wrap their hives in the winter to produce big swarmy clusters in the spring. They follow basic backyard beekeeping practices. Sensible but nothing fancy. And they get over 170 pounds of honey per hive. I’d be happy to get 50 pounds of honey per hive in Flatrock.

I’ve also kept honey bees near downtown St. John’s, in Logy Bay, as well as Portugal Cove. I was happy to get 100 pounds per hive in those locations. (Logy Bay was the best, though.) Then this year, I set up a hive in a different location, one that I suspected was surrounded by a bounty of flowering trees and fields full of nectar. It turns out I was right. I’m pretty sure I’ll have to harvest honey from it every weekend for the rest of the summer just to keep up with it. I call it the Giant Hive of 2021.

When I kept bees in St. John’s and Logy Bay, I used to get two honey harvests every year, one in July and another one in September. The July harvest wasn’t huge, but the honey, which I call spring honey, was light-coloured and had a pleasant delicate flavour, and because most spring nectar is high in fructose, the honey would last for years in a jar without crystallising.** In Flatrock, on the other hand, I get one harvest a year around September or October, and I hold off on it as long as I can because the bees often struggle to fill even two mediums supers. I’ll take whatever honey I can get, which usually turns out to be mix of goldenrod, fireweed and clover. It’s not spring honey but it’s good enough. But…

The July harvest of spring honey from my giant hive (61 pounds of honey so far) has already exceeded what I usually get from my Flatrock hives in an entire season. Unless the weather turns to absolute garbage (which can happen in Newfoundland), I have no doubt that I’ll pull at least another 100 pounds of honey from that hive by September.

I don’t say this to brag — because I really haven’t done anything exceptional to get this amount of honey from the Giant Hive. My point is that substantial honey production, beyond simple beekeeping practices which include maintaining healthy queens, seems largely the result of location. The local climate and the local flora (flowering plants) make almost all the difference.

I’ve got one more trick up my sleeve for my poor old bees in Flatrock, but no matter how well I care for them, there nothing I can do about the cold weather in Flatrock and the flowering plants that just don’t grow in abundance.

If I want honey, it’s all about location.

* I occasionally Google myself to see if anyone has posted photos of me without my permission. I avoid posting photos of myself because I value my privacy. This article contains one of the few photos of me online, and it’s an old photo from 10 years ago. The article is also a puff piece. Don’t expect to get any useful information about beekeeping from it. This happens often with beekeepers. A reporter who knows nothing about beekeeping picks out the bits they think are easy for the general public to follow, but the result is more often than not frivolous and sometimes contains misinformation.

** High-glucose nectar usually shows up in the fall with plants like goldenrod. High glucose content accelerates crystallisation.