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How Long Does It Take Bees to Make Honey?

It doesn’t take long for bees to turn nectar into honey. When a beehive is just starting out, it takes them about 3-4 weeks to get honey production going. But when they’re already established, they’ll make honey each day.

Bees are incredibly efficient creatures, only bested by humans. 

They work hard to gather nectar from flowers, then fly back to the hive and convert it into honey.

In this article, we’ll dive deeper into how bees produce honey, how long it takes them, as well as how much effort it takes.

How Long Does It Take for a New Colony to Make Honey?

A new colony needs about 3 to 4 weeks before it can start making honey. In the beginning, they use nectar to make beeswax for honeycomb and to build their hive.

When this is done, they’ll start making honey.

The process looks like this:

  1. A forager bee will collect nectar from flowers and store it in sacs on its hind legs.
  2. When the sac is full, the bee will fly back to the hive, handing it off to a house bee.
  3. Here, the bees will pass it on from mouth to mouth, removing moisture from the nectar. They will introduce an enzyme called invertase produced by their salivary glands.
  4. The moisture level goes from around 70% to 20%, and will hence have been turned into honey.
  5. The bee will store the honey in a honeycomb and seal it off.

During the foraging, bees will visit about 50-100 flowers. Around 2 million flowers are visited to produce one pound of honey.

As the bees dry out the nectar, they turn nectar into glucose. The small amount of moisture left is what keeps it somewhat liquid. It’ll turn darker/golden, and will be transformed into what we know as honey.

honey bee full of pollen on body

How Long Does It Take for Nectar to Turn Into Honey?

It can take up to 3 days for nectar to turn into honey. The nectar must undergo a process of regurgitation, digestion, and storage before it turns into honey.

The length of time for this process varies depending on how much nectar the bees have collected and how they store or disperse it. The purity of the nectar is also a factor (sugar content, how diluted it is with water etc.).

Bees can do two things to turn nectar into honey:

  • Use the “mouth-to-mouth” method. This takes less time.
  • Store nectar in a honeycomb, which will slowly reduce moisture. This can take 1-3 days.
honey bees on honeycomb

What Affects Honey Production?

The production of honey is affected by many factors. The following factors can affect honey production:

  • Temperature
  • The overall health of the hive
  • Availability of flowering plants
  • Space in the hive
  • Feeding
  • How fast the beekeeper harvests the honey

Temperature

The temperature has a significant effect on how quickly honey is made. 

If it’s too cold, they simply won’t bother gathering any nectar because it’s not worth the energy to do so. 

If it’s too hot, the nectar will ferment, creating off-flavors in the honey.

Related: Bee Temperature Tolerance

bee attacks

The Health of the Hive

The health of a hive has a large effect on the amount of honey it can produce. A strong and established colony will produce more honey than a weak colony.

If a parasite has infiltrated the colony, the bees might also be too weak to forage, meaning, less nectar is available for producing honey.      

Availability of Flowering Plants

The availability of flowering plants can have a significant impact on honey production. Again, if less nectar is available, it’ll hurt the honey production. 

There are several ways beekeepers can get around this problem.

The fewer flowers present, the more time bees have to spend flying from flower to flower. They also have to fly farther from their hive.

bee on a sunflower

Space in the Hive

Space is significant when it comes to honey production. Honey bees (Apis mellifera) like to be kept in a specific environment and need the right amount of space to produce honey.    

If there isn’t enough space, the bees simply won’t fit enough honeycombs in the hive. Honeycombs are used for both honey and brood, hence, a small hive will hinder the bees from colony growth as well as honey production.

Related: How Much Space Do Bees Need?

Not Feeding a New Colony Enough

A common mistake made by beekeepers is not feeding a new colony enough food. Not only will insufficient food reduce the honey production of the hive, but it can also cause problems with bee health and longevity.

Though feeding bees is ultimately necessary to keep colonies from dying out, this doesn’t mean that beekeepers should make the mistake of overfeeding, which is equally detrimental to a hive’s success.

Beekeeper working collect honey.

Harvesting Too Fast & Too Much

Harvesting too much and too fast can affect honey production. 

For example, if too much honey is harvested, the bees may create less brood because of the lack of nectar for food. It can lead to having a smaller harvest next time since there will be fewer bees in the colony than there could’ve been.

Ultimately, harvesting honey too early from a new hive can kill them, as they won’t have food to survive the winter.

A good rule of thumb is, that beekeepers shouldn’t harvest any honey from a new hive until the second season.

Frame of honeycomb

How Much Honey Do Bees Produce a Season?

On average, a bee colony will produce 40-50 pounds of honey per season. It is estimated that there are about 2.7 million honey bee colonies in the United States, producing around 120 million pounds of honey every season in total.

Honeybees produce their sweet liquid gold known as honey and provide a vital service to the economy and environment. 

The honey bee industry contributes $15 billion every year to the economy, as one in every three bites of food is directly related to the efforts of honeybees.

One-third of all food production depends on them for pollination. From apples, oranges, and cranberries, to watermelon and cotton.

How Much Honey Does a 10 Frame Hive Produce?

The average output from a bee colony is about 40-50 pounds. Most of these colonies are 10-frame hives, containing between 60-80,000 bees.

Ten-frame hives are deep, with ten wooden frames inside for bees to build their combs on and store food in. They measure about 21 inches by 10 inches or around 50 cm by 25 cm (5′ wide x 2′ high).

A 10-frame hive is designed for people who want to keep bees in their backyard or on their property without taking up too much room, while still producing plenty of honey for personal use.

beekeeper-controlling-beehive-and-comb-frame (1)

How Many Bees Does It Take To Make 1 Pound of Honey?

Whiles the exact number is unknown, it takes about 600 bees to gather enough nectar for a pound of honey in a month (if we assume they each visit 100 flowers every day).

This is only counting forager bees, and not the house bees turning nectar into honey in the hive.

A full colony of 60,000 bees will, as stated, produce about 45 pounds of honey in a season, meaning they produce between 7,5-10 pounds every month, depending on the conditions.

Related: How many bees are in a beehive?

apiary and worker bees

How Much Honey Can a Single Bee Make in One Day?

On an average day, a single bee would be able to make about 1/12 of a teaspoon (0.7 ml) of honey. 

It takes a single bee about 8-12 weeks to build up the honey it will need to survive winter. 

That’s why you see so many buzzing around now as they frantically try to collect enough nectar and pollen for themselves and their sisters in their hive. 

While each bee is only making 1/12 of a teaspoon per day, a hive of 50,000 bees can get you 600 teaspoons (or 3.7 ml) of honey that can be made in a single day (assuming they’re all foraging and making honey).

How Often Can You Harvest Honey?

Most beekeepers can harvest honey once a month between July and September if the conditions are right. In a bad season, you might only get to harvest once in early fall or late summer.

This only counts for established colonies. For new colonies, you should wait until the second season to harvest, to ensure the survival of the colony.

Related: How often can you harvest honey?

How Many Times Can You Harvest Honey in a Year?

You can harvest honey from a beehive 2-3 times a year on average. In a good season, you might be able to increase this number to 4-5, while you may only get to harvest once during worse seasons.

When it comes to harvesting, there are two methods:

  • Scraping the honey out
  • Extracting it with a spinner

The first method does less damage to the hive but also reduces the amount of honey you can harvest. The spinner can extract everything, but will also result in more beeswax and honeycombs being destroyed.

With extraction, we place the entire honeycomb into an extractor that spins and twists it until all of the honey runs out. Then, a strainer is used to remove any wax or other leftover materials.

Extraction results in 95% of the honey being saved after getting harvested, and only 5% wasted.

Uncovering the honeycombs with the scraper by hand, honey harvest.

What Months Do Bees Make Honey?

Bees make the most honey between June and August, where flowers are blooming, and their population numbers have increased after the early season swarming.

Bees need flowers to bloom and produce nectar, and almost all flowers do this in the summer months.

During the fall, some late-blooming plants still may be producing nectar that can be turned into honey. Honey made from goldenrod flowers is most commonly found in September and October.  

Where Do Bees Make Honey?

Bees make honey in their hive, and there are two ways they can do this: using their mouths combined with an enzyme called invertase or storing nectar in a honeycomb to let it naturally turn into honey.

For nectar to turn into honey, a lot of moisture has to be extracted. This will happen naturally when store in honeycombs.

If bees want to speed up this process, they can use their mouths. They produce an enzyme called invertase, which will alter the chemical composition of nectar, speeding up the process.

Related: Is honey bee vomit?

bees-on-golden-honeycomb

How Long Does It Take Bees to Make Honeycomb

A new beehive can take up to 2 months to create the honeycomb they need, while an established hive can get this done in 7 days or less, assuming there’s a strong flow of nectar.

Honeycomb is made out of beeswax, which bees produce when eating honey. They excrete this through their abdomen.

Bees will use the beeswax to build honeycombs which will later contain either brood or more honey.

Related: How long does it take bees to make a hive and honeycomb?

Do Bees Starve if We Take Their Honey?

If you take all of the honey from a beehive, they will starve. Bees eat many times during the day, as they use a lot of energy to fly around. If you take all of their honey, they may not have enough stored energy to produce more.

At the beginning of a new beehive, it’s crucial that they get to build up food storage, so they can grow strong before you harvest.

Conclusion

It takes about 3-4 weeks for a new beehive to make honey, but once production has started, they’ll make honey every day. It usually takes 1-3 days for bees to turn nectar into honey, but they can speed up this process by using a “mouth-to-mouth” method.

Depending on the conditions of the season, bees will make anywhere between 30-60 pounds a year. Beekeepers usually get to harvest 2-3 times per season, between July and September.

About Teodoro Pittman

Teodoro is a nature and animal lover. He specifically focuses on insects, such as ants, bees, and the like. In his free time, he takes care of his own ant farm, where he analyzes their behavior. Teodoro has spent the last 7 years studying the intricate behavior of these small creatures.