comb honey production honey bee management

A sweet surprise

There is an old saying among beekeepers that you can either produce bees or produce honey—not both. Since it takes a lot of energy and resources for the bees to raise young, the saying makes a lot of sense.

Bearing this in mind, I decided that this year I was going to produce bees. I like to experiment. I decided there were certain things I wanted to try that were inconsistent with producing a lot of comb honey. Besides, I have a backlog of honey. As a hobbyist, I mostly give the honey to my friends or use it at home. My primary reason for keeping bees is that I’m fascinated by them—the honey is a bonus.

So this spring, instead of going through the usual machinations of trying to get bees to do something they don’t want to do—like store honey in little wooden boxes—I gave them some medium supers for their honey. But then I started to organize my shed and decided that it was easier to store the section supers on the hives than anywhere else, so I put them on top of the mediums which were already on top of double deeps.

I did none of the things you normally do to get square sections. Several times during the season I moved those supers around when I was looking for queens or brood or eggs. They were always empty—exactly what I expected. Once swarm season was over, I more or less ignored the hives until this week.

Near the first of August (mite control month) I decided to look through the hives to see how things were coming. I was happy with my progress at raising bees: I had increased the number of hives and they were both populous and active. My newly raised queens were strong. But when I went to remove my “stored” section supers, I could barely lift them. I needed help taking them down the hill. I was amazed.

And there’s more: About 2/3 of the sections contain water white honey with white cappings. The honey is so clear I thought it was water until I tried to wipe up the drips. I have never seen white honey produced around here. I always have darker honeys (which are my personal preference) but white honey is much more in demand. Where did it come from? I have no idea.

So what is the moral of the story? Perhaps good bee management yields good honey production. Perhaps. But more likely it was just a good honey year. If I tried to get section honey with this method it would never work . . . guaranteed. Why do I get the feeling the bees are managing me instead of the other way around?


A full section box. Photo by the author.


  • I love this! I hardly know anything about good bee management, but I aspire to your unintentional success. Are you going to sell your white honey sections? Ahem. Where?

  • Be still my heart. Go on. For me?

    Do you think it’s blackberry honey? I’ve heard that is very white. The honey in my hives right now is white, too, but I’m in no position to harvest anything this year. I thought it was the good old invasive himalayan blackberries taking over the east side of olympia. They are near their end, though. What’s next? Fireweed?

    • Yes, it could be blackberry although I associate blackberries with light gray pollen. I usually see a lot of that and this year I haven’t. What I have seen this year is a lot of snow-white pollen. This is new to me. Do you know what that might be? I keep thinking someone has planted something different around here this year, but I’m not near any significant agriculture.

  • My best guess for white pollen would be bindweed or chicory, although I have no idea what kind of nectar either of those plants produce.

  • Thank you! I remembered seeing bindweed down by the creek earlier this year. I just checked it out, and sure enough it is blooming right now. I couldn’t get close enough to examine the pollen, but later–with a change of clothes–I’ll see if I can get closer. It’s growing over a mine field of brambles so I need to be prepared.

    I don’t know if bindweed is a nectar plant or not. I’ll look it up.

  • Rusty,
    Where did you get that section box? Please don’t tell me you made it by hand! It is beautiful, but I can’t find anything like it for sale online. Thank you so much for your wonderful blog! I have learned a lot.

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