Honey lover went honey hunting but found no honey

by Joe Parnell
(North Louisana USA)

I found a bee hive in an old building in the wall. I took out part of the wall to get to the honey, but the bottom of the comb was empty. No eggs, no larvae, no honey. Was this the new part of the hive? Should I go back and check at a later date? This was early May. Thanks, Joe P.

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Hi Joe,

Sounds like you went treasure hunting and found no treasure! Oh well, that's how treasure hunting goes sometimes.

It's possible, though, that the treasure was there and you just didn't expose enough of the combs to see it. And it's also possible, of course, that the treasure was already long gone.

First off, I'm assuming that you did see bees in the hive.

If, by chance, you didn't see bees (lots of them - and probably angry!), then the colony has died out or is on the verge of dying. In this case, there would probably be no honey. The colony likely either died from starvation due to lack of honey, or they died from some other cause, and bees from other hives robbed out any remaining honey.

Going on the assumption that there is a live colony that you exposed in the wall, and assuming also that you weren't able to see all of the combs of the colony, then it's very possible that there is honey stored above the combs you were able to view.

Bees have a natural tendency to arrange the hive in this order: brood on the bottom, pollen stored above the brood, and honey stored above the pollen.

Bees also tend to move up in the hive during the winter as they consume their honey stores. So it would be quite possible in early spring for the bottom combs to be empty, with brood, pollen and honey above.

In fact, in a procedure called 'reversing,' beekeepers often move an empty bottom super to the top of the hive in early spring. This is to give the bees room to expand upwards as they are naturally inclined to do.

So if there are combs above the portion of the colony you were able to see, there may be honey there.

If you did see all of the combs, and there's no honey and no brood, then it's a doomed colony. But if it's a strong and thriving colony, odds are good that they will swarm, which will reduce the amount of honey they'll produce. But depending upon many variables, the colony could store up a considerable sum of honey later in the season.

Of course, the best thing would be to transfer the bees from the house to a proper hive, where they could be managed properly and honey harvested without tearing into a wall.

If this is not an abandoned house, then the bees really should be removed. Either transferred to a hive, or - sad, but sometimes necessary - exterminated and all of the combs removed from the wall.

Here's a webpage that provides more info about honey bees in the walls of a building.

Good luck!

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