I have to say that knowing when the nectar flow has started has been the single most difficult thing for me to learn as a new beekeeper. As I prepared for my first spring I asked other beekeepers this magical question, "when does the nectar flow start?" Their responses seem to vary from, "typically in late March", "when the bees stop eating syrup", "when the maple trees bloom", and "when you see flowers blooming" was the primary responses I received. This left me more confused and wondering if there is a better way to tell.
I looked on the internet for a more scientific method. I thought for sure this would published somewhere like a historical weather report or famers almanac of some sorts, but I could only find what had already been shared by other beeks. As I began to think about this more, it did seem that every area and every year the nectar flow start date could be quite different.
So how do I tell? And when does the nectar flow stop? I believe I ran across the answer when searching YouTube and it might surprise you.
It was said that bees know! So if they always know when the nectar is flowing then how can they tell me? Watch them! More specifically, watch their activity at the entrance of the hive.
If you watch the bees they will be coming back to the hive in waves bringing their sweet prize back to the hive to make bee bread and honey. As they approach the hive in waves the entrance highways gets a bit congested and they will wait their turn before trying to enter the hive. There will also be bees that will be leaving the hive to get nectar and they will dart out of the hive so fast that it will be difficult to seem them leave on their mission to get the nectar.
As I searched the web, there were other reports of this exact bee behavior observed by other beekeepers. Several others also said that bee tend to forage pollen in the morning and nectar in the afternoon. The rationale was that when the flowers heat up by the sun they tend to release the sweet nectar.
Wow! Awesome! Fantastic! This is exactly the type of information I had been looking for. This new information also aligns with my observations of the entrance to my beehives. Additionally, I remember noticing that the hives seemed to have a bit more honey than my first inspection and I was not sure if it was the round of syrup or if the nectar flow had started and now I have my answer. I'm sure weighing the hives could also help though it does not seem practical for me to buy a scale for the small number of hives we have and I will just observe their stores.
I hope this information is helpful and please comment with your experience on this topic.