ZBees liquid gold... fresh from the hives!

Lifetime member of the North Carolina Beekeepers Association

Apiary Population Estimating

     As a beekeeper, have you ever wondered how many honeybees might exist in the typical Langstroth 10-frame hive? I was curious about the number honeybees flying around my backyard and decided to conduct some studies to determine how many bees were in each hive. Over the course of four months, I developed a method to estimate the average honey bee count per hive. If you calculate the average number of cells in a typical deep-frame you find that there are approximately sixteen workers cells per side, in a one inch square cut (see images below).

Estimating Colony Populations and Apiary Value

Estimating Colony Populations

RESEARCH 1 - Actual Comb Measurement - Determining the potential number of cells per frame.

A Deep frame has an average comb area of 8.5” H x 17” L (actual size) or 144.5 Sq. Inches 144.5 Sq. In. x 16 cells per Sq. In. = 2,312 peak worker cells for one side OR, 2,312 x 2 = 4,624 peak worker cells per deep frame.

1. Consider an average of thirty percent (30%) empty, honey, or pollen cells, for a fully combed frame:

2. Take, 4,624 peak cells x 70% coverage = 3,237 cells per frame for brood. We can estimate 3,200 brood honeybees per frame for a good producing queen. These “average cell counts” do not account for frames in the honey supers and as such it is quite possible for a colony to reach an even higher threshold of honeybees.

RESEARCH 2 - Actual Comb Measurement - Actual number of honeybees on a single frame #19, at 1030 hours.

1. A hand-count revealed the average number of worker bees on this healthy and fully combed frame to be 766 workers on one side, or 1,532 estimated workers per frame.

2. Using an average of 1,500 "nurse bees," multiply this count times the average number of brood frames and the estimated count is can fall between 7,500 (5-frames) to 10,500 (7-frames) of nurse bees- not counting the bees developing in brood cells.

3. Over period of three weeks, this number fluctuates some because old foragers are dying and nursery workers are being hatched.

4. The possible number bees per healthy brood frame averages 3,200 brood cells plus 1,500 nurse bees for a per frame population of 4,700 honeybees. Multiple that times the nimber of healthy brood frames in the hive and add in the honey or pollen frame workers for  per box total.

EXAMPLE: 6 brood frames per box times 4,700 = 28,200 brood and nurse bees. Next, add 4 honey or pollen frames with approximately 1,500 worker bees = 6,000 and the estimated number of bees per 10-frame box is 34,200 honeybees.

Granted, these figures are only estimates of what the average heathy hive might contain, but it gives the beekeeper a quick assessment of the value in honey bees, per hive.

Why is this important to the beekeeper?

     First, let's just look at the average cost for a 3-pound package of honeys (average of 11,000 bees) at an average cost of $140.00. Second, as the hive grows in numbers so does its "live" value. Hence, a 10-frame hive box can accommodate and average of 34,200 honeybees. Now, take 34,200 divided by 11,000 (package size) = 3.1 packages of honeybees per 10-frame box. At an average cost of $135 per package that means single deep hive now has an approximate bee value of $418.50 (without honey supers added). Third, as the hive grows exponentially these figures for every healthy brood box represents how a single package of honeybees can have a "future value" of approximately $899.00. Lastly, when the beekeeper loses a double brood box hive they are not losing $135 worth of bees, they are losing $899 of bees or 6.2 packages of new bees. As honey supers are added to the hive, the population increases again and so does the hive value.

     EXAMPLE: In a "single brood box" hive #1, there are approximately 34,200 brood bees in 10-frames. Add two medium 10-frame honey supers with approximately 900 foragers per frame and you arrive at an average of 9,000 bees per super. Add 34,200 + 9,000 + 9,000 and you get and average of 52,200 bees for this 3-box hive. Divide that number by 11,000 (a 3-lb package) and it equals 4.7 packages of bees in the hive. MULTIPLY 4.7 times $135 and the bee value for this hive of bees is $634.50.

     Finally, the total value of the apiary (in honeybees only) would be the total number of healthy bees in all brood boxes and honey supers, divided by 11,000, times the cost of what the beekeeper paid for a single package. As of 1 August 2022, the bee count for four hives at ZBees Apiary totals approximately 274,000. Estimated apiary bee value is 274,000 / 11,000 = 25 packages at $130.00 per package, which equates to a current estimated bee value of $3,075.00 for all honeybees on hand. Original cost for 5 packages was $650, so $3,075 - $650 equals a $2,425 growth in honeybees.

     As you can ascertain, the loss of any hive has a great affect on the loss of bee dollars $$$ per hive.

Healthy frame of brood and nurse honeybees
Measuring one sq inch of honeycomb

RESEARCH 3 - Plastic or Wax Foundations - Actual number of worker cells per frame is 48 rows x 83 cells/row, or 2,984 cells per frame.