There are a lot of great things about being a beekeeper. One of the best is that you get to harvest your own honey. However, the harvesting process is not always easy. One of the tougher aspects, especially for a new beekeeper, is to knowing when to harvest.
Wait a Season
You should not go into beekeeping expecting to have jars and jars of honey stocked up within a few months. A new colony needs time to build up and strengthen so you shouldn’t harvest any honey at all from your hives during the first honey season. Your bees will need it all to survive the winter.
It can be a long wait for that first honey harvest, especially if you have a taste for honey; just remember that patience will definitely be rewarded.
Wait for the Nectar Flow
Once your hive is large enough and strong enough wait for the nectar flow. Bees need nectar in order to make honey so when the flowers start to bloom, you should see things start to happen within the hive. After the nectar flow, inspect the hive to see what kind of progress your bees are making.
Recognize Harvest Time Behavior
You don’t have to rely solely on a calendar or a blooming flower to tell when harvest time is at hand. The worker bees will tell you, too, by becoming extremely aggressive and stinging easily. You’ll also see many more workers outside, either harvesting or defending the hive. So, if your ordinarily docile hive suddenly turns on you, it’s reasonable to infer there may be some honey in there that to them is worth protecting. To you, it’s probably worth harvesting.
Do Not Wait Too Long
One thing to keep in mind is that there can be multiple nectar flows in a season. After the last big one, your honey is going to be at risk for two reasons. First, the weather could turn and cold honey doesn’t flow well, and is nearly impossible to extract. It can become granulated and thick. That means that you will have lost out on your harvest.
Another problem with waiting too long is that your bees will definitely be able to sense when winter is coming. That will cause them to eat a lot of honey in preparation. They may also move some honey out of the supers and into cells lower down in the hive. This is much the same as squirrels and small animals storing nuts for the winter. If that happens and you decide to harvest the supers, you’ll find them almost empty.
Recognizing Harvest-Ready Honeycomb
A honeycomb is harvest ready when it’s at least 80 percent sealed off, or capped. Whether to harvest then, or wait until it is completely full is entirely up to you. Just don’t wait too long or you could miss out.
Also, it’s important to remember to harvest honey without killing the bees. They are going to need a decent supply of honey for the winter so be sure to calculate what they need and leave enough to sustain them. You may also have to feed your bees or perform some maintenance on the hive leading up to winter ensuring they will survive.
The Harvesting Process
For the harvesting process you will need the following:
- A hive tool or alternate way to open the hive
- Protective clothing
- A wagon or way to transport the supers to the extraction area
- An extraction area (generally a heated shed)
- A knife and a bee brush
- A food grade bucket with a lid
- An extraction device
- Jars, pens, and labels
- A smoker
Simply smoke the hive and wait for two or three minutes. Be sure not to over-smoke it. A couple of puffs should do. Then open the hive and remove the combs using your hive tool, knife, and bee brush as needed. Then transport the combs to the extraction area.
Once again using your knife, scrape the caps off the honeycombs and then place each frame in the extractor to get the honey out of the combs. Then, after placing a strainer-covered bucket under the spigot, open it to allow the honey to flow out of the extractor, through the strainer, and into the bucket.
Once the honey is in the bucket, discard any excess wax or debris that was caught by the strainer. Now you will be ready to move the honey into canning jars. Be careful to label each jar, and then you can use it or sell it as you wish.
A Word of Caution
Even the most docile of bees can get riled up when their honey is being stolen, so always keep your protective gear on, and your smoker handy during the honey harvesting process. It’s also a good idea to make sure that you are extracting the honey in a sealed room that is a good distance from any hives. That way you won’t have too many of that hive’s bees chasing after you, and it’ll reduce the risk of other area bees or animals coming after the honey as well.
Harvesting honey isn’t an exact process. It is different in each part of the world and with each type of honey bee, so you need to get to know your own hives. If you are a patient, careful, and observant beekeeper, you shouldn’t have any trouble figuring out when to harvest and how much to leave for the bees. All you have to do is “bee” aware of how your bees are acting and react to them accordingly.