How to Harvest Honey?

Which is the ideal Time to Harvest Honey from your Hives?

Honey Harvesting

As it was often mentioned, honey is the number one reason why people are interested in beekeeping. Even though it is not difficult to harvest honey, there are a number of steps that have to be followed. In this blog, we will guide you through the process, so that you are able to harvest honey without too much stress.

When to Harvest Honey

The great news is that you can harvest honey either throughout the season or when it has ended (in according to the local honey flows). There is indeed a right time to harvest honey, more specifically when the bees have capped it over on the honeycomb. In the situation that you extract unsealed honey, it will have a high water content. This means that stored honey will ferment, have a foul taste and even explode if stored in a sealed jar.

Harvesting Honey

Harvesting equipment

The most important piece of equipment that you will need for honey harvesting is the extractor. Apart from that, you will need a good uncapping knife, a honey filter and containers or jars for the storage of honey. As you will see below, it is also essential to make sure that there are no bees around, for a successful harvest.

There are two main types of honey extractors, radial and tangential extractors. As for the material from which the extractor is made, it is recommended that you either go with one made from stainless steel or food-grade plastic. The uncapping knife is quite necessary, as you will need it to remove the capping from the honey cells. It is indicated that you heat up the knife before using it, as it will go through the wax without too much effort. As an alternative, you can use an electric uncapping machine.

When using the extractor, you will not notice that, aside from the honey, you will also extract pollen, dead bees and even small twigs (basically, everything that is on the comb). This is the reason why you need to use honey filters, either a muslin bag or a high-performance filter. Last, but not least, you will need a honey bucket that has a tap; you will use it to empty the honey extractor. The tap will then be used to drain the honey into containers.

Extraction process

The first thing that you want to do is ensure there are no bees around. For this, you can use a bee escape board. This can be placed between the honey supers and the brood box; the bee escape board will allow the bees to travel through the brood box but not to return.

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Another alternative would be to use fume boards, which are frames that contain a fabric with absorbent properties. You can use liquid bee repellent on the frame, placing it over the top box. This will ensure that they bees will move in a downward direction. If you want to facilitate the process, you can use the smoker first, as this will calm the bees.

Once you have removed the bees, it is time to extract the honey. Begin by taking out the first frame, using your uncapping knife to go through the wax. The hot knife will easily slice off the wax capping that covers the honey cells. Then, make sure to turn the frame and repeat the process. For the next step, put the frame in the honey extractor. Use the honey filters before storing the honey into containers and take time to seal them properly, otherwise the honey will draw moisture and ferment.

Honey analysis

The honey analysis can provide useful information regarding the quality of the final product. One of the first things that you have to verify is the level of moisture, meaning how much water does your honey contain. For this test, you can use a hydrometer, which is actually a calibrated refractometer. If the water content is over 20%, it is highly likely that your honey will ferment (foul taste and risk of explosion).

Another thing to watch out for is granulation, which refers to honey entering into a solid state and being difficult to remove from the storage containers or jars. You can take measures to prevent granulation; for example, you can store your honey in a warm room or you can actually freeze the honey. However, you should always refrain from heating the honey excessively, as you will lead to the formation of undesirable substances, such as hydroxy-methyl-furfuraldehyde.

After extraction

Once you have finished extracting the honey, you can use a filter to drain the capping. As an alternative, you can hang them in a muslin bag or use a capping cage for such purposes. You can also leave the bees to clean the wet frames, making sure to store them in a dry location afterwards. If you do decide to store entire honeycombs, you have to watch out for wax moths.

Harvesting honey
What are the useful products that can be extracted from a Hive?

Honey

Honey represents the number one reason why the majority of the people consider beekeeping. The bees gather the nectar from flowering plants, using it in order to produce honey. From a chemical point of view, honey has water and sucrose its main components, with the latter composed of fructose and glucose.

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No matter the type of honey produced by the bees, it will eventually crystallize. The extent of the crystallization process depends on the proportion of fructose and glucose in the composition of the honey. In turn, this is dependent on the source of nectar, meaning the flower from which it was collected. Knowing the viscosity of certain honey types is essential for a successful extraction process.

The taste of honey varies tremendously, depending on the initial source of the nectar. Some honey types are not necessarily regarded for their taste, but rather for their medicinal properties (best example, Manuka honey). The color of the honey is not significant, ranging from water white to darker colors (this may be a matter of personal preference).

Honey is widely appreciated for its antibacterial properties. Studies have confirmed that it is in fact the hyper-osmotic nature of honey that is responsible for such properties. Moreover, the high acidity of honey actually prevents bacterial overgrowth.

Pollen

Bees gather pollen and use it as a source of proteins, feeding the brood and ensuring the survival of the species. The pollen is deposited in the close vicinity of the brood nest, thanks to the efficient organization within the beehive. Pollen is highly beneficial for the honeybees, not only because it is rich in proteins but also because of its vitamin, mineral, and fat content.

Bees rely on pollen for feeding the brood; as a beekeeper, it is your responsibility to ensure that the beehives are placed at a close distance from flowering plants (pollen source). For people, pollen is an excellent nutritional supplement, being available in a number of forms (tablets, granules and even liquid).

Royal jelly

The royal jelly is a substance with highly nutritious properties, being used to feed brood that might become a potential queen bee. Rich in vitamins, minerals, proteins and sugar, the royal jelly is considered to be a prized bee product. People can use royal jelly as a nutritional supplement and also for the making of high-quality cosmetics, the substance adding value to their existent beneficial properties. Among the substances that are found in the composition of royal jelly, there are amino acids, antibiotic-like substances, insulin-like peptides, vitamins (B complex), neurostimulants (acetylcholine) and testosterone.

Beeswax

Produced by the worker bees, beeswax is an essential element for the beehive. It is synthesized from the sugars that honey contains, being used, among other things, for building the cells in which the brood develop. The importance of beeswax cannot be understated; as previously mentioned, without beeswax, a colony would not be able to exist.

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It has been demonstrated that, in order for the honeybees to produce one kilo of beeswax, no less than seven kilos of honey are required. As a beekeeper, you have to refrain from taking the beeswax away during the time of harvest; otherwise you will leave the bees starving (they will use the honey stored for food to compensate for the lost beeswax). As with the other bee-related products, beeswax has a complex composition, including various oils, hydrocarbons and hydroxy acids.

Propolis

Propolis is used by bees as a natural sealant, in order to cover smaller gaps within the beehive. This substance is actually collected from flowering plants, being then mixed with beeswax and adapted for sealing the nest. For humans, propolis represents an excellent product, a natural medicine with a wide range of properties, such as antibacterial and antifungal. Studies have demonstrated that the administration of propolis at the same time with antibiotic medication can help the body fight such infections in a more efficient manner. Propolis can help one fight against cancer, modulating the immune system and reducing the oxidative stress.

More recently, propolis has started to be used in dental treatments, given its natural sealing properties. Not only can this substance be used to treat existent dental caries but it can also strengthen the enamel, preventing the appearance of future dental problems. Propolis is often chosen as an ingredient for medical ointments and creams. Both chewing gum and lozenges can contain propolis as a powerful ingredient.

Harvesting Propolis

Venom

Honeybees use venom as a powerful and highly efficient defense mechanism against potential predators. Upon being analyzed, the venom of honeybees has been discovered as containing an important number of substances with pharmacological properties, including amines, peptides and enzymes. The venom can trigger anaphylactic shock in people who are allergic, this being the reason why many beekeepers carry an epic shot with them.

Those who promote apitherapy consider that the venom coming from honeybees can be used as a treatment for a wide range of medical conditions, including chronic injuries, such as bursitis or tendonitis. They also support the idea that both the symptoms of high blood pressure and asthma could be improved through the administration of venom. Other conditions that could be cured through apitherapy include eczema, hearing impairment & loss and the pre-menstrual syndrome.