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Harvesting Honey From Bees

There are many reasons to get involved in beekeeping. For many people the idea of harvesting honey from your own bees is number 1. Of course, keeping honey bees has other rewards too. But the promise of fresh honey straight from the hive leads thousands of beekeepers to invest the time and money into a beekeeping project. However, if the idea of a rich golden harvest fills your dreams, you have some things to consider.

Beekeeper harvesting a frame of honey from a hive image.

Harvesting Honey at Home

Producing a good honey crop takes some time and requires good planning. It doesn’t just happen. In many regions, those of you who start new colonies from scratch may not get a honey harvest the first season. I know, I know – its difficult to wait a whole year.

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However, your beekeeping adventure will not be successful unless your bees are able to survive Winter. In order to do that, they need to be strong and have plenty of food.

The amount of honey needed by the colony for Winter varies greatly from one region to another. If you have to start over every year because your bees starve that’s not good beekeeping.

Collection of honey harvesting images.

Best Hives for Honey Production

Bees make honey from plant nectar collected from blooming plants. This natural process takes place in any type of beehive. There are several different types of honey bee hives in use in the United States.

Langstroth Hives have been the industry standard for commercial beekeepers for many years. The stacked format of this hive style is well suited to honey production.

I suggest beginners start beekeeping with a Langstroth Hive. This is especially true if harvesting honey is a major goal.

When Will You Have a Honey Harvest?

This is one of the first things that students in my beekeeping class ask, ” When can I expect a honey harvest? In a few weeks, or will it be a few months?

Well, yea – it is usually a much longer wait. Available forage for the bees, the length of your growing season and whether your bees are starting from scratch- all these factors affect the timing of your first honey harvest.

It may be your hives second year before they are able to produce a honey crop for you. The colony has a lot to do that first season.

And the absolute truth is this – not every hive will make honey every year. Things happen. Bad weather, too much swarming, sickness, queen problems – there are a lot of things to work around.

Even established colonies have bad years due to weather conditions, sickness etc. A large crop of honey is never guaranteed.

Colonies that are poorly managed and suffer from pest infestations or poor health in general do not make a lot of honey.

How Much Honey Can I Take?

The beekeeper should not take all the honey from the bees. Harvesting honey should only be done when the bees have surplus.

Some hives will not produce any excess honey after Spring is over. The bees need enough honey stored for Winter and they have to eat during the Summer as well.

Sometimes the hives suffer from a lack of natural nectar or dearth. Are the bees needing to dig into their Winter stores to survive during Summer?

Remove Honey From the Bees

Your first time of removing honey from the beehives can be a little frightening. Those bees are not going to willingly give up all their hard work. Of course you won’t take all their honey – will you?I sure hope not.

It is normal to feel a bit overwhelmed, but taking honey supers off the hive can be a lot of fun too. In this article “How to Collect Honey”, we consider the best ways to physically remove bees from the honey supers.

This can be done without a lot of pain to the bees or the beekeeper if the proper tools and some patience is used. Plan your strategy for getting those heavy honey boxes under cover.

Protect Your Harvest from Pests

“I have harvested several boxes of honey, now what? ” Don’t stand there ! The bees will take that honey back if they can get to it !

Have some extra equipment (beehive tops), canvas clothes, etc to cover each honey super as you remove it from the hive.  As soon as you finish in the bee yard, get those honey supers inside a bee tight room.

Extract your honey within 2 days if you live in an area that has Small Hive Beetles as a pest.  Beetles and/or their eggs can be inside your supers. They can ruin boxes of honey left unattended by bees.

Extraction Honey With or Without an Extractor

Many beekeepers have access to a honey extractor. Whether it is manual or electric, it will do a good job of separating your honey from the comb.

In “How to Extract Honey from a Beehive” we give many good tips on using an extractor. Or the crush and strain method if that is your preference. Either way results in a beautiful honey crop.

How to Store Bulk Honey

Protecting your honey harvest is just as important as collecting it. If you have a lot of honey, you will probably store it in 5 gallon buckets. These are very heavy but a great way to store a lot of product.

Smaller producers usually bottle up the total crop into jars. Quart jars are the most common size for storing honey. These are not as heavy as buckets and are easy to re-pour into smaller containers if desired.

Unless you consume or sell the honey quickly, some of it will likely crystallize. Do not panic if your honey “turns to sugar”. This is a natural process and honey can be decrystallized with ease.

Preparing Honey to Sell or Give Away

Most beekeepers sell or give away jars of honey in smaller sizes such as quarts, pints, bears and other decorative containers.

Present your jars of honey in the best manner possible. Take the time to choose nice clean containers.

Wipe away any stickiness from the outside of the jar and create a nice honey label. Take pride in this wonderful product that you and the bees have made.

Packaging Honey

Beekeepers have many different choices when it comes to honey containers. Good honey always deserves a nice clean container.

If you plan to give away or sell honey, plan on having containers of different sizes. Consumers who use a lot of honey will go for the big jars.

Those who are not as familiar with raw honey like to buy smaller containers. Now let’s get that honey packaged and bottled and ready to use.

Do Your Honey Jars Need A Label?

Once your honey crop is ready to sell or give away – you have another consideration. Labels for your honey jars!

Honey labels are be purchased ready to use – where you just add the weight and contact information. Or, you can design and print your own label.

Either way, the honey harvest is not complete until you have the correct information on each jar.

This is especially important if you are planning to sell them. In my honey labeling guide, I cover the key elements that need to be in place on every honey jar.

Frequently Asked Questions About Harvesting Honey

Are You Stealing Honey from the Bees?

Harvesting honey does not hurt the honey bee colony.  This is true as long as you practice good beekeeping and do not take too much.

Greedy beekeepers often end up with starving bees.  That is just not right – in my opinion. 

No harm is done to the bees with responsible honey collecting. Always leave the bees enough honey for Winter.

Know normal foraging conditions in your region. Learn when honey producing plants bloom and when the honey season is over. Don’t leave your bees to starve.

How Much Honey Will a Beehive Produce ?

How much honey your bees produce varies from year to year.  But over time, you learn what the average honey production is for your area.

Your location factors into all aspects of honey production and harvesting honey. The length of Winter cold (and amount of honey your bees need to keep) will also vary.

When you are harvesting honey from a beehive, don’t be greedy. Your bees need good nutrition that only honey can provide. Sugar syrup is an emergency plan not a nutritious diet.Bees capping honey for harvest image.

Can I Keep Bees Without Harvesting Honey?

Yes, of course.  Many people keep bees and never harvest or collect honey.  They want the hives for pollination or just because they enjoy watching them. 

Having bees on your property increases the average yield of your vegetable gardens & orchards – including those of your neighbors!

Final Thoughts on Keeping Bees for Honey Production

Producing honey requires a level of patience. Some hives will not produce extra honey – even in a good year.

Educate yourself and understand the needs of your colony. Strong, healthy hives produce more honey.

I always tell students in my online beekeeping class, ” nothing will ever taste better than honey from your own beehive”. A lot of hard work is involved in beekeeping for honey. Make the most out of every drop.

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    Both of my hives have five or more frames of capped honey. And I have no idea how much they will need to survive the winter. So I have left them alone and next year I will be taking some for the rent. LoL But I would love to harvest some this year.

  2. I understand completely. Been there ! It’s late August and I know that my bees need a full shallow super before the end of October. You probably need to be feeding them now. For sure, if they have not drawn out all the comb. I know its hard to wait but the honey will taste even better next year.

  3. Thank you so much for your blog. I’m a second year beekeeper and have learned so much from you in the past year. I live in East Tennessee outside of Knoxville.
    I have harvested 12 frames of honey and some of it has been reclaimed while I was trying to figure out how to get them off the honey and closed up. I’ve been waiting on an extractor from my club to extract the honey. It’s been two days now and I am worried about my honey. It’s closedup but not air tight. What should I do? Thank you.

  4. Yea, I would be worried as well if you have Small Hive Beetles in your area. You may have to consider freezing it and then letting it thaw before extraction.

  5. Marlow Shubert says:

    I am new at beekeeping and need to harvest some honey so need all the help that I can get Thank you for the info Marlow

  6. You are certainly welcome. Be sure to read my posts on storing honey, bottling honey and storing equipment. I also have a How to Harvest Class.

  7. Joylane S Russo says:

    We are bee keepers in Murphy NC. We have bee keepers bring in hives from other states and dropping them off simply to collect the Sourwood. Nobody inspects the hives or treats them. Is this legal?

  8. It can be a problem for sure. My understanding was that you had to have a permit. I would contact the NC Department of Agriculture for verification of the law at this time.

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