Harvesting Honey From A Beehive
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There are many reasons for people to get involved in beekeeping. . Harvesting honey from a beehive – their own beehive is one of the major attractions of the hobby. Of course, not everyone keeps bees to produce honey but it is the most popular reason for becoming a beekeeper.
One of the first things that new beekeeper asks me is ..? When can I expect to get a honey harvest? In a few weeks or a few months? Well, yea – it is usually a much longer wait.
There are several different types of honey bee hives in use in the United States. The most common type of hive for honey production is the Langstroth hive design. This is the starter hive that many people use in the beginning.
You will of course add more boxes to hold the honey harvest for you. Other hives types can produce honey of course. But, most beekeepers that want to produce honey use this type of hive.
It’s Ok to Harvest Excess Honey
There is nothing wrong with being excited about getting your own honey made by YOUR bees. If fact, your first honey harvest from your bees will likely be the best honey you have ever tasted.
Maybe even the best honey in the world? (Ok, I’m getting a little carried away here.) However, before you run down to the area general store and load up on glass jars, you have a few things to consider.
5 Tips For Harvesting Honey From A Beehive
#1: How Much Honey Will a Beehive Produce ?
How much honey your bees produce varies from year to year. Over time you learn what the average honey production is for your area.
Your location factors into all aspects of honey production and harvesting. This is because different climates have different blooming plants. The length of Winter cold (and amount of honey your bees need to keep) will also vary.
In my area of South Carolina, I know that we do not have a good Fall honey flow. I take the surplus honey (made in the Spring) in June or July. I don’t expect to make more for the year.
Many locations have a good Fall honey flow and will make excess honey production for themselves and the bees. You must learn to understand local conditions and how they affect you.
When you are harvesting honey from a beehive, don’t be greedy. Your bees need good nutrition that only honey can provide. Harvesting excess honey does not harm the bees. But only take the surplus honey of stored honey.
#2 : How do I Know When to Harvest Honey?
Honey bees make honey from plant nectar. Female worker bees gather the watery sweet nectar and return to the hive. House worker bees accept the nectar and begin the honey making process.
Enzymes from the bees’ mouth are added to the nectar and the water content is reduced. This process results in a low water content product that is suitable for long term storage.
When honey is ripe, it is placed in beeswax cells and covered with a wax capping. We call this “capped honey” – cool right ?
In general, bees will not cap honey until it is ripe. Until the honey is ripe, it will not store well. Unripe honey will spoil or ferment. The most common acceptable moisture content for honey is 18.6% or less.
It is pretty impressive to consider that bees collect nectar with a water content of around 80% and transform it into honey with a water content of 18.6% or less.
How Can I Know for Sure if Honey is Ripe?
Can my honey be uncapped and still ripe and ready to take? Yes. I have had some years when the nectar source was abruptly cut short by weather conditions.
My poor bees had finished the honey making process but they were struggling to cap it. I was able to remove the excess honey and save them the trouble. How did I know ?
I had an item known as a honey refractometer. A refractometer can measure the water content of honey.
By taking it to the bee yard and testing some of the uncapped honey, I was able to determine that it was okay to harvest.
But in general, listen to your bees and only harvest capped honey.
Ripe honey ready to harvest from a beehive will usually be capped.
#3: Do I Harm My Bees by Taking Honey?
This is a touchy subject that gets into all kinds of ideas and points of view. I will share mine and respect yours.
Personally, I do not like the term “robbing bees”. I always leave the amount of honey on my hives that should get them through an average winter. Sometimes, I am wrong and have to feed in the Fall.
I never take all the honey and force my bees to survive on honey made from sugar water. So, I do not feel that I am robbing my bees – it’s more like collecting rent for the hundreds of dollars I have spent throughout the season.
As a beekeeper, you will have to decide how you want to manage your colonies. Create a beekeeping philosophy that you can live with.
#4: How Do I Get the Honey Away from the Beehive?
Honey is heavy ! Use a truck or have a cart nearby. Have a plan for getting it back to an inside bee tight room.
The honey bees will probably not be too happy about giving it up either. If you are harvesting honey from a beehive late in the season, your colonies may be large and powerful.
Bee Escapes: Some beekeepers use bee escapes to harvest honey from a beehive: A small plastic item that is inserted into a hole in an inner cover or similar board. (You can also purchase bee escape boards for use that are ready to go.)
The idea is that the bees will leave the top honey supers at night and go down to the brood area. The bee escape is a one way tunnel so the bees can not get back into the honey supers.
This requires lifting the heavy honey boxes twice – Once to place the escape board and once to harvest. This method does not work well in the South where its hot at night.
Some People Like The Power Approach of Harvesting Honey
Just Bees Blowing In The Wind: Some ingenious beekeepers developed the idea of using a blower to harvest honey from a beehive. Assuming you use a queen excluder to keep the queen out of the honey supers, bees are blow out of the honey box.
A honey box is set on its end on the tailgate of a truck or something similar. A leaf blower or bee blower is used to blow the bees back towards the hive.
This works but it really makes the bees mad. Also, if you are not careful you will end up blowing dirt etc around and it will get in your honey box. (Don’t ask how I know this.)
Most Popular Method of Harvesting Honey
Fume Boards Are My Choice: My favorite method of harvesting honey from a beehive is the use of a fume board.
I have been using fume boards to harvest honey from the beehives for several years. I highly recommend it to those of you with a few hives – or a few hundred.
A small box with a metal top and an inner surface of absorbent material is used. It is the same size length and width as a honey super.
A special product is lightly sprayed on the absorbent material inside the fume board. I do not use or recommend any of the stinky liquid products.
I use Honey B Gone or Bee Quick. After spritzing the inside of the fume board. Place it on the honey super that you want to remove. The bees do not like the scent and should leave the honey super within 10 minutes. No harm – no foul.
#5: I Have Harvested Several Boxes of Honey – Now What ?
Don’t stand there ! The bees will take that honey back !
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.
You Have Harvested Honey From Your Hive
Now, aren’t you proud of yourself. In my area, beekeepers don’t expect to harvest honey for themselves the first year. In good years, they may get a small amount of surplus honey from new colonies.
But, don’t rob your bees by taking everything and leave them to starve in the winter. That is poor beekeeping.
Congratulations on harvesting honey from a beehive – now enjoy. With proper storage, your honey will last forever.
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