When To Harvest Honey From Your Beehive ?

When To Harvest Honey

As a new beekeeper, you probably shouldn’t harvest honey until your second year of beekeeping. Thus, you should ask yourself : when to harvest honey? The main reason is so your colony can get established, build their comb, increase their numbers, focus on their health, and build up their honey stores.
However, in that second year, all bets are off, honey. As a matter of fact, if you’re not selling your honey, you’ll probably have it dripping out your ears.

Best Time Of Year To Harvest Honey:

The best time to harvest honey is when your colony tells you to. What do I mean by that? I can sit here and tell you to harvest honey at the end of June and again at the end of September, but in all honesty, if your hive isn’t ready, it’s not ready.

Your monthly inspections will tell you when it is time to harvest honey. I should remind you that the one time you should not harvest honey is in the cold winter.

Have you ever tipped a honey bottle upside down in the cold? You’re kind of going nowhere fast with that one. Cold honey doesn’t extract well; glaciers move faster than cold honey.

My general rule about when to extract honey is to pay attention to the nectar flow. Watch your honey stores in your hive at the end of each nectar flow. That is when your honey supply will be at its max and you will know it’s time to harvest.

When To Harvest Honey?

Your honey is ready to harvest when you perform your hive inspection and most of the frames in your hive box have honey. Once you’re able to identify the honey frames, you will need to check to see how many of the honey cells are capped. Capped honey cells are ready for harvest and uncapped honey cells generally have too much moisture in them to harvest which is why the bees haven’t capped them yet.

When the bees collect nectar, it has around an 80 percent moisture level. As they process it and reduce the moisture by fanning, they will bring the moisture level down to around 18.6 percent, then cap it with the beeswax to seal and protect it. When your frames are about 80 percent capped, you know it is time to extract the honey.

Uncapped Honey:

When To Harvest Honey

Uncapped honey cells will have too much moisture in them and can be prone to fermenting. However, sometimes bees are so busy collecting nectar and making honey that they simply don’t have the bee-power to cap all the honey. In this case, some of the uncapped cells are in fact ready to harvest.

You can buy a honey refractometer to measure the moisture levels in your honey cells. The refractometer helps take all the guesswork out of knowing whether the moisture level is right. If your honey reads a moisture level of 18.6 percent or lower, it is ready for harvest.

If you don’t have a fancy gadget that helps you test the moisture levels in your honey stores, I have a simple test you can do. Take your uncapped honey frame and tip it upside down. If the liquid runs out, it’s not ready. If the liquid stays in the cells, it is ready.

Honey Extraction Equipment:

When To Harvest Honey

If you are a member of a beekeepers association, they may have equipment that members can use for free. You can also ask fellow beekeepers if anyone has equipment that you can borrow. You can buy a honey extraction machine, or just use a five-gallon bucket. If you’re planning on using a five-gallon bucket, try to get one with a spout for draining the honey. Here’s your basic equipment checklist:

- Bee suit, gloves, and veil
- Smoker, lit and ready to use
- Bee brush
- Hive tool
- Uncapping tool, a little metal pick used to puncture the wax cappings on the honey cells 
- Bucket, tote, or extraction machine 
- Filter
- Clean bottles or jars with lids to store the honey
- Pail or pan of warm water for rinsing honey off everything
- Beekeeping journal

You can extract honey one of two ways: Either crush the honeycomb and strain it out or spin the honey out. Either way, extracting honey will be a sticky mess. Expect this going in and set up your extraction area as if you are prepping for a bunch of toddlers to finger paint.

Work As A Team:

After you have confirmed your honey is ready to extract, there are a few things you will need to help you. One of the main things is another person, preferably one with beekeeping experience.

Beekeepers are an amazing group of people and love to help fellow beekeepers. Contact someone in your beekeepers' association or a local fellow beekeeper and ask them to help you the first time you are extracting honey. You will appreciate the help of an experienced beekeeper.

Honey Harvest: When To Harvest Honey

When To Harvest Honey

Before you do anything, make sure you are prepared. Set up your honey extraction equipment far away from the beehive. Better yet, extract the honey inside your house or a building if you can.

The bees won’t be too happy about you taking their liquid gold, even though there is no harm in doing so. There’s nothing quite like a bunch of mobbing bees to distract you from your efforts to collect their honey.

Once all of your ducks are in a row, you’re ready to approach your hive. The first step in the honey harvest is to safely remove the frames from your hive.

Removing The Honey Frames:

Honey Harvest: When To Harvest Honey?

When removing the frames for honey, make sure you’re not removing the brood frames. You don’t want baby bees in your honey, nor do you want to take brood from their colony. You can tell the difference between honey stores and brood stores by the color of the caps. Let's follow the following steps:

- Smoke the hive as you do for inspections.
- Remove the top board and the inner cover.
- Inspect the frames to determine which ones have honey stores.
- Gently brush off as many bees as possible and place the honey frames in a bucket or tote.
Be careful not to crush any bees!
- Close your hive again and take your frames to the extraction area you have set up.

As mentioned earlier in this article, let me explain the two ways to extract honey:

Honey Harvest: When To Harvest Honey?

Option 1: Crush And Strain:

Crush and strain is the slowest method of honey extraction but requires the least amount of equipment. Pretty much anyone with a bucket and basic kitchen equipment can extract honey this way.

Another bonus to this method of extraction is that it can be used with any type of beehive. With the crushing method, you take the whole comb and crush it to extract the honey, then strain it to remove all the wax.

Whether you have a bucket, tote, or some other catchment device, the goal is to remove the honeycomb from the frames and put it into your container. Many tools will work to achieve this goal, such as a sharp knife, a spoon, a spatula, or another kitchen utensil. Crush the comb to release the honey.

You can use the back of a spoon, a potato masher, a spatula—pretty much any kitchen utensil that will get the job done. Then strain the wax from the honey through a fine-mesh strainer. You may have to do this a couple of times to remove all the wax and particles.

The downside to crush and strain, other than the amount of time it takes, is that you destroy the comb when harvesting honey. The bees will have to rebuild their comb when you return the frames to their hive. Many beekeepers prefer this because they like to harvest the beeswax as well as the honey.

Option 2: Spinning:

The spinning method uses a honey extractor. You place the frames in the extractor, then spin them using a hand crank or electricity. The centrifugal force extracts the honey within minutes.

First, you will need to take your uncapping tool and uncap all the honey cells. It is very easy to do. Think of it like popping all the bubbles on a sheet of bubble wrap with a comb that has a lot of sharp spikes on it.

All you want to do is remove or pierce the wax cap on the honeycomb so you can release the honey. When the frames are uncapped, you place them in the spinner per the manufacturer’s directions, spin the frames, and pour the honey out of the spout.

The spinning extraction method is perfect for beekeepers with more than one hive or for those with more than one honey hive body that’s ready to harvest. You can extract honey in minutes with the extractor, versus hours with the crush and strain method.

Another bonus is that the comb is left intact. This means when you are done extracting the honey, all you have to do is return the frames to the hive. The bees will clean them up and get right back to making honey.

The downside to this method is you can only use it with Langstroth hives. Another downside is the cost of equipment. Although, as I said, if you don’t have an extractor, you may be able to borrow one.

Returning The Frames:

Once you have extracted your honey, you can return the frames to the hive. There is no need to clean the extra honey off them; your bees will clean them up in no time.

Follow the same steps you used to remove the frames: Gear up with your safety equipment, smoke the hive, carefully remove the top, remove the inner cover, and replace the frames. Be careful not to crush any bees while you’re returning the frames to the hive.

Filtering The Honey:

Whether you crush or spin your honey, you will want to filter out all the wax and other particles. Depending on how much wax and particles you have, you may want to strain it more than once.

Once the honey is strained, you will want to keep the honey in a covered jar or bucket for a couple of days. It’s important to cover your honey as soon as possible so no moisture can enter the honey and cause fermentation.

After a couple of days have passed, remove the cover from your honey and scoop off anything that has floated to the top. At this stage, your honey is ready to bottle and cap.

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