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Honey bees are prolific producers of honey. They keep making honey as long as supplies are available and there is space to store the honey. Beekeeping puts this characteristic of honey bees to use. Larger hives with greater room for honey are used in modern beekeeping. It allows honey bees to make enough honey for their own uses and enough extra that is economically harvested. Various factors affect the best time you can harvest honey from a beehive. High quality honey requires you to wait until it is fully processed and capped in cells, where it is low in moisture content and has a high saturation of sugars.
When to Harvest Honey
Harvesting honey too early is not good. It gives you low quality honey that is likely to ferment. Beekeepers wait until more than three quarters of honey comb on a frame is capped before harvesting that frame. You can also wait until more cells are capped if you so choose.
Blooming flowers are another factor that determines if you can harvest honey. It is important to wait for flowers to finish blooming. Flowers in blossom provide nectar and pollen used by bees. Harvesting honey very early in the season gives you low honey yields since bees have not had enough time to collect nectar and convert it to honey.
Honey is best harvested near the end of Spring, or the beginning of the Fall season, when the temperatures are not too low and the honey flow season is ongoing or ended. Very cold temperatures make honey too thick to flow out of honeycomb. Waiting too long can also lead to honey losses to robber bees. When resources are not abundant in the environment and bees can still fly out, they often resort to robbing other beehives. This can cost you honey harvests and loss of honey bee colonies during attacks by robber bees.
Harvesting Honey from Langstroth Beehives
Preparing for honey harvesting from Langstroth beehives, first requires you to remove the bees from the frames to be harvested. This can be accomplished with a smoker and a bee brush. It can take a few days for bees to clear from a beehive box even with the use of modern equipment. Once bees have cleared from the frames you aim to harvest honey from, extract the honey within 2-3 days. This prevents wax moths and other pests of honey bees from settling on the frames and ruining your crop of honey. If you are not extracting honey immediately, you can put the frames in waterproof bags and store them in cold rooms or freeze the comb. It protects the comb from wax moths and other pests. When harvesting honey, you can also harvest some beeswax for various uses.
Equipment of various types is used when harvesting honey. A hive tool is used to pry frames free or to help with removal of beehive boxes. Uncapping knives of various kinds, including heated ones are used to remove honey cell cappings. Honey can then be removed using an extractor.
A honey extractor is a central piece of equipment in honey harvesting. It uses centrifugal force to get honey from cells in honeycomb. A good honey extractor is essential equipment for beekeepers with many beehives. It enables extraction of large volumes of honey is little time. One of the best features of a honey extractor, is that is does not damage comb. Frames of drawn comb can be reused quickly in the beehive during honey flow season.
There are two main types of honey extractors: radial and tangential. With a radial honey extractor, both sides of honeycomb are extracted simultaneously. With a tangential extractor, you can extract honey from only one face of honeycomb at a time. Your honey extractor can be manually powered or spun by an electric motor.
Safety when Harvesting
Safety of the beekeeper, honey bees and beekeeping equipment is important when harvesting honey. For the beekeeper, a beekeeping suit with gloves and footwear is recommended. You should always wear the protective suit whenever around bees. A bee smoker is also handy during the time you will be around the beehive. Small puffs are used on honey bees to get them to move from frames. Using too much smoke however, can cause honey to have a burning wood smell that is unpleasant.
Honey bees should be left unhurt from honey harvesting activities. Beekeepers go to lengths to prevent squishing honey bees and hurting brood frames. Following the procedure of harvesting honey properly, ensures the honey bee colony is not hurt in any way. Only the frames with honey are removed during honey harvesting. They are usually in the upper beehive boxes. The lower placed brood boxes must be left undisturbed.
To harvest honey from Langstroth beehives, follow these steps:
- Open the beehive by removing the top cover and inner cover. Apply a few puffs of smoke over the top of frames in the upper box clear bees from the frames. Pick a frame to inspect and pry it loose. Remove the frame you have selected and brush bees off the frame.
- Uncap the honey cells. You should use a sharp knife that is serrated if possible. You can also use a heated uncapping knife so you can work faster. A roller with spikes can be used for uncapping, if you do not have an uncapping knife.
- Place uncapped frames in the honey extractor you have. If the extractor is electric, turn it on. When putting frames in a honey extractor, make sure the load is balanced. It prevents the extractor from vibrating too much and possibly getting damaged. Spinning the extractor for a minute or two gets all the honey from honeycomb.
- Strain the collected honey and put it in suitable containers. Beekeepers with a lot of honey can store it in containers holding up to 4 gallons of honey. Smaller yields of honey can be put into mason jars until it is time to use the honey. You can also package honey in other types of containers for preservation or sale.
Harvesting Honey from Top Bar Beehives
Beekeepers using Top Bar hives have relief from handling large weights of honeycomb. They can therefore use smaller sized containers. This advantage over other beekeepers is unfortunately as a result of the little space found in these hives. They give smaller yields of honey in comparison to other beehives. Even then, Top Bar hives have a big role to play in beekeeping. They are great for the maintenance of a colony for breeding or restocking purposes. They are also good for their ease in management. A Top Bar hive for honey to consume at home is great. It might even surpass your own personal consumption and leave some for sale.
Harvesting honey from a Top Bar hive involves lifting the top bars and cutting off the comb. A Top Bar hive does not have much support for honeycomb down the depth of the comb. It requires you to cut comb off the top bars every time you are harvesting. This characteristic of Top Bar hives has earned them a reputation as great beehives for the production of both beeswax and honey. It also ensures the renewal of comb in the beehive. Old comb in beehives attracts wax moths and other pests and parasites of honey bees. In beehives that allow for reuse of comb after honey extraction, wax moths are a big problem to contend with in beehive management.
In Top Bar beehives, honey is stored towards the rear of the hive. Inspection tells you which top bars have ready honey. It is something you can do easily. Once you have established the top bars to harvest from, pry them loose. It is alright to remove one top bar at a time, cut comb from it and return it to the beehive. It opens up the beehive less. Other beehives such as the Langstroth beehive and Warre hive are opened up too much in comparison to the Top Bar hive. The comb you cut from the bars of a Top Bar hive is placed in suitable containers for further processing. It can be in specially shaped containers that take a specified number of honeycomb sheets.
Beekeepers that sell their honey after separating it from honeycomb need to process the sheets of honeycomb they cut from top bars. The major extraction method is crushing and sieving using a honey press. It gives honey that is rich in wax content when done right. Crushing and sieving is a slow process of honey extraction. It should be allowed to run for enough time to give you wax that is completely free of honey. The process has been largely overtaken by faster honey extraction methods available when you are using the Langstroth beehive.
Harvesting Honey from Warré Beehives
Warré beehives are a middle ground between the spectrum of beehives, with Top Bar hives and Langstroths at opposing ends. They have the spaciousness of Langstroth beehives and beeswax production capabilities that are unmatched by other beehive types. In modern beekeeping, the Warré hive is the way to go if you do not mind having high wax yields in your beekeeping operation. For honey production objectives, the Langstroth beehive tops. Warre hives make use of bars laid across the top of beehive boxes. The boxes are close in size to the smaller Langstroth beehive boxes. Harvesting honey requires cutting of comb from the top bar in selected Warre beehive boxes.
Hive management with Warre beehives during a harvest requires you to suit up for protection against bee stings. You should also have all the tools and equipment you need ready. During harvesting of honey, the top boxes of the Warre beehive are removed and the honeycomb cut from top bars. An inspection of each honeycomb tells you if it is ready for harvesting or not. Honey that is ready is in capped cells and does not flow from the cell when comb is placed upside down for a second or two. After separation of comb and the top bar, the bar can be returned to the beehive box it came from.
Collect sheets of honeycomb with honey in a clean container. You can work on the sheets later away from the beehive. The container can be sealable for best results and to keep bees away.
Beekeeping with Warré hives does not allow for use of foundation. Wiring is also not an option. The comb from Warré beehives is fragile and unsupported on the sides. Separation of honey from comb requires crushing and sieving. You can also use the honey in form of comb honey. A Warré hive gives good yields of both honey and beeswax when well managed.
How to Know if Honey is of High Quality
Consumers want the best quality honey and beehive products. They use them as food and in making other useful products. Honey that is of high quality is well matured and has high concentration of simple sugars. It is very nutritious. The moisture content of honey is a major contributor to its quality. Low moisture content of about 18% is best. It is measured using a honey refractometer. Beekeepers do not risk harvesting low quality honey with their beehives. They wait until they are sure all the honey is ready and of high quality. This is because you have a difficult time returning low quality honey to the beehive for bees to continue working on it. They therefore only use their honey refractometers to confirm that their honey harvest is of high quality.
The chemical composition of honey is not easily known by beekeepers and consumers. Honey can contain harmful chemicals in either small or large amounts. The food sources that bees visit on foraging flights are the biggest cause of chemicals in honey. Treatments used to control pests, parasites and diseases of honey bees can also introduce harmful chemicals into honey. Beekeepers follow strict procedures and treatment regimes to ensure chemicals dissipate from the beehive.
- In some cases, frames in which honey is stored or is being stored by honey bees, are removed for some time from the beehive. They are only returned after the recommended time periods have passed. This ensures the honey in those frames is not contaminated with the chemicals used in treatment of the beehive.
Storage of honey is best done in containers that are food safe and do not add flavors or odors to honey. The container should not allow light to reach the honey and destroy some of the nutrients in the honey. Honey that is of high quality does not ferment when placed in a sealed container. It may crystallize after some time. If the container of honey is left open, it can attract some moisture from the air around it and ruin the honey. Properly preserved honey stays fresh for many years without spoiling.
As a consumer of honey, you are protected by various laws. Beekeepers and retailers of honey are required to observe strict measures that ensure only quality products are sold to consumers. You can lodge complaints with various authorities if you find you have been sold low quality honey. Informing the beekeeper or retailer of the honey is also good so they trace back the origin of the problem and solve it.
A Final Word
Honey is today consumed in two major forms. When separated from honeycomb, honey flows easily and can be used for many applications. There is also a market for comb honey. This is honey that has been left in the honeycomb it was produced in. It is great for munching on. Comb honey leaves some beeswax in your mouth after chewing on the comb and extracting honey into your mouth. You can also use comb honey to make some products that can work with beeswax. If you are selling comb honey, there is no need to process the sheets of comb that you got from the top bars of your beehive any further. You may package the comb for storage, transportation and sale.
After a lot of work, thinking and unexpected turns managing a beehive, bringing the rewards home is a joy for every beekeeper. Harvesting beehive products gives you joy and a much needed thumbs up. Harvesting honey is one option for beekeepers among many beehive products. There are those beekeepers who may also choose not to harvest from beehives; they run apiaries for non commercial purposes. Hobbyist beekeepers are often not in a rush to take from their honey bee colonies. Beginner beekeepers carrying out their first honey harvest may see it as a tough undertaking. However, with proper preparation and planning, you will quickly learn to harvest honey efficiently from your beehives.
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