Harvest Honey - Part 1
How to Harvest Honey
If you've been keeping and tending to a hive of bees, you'll be in for a treat once it comes time to harvest and sample the honey your hive has produced. Harvesting honey can seem like an intimidating process, but if you take the right precautions and follow the steps closely, the effort will be well worth your while.
Getting the Honeycomb
Pick the right time to harvest.On a sunny day, most bees are out foraging between the hours of 9:00 AM and 4:00 PM. Harvest the honey within this time frame so that there are naturally fewer bees to deal with.
- The time of season you harvest in can also make a big difference in the yield and quality of your honey. In late summer and early fall, the bees stop producing honey to feed the queen, so more of the clusters are left empty. As such, you should generally harvest the honey earlier in the season.
- Harvest two to three weeks after your prime nectar flow. You can ask professional beekeepers in your area when this is, or you can determine this yourself by weighing the hive every night throughout the mid summer. Prime nectar flow occurs when the hive is at its heaviest.
Put on protective gear.There is no way to completely prevent bees from attacking you when you remove the honeycomb from their hive. As a result, a full beekeeper's outfit is recommended whenever you intend to harvest honey.
- At the absolute minimum, make sure that you at least have thick elbow-length gloves, a veiled hat, and bee-proof overalls. You should also wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants.
- If you're serious about beekeeping, you may want to invest in a professional beekeeping suit.
Gently smoke away the bees.Light the smoker and move toward the back of the hive. Blow smoke around the entrance of the hive, then carefully remove the top and blow smoke into the opening.
- This process should cause the bees to move lower in the hive and away from the honeycombs near the top.
- A smoker is essentially a can filled with newspaper. Light the newspaper on fire to produce smoke, and pump the smoke out through the hose.
- When smoke invades the hive, the bees react as though the hive is on fire. They stuff themselves with honey and get drowsy, which causes them to sink to the bottom of the hive and ultimately put up less of a fight.
- Use the least amount of smoke necessary. The smoke can affect the taste of the honey, so if you drown the hive with smoke even after most of the bees have settled, you are only tainting the flavor of your final product.
Open the hive.Use a hive tool to lift the inner cover off the top of the hive. This tool looks like a small crowbar. Slip it under the cover and push down on the tool to lift the cover up.
- Bees seal the edges of their hive with a resin material known as "propolis." The seal is pretty strong, so you will be unable to lift the inner cover off without the use of a specialized tool.
Remove the bees.There may still be a few bees hanging around the frame you plan to remove. One of the safest methods you can use to get rid of these bees is a small gas or electric blower.
- If you do not have a blower, you could use a special "bee brush" and literally brush the bees off the frame. Bee brushes can be risky, though, because they tend to agitate the bees and make them more likely to attack you and anyone nearby.
- If any bees fall get trapped in the honey before you can remove them, you will need to pick out the trapped bees by hand.
Uncap the honeycomb.The honeycomb will be capped on the frame with beeswax. Use an uncapping knife, fork, or dull butter knife to remove the wax and uncap the honeycomb from both sides of the frame.
- If you have spare frames, you could remove the entire frame and uncap the honeycomb outside of the hive. Slip your spare frames in to the hive after removing the old ones. This is generally recommended since it minimizes your overall exposure to the angry bees.
Take the honeycomb to an enclosed room.If you leave the honeycomb exposed to the open air, neighborhood bees will be attracted to the scent and will begin to gather in swarms. They will "rob" or feast on the honey, making the extraction process more difficult and less successful.
- You should process the honeycomb as soon as you remove it from the hive. At that point, the honey will still be in a relatively fluid state. It could start to harden if you allow it to sit.
- If the honey does start to harden before you can process it, let it sit in a warm, sunny location for a few minutes to warm it up gently and return the honey to its fluid state.
Extracting Honey with an Extractor
Place the frame into an extractor.There are both electric and hand-cranked models available. Regardless of the type you use, you need to place the frame or frames of honeycomb directly into the barrel of the machine. Snap or clip the frames in place.
- The exact method you need to follow when securing the frames in your machine will vary from model to model. Make sure that you have instructions for the model you use or otherwise understand how it should work.
Spin the frames.Crank the machine by hand or switch it on and let the motor do the work. As the extractor spins the frames, the honey will be forced to the walls of the drum. From there, it will gradually ooze down to the bottom.
Strain the honey through cheesecloth.Place several layers of cheesecloth over the mouth of a collection bucket and place that bucket beneath the spigot on the bottom of the extractor. Open the spigot and let the honey strain through the cheesecloth.
- This straining process will remove any bits of honeycomb, wax, or other debris that happened to fall off during the extraction process.
- The extraction and straining process can take several hours, so try to be patient.
Extracting Honey without an Extractor
Place the honeycomb into a large bucket.If you have not removed it from the frame already, do so now. Break the honeycomb into as many pieces as necessary to fit it into the bucket.
- You can usually break the honeycomb apart by hand for this part of the process.
Chop the honeycomb into mush.Use a large masher to crush the honeycomb until it turns into a thick mush. The comb should be so broken apart that you'll be unable to pick out any pieces of it by hand.
Strain the honey.Position a strainer, nylon straining bag, or several layers of cheesecloth over your collection bucket. Pour the smashed honeycomb into the straining mechanism and allow the honey to gradually separate and strain off into the bucket beneath.
- Note that this process could take hours to complete.
- If you want to speed the process along, you can crush the already mashed honeycomb in your hands and into the strainer. This can be extremely messy, though, and the process will still take a while.
- Some of the mashed comb may not come out of the preparation bucket on its own. If this happens, you will need to use a scraper to get all of the honeycomb mush still clinging to the sides and bottom of the container.
Packaging the Honey
Sterilize your containers.Wash the jars or bottles you plan on using in hot, soapy water. Rinse well, then dry completely.
- Use glass or plastic containers.
- Even if the containers have never been used before, you should still clean them thoroughly to avoid contaminating the honey.
Bottle the honey.Spoon the honey into your prepared containers or pour them into the containers through a funnel. Close the jars or bottles with airtight lids.
- Monitor your jars of honey for a few days after you first package them. If any debris still remains in the honey, it should rise to the surface of each container after two or three days. Remove the debris, then seal the jars of honey for long-term storage.
Store and enjoy.Natural, organic honey can usually be stored for many months at room temperature as long as your container is sealed well.
- The amount of honey you collect will vary based on the size of your honeycomb, the health of your bees, the time of season you harvest in, and the overall success of the season. In ideal conditions, though, you can get about 3-1/2 lbs (1.6 kg) of honey from one honeycomb.
QuestionIs there any way to extract liquid honey and save the comb?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerHoney extraction usually involves crushing the comb, but you can cut off the caps and hang the comb to extract the honey by gravity - but this leaves a lot of honey behind. The comb can be submersed in warm water to dissolve the honey without melting the wax.Thanks!
QuestionWhen can honeycomb be removed from a hive?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou can remove a honeycomb when it is about 3/4 full. This way it is not as likely for it to spill.Thanks!
QuestionI have heard honey doesn't go bad, but this says I can store it for many months. Is this different for honey I harvest, or does all honey eventually go bad?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerHoney mostly doesn't spoil. However, honey can contain spores of clostridium botulinum. This isn't harmful to adults and children over one year old, whose gastrointestinal tract is developed enough to deal with the spores, so just make sure not to give honey to your baby.Thanks!
QuestionWhen harvesting honey from a hive, should I leave some percentage for the bees?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes. It is best to leave some honey there. It's like if you cooked a bunch of bacon, went to buy more, then came back to realize all of the bacon you cooked had been stolen. It may anger the bees to find all of their hard work is gone.Thanks!
- If you have the chance, tag along with an expert beekeeper as he or she harvests honey before attempting to do so on your own.
- Do not harvest "green honey." This is actually uncapped nectar that has not been cleaned or ripened by the bees. It has a high moisture content and is a common breeding ground for yeast, so it is generally considered unsafe for consumption.
- Never harvest honey if you are or might be allergic to bee stings.
- Make sure that all of your tools and utensils are clean before you let them touch the honey.
- Do not give honey to infants under 1 year old as it can sometimes contain spores which can lead to infant botulism which is potentially fatal.
Things You'll Need
Veiled bee hat
Professional beekeeping suit (optional)
Hive tool or small crowbar
Gas/electric blower or bee brush
Uncapping knife, butter knife, or fork
Spare hive frames
Cheesecloth, strainer, or mesh straining bag
Bottles or jars, made of glass or plastic
Sources and Citations
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Video: How to Harvest Honey! | Beekeeping with Maddie #12
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