Harvesting 101: The Basics of When and How to Harvest Your Honey

So you have your honey storage containers and all of the right beekeeper accessories, but are you familiar with the honey-harvest process? Knowing when and how to harvest your honey is the lynchpin to beekeeping success, but this can be easier said than done especially for novice apiarists.

The simple truth is that the window for the perfect honey harvest is notoriously narrow. Harvest too soon and you may be harvesting uncured nectar rather than honey, which will spoil. Harvest too late, however, and you risk honey that is too thick to harvest. Even if you time your harvest perfectly, there’s still the little matter of how you harvest.

Let’s get bee-sy and discover when and how to harvest your honey!

When is the best time to harvest honey?

Generally, the best time to harvest honey in Australia is from February to March as the summer nectar flow winds down. You can pinpoint the perfect harvest time by minding these factors:

1. Check your hive frequently

The best tool in any beekeeper’s kit is the simple power of observation. As summer draws to a close, don your safety armour and check your hives every two to three weeks and keep an eye out for frames that are at least 80% sealed. Once the summer’s last major nectar flow has finished, bees will start consuming more honey than they produce. In other words, your workforce will be too busy enjoying the fruits of their own labour to make you more product!

2. Be patient with your bees

A full honeycomb does not necessarily mean that the honey is primed for harvest. Before your honey is honey, your bees must first dehydrate the harvested nectar by fanning the honeycomb with their wings to speed up the evaporation process. Once the nectar has thickened to honey, the bees will seal it with beeswax. Only then is honey ready to harvest.

To avoid harvesting too soon, remove the frames from the apiary and hold them face-down and give them a gentle shake. If honey drips out of the honeycomb, then the bees haven’t sealed it, which means they haven’t finished the process, which then means it isn’t ready.

3. Know your beekeeping details

Getting your honey harvest right is made much easier by familiarising yourself with fundamentals of your hive. Your region will determine the climate influencing your apiary. In cooler regions, particularly in the South Island, you’ll need to leave more honey in the hive for your bees to survive the winter. That climate might also influence the local flora your bees are pollinating, which can influence the flavour and consistency of your honey.

How do I harvest honey?

Once you know the time is right to harvest honey, the proper techniques will give you the most possible jars of the best possible honey. Here’s a step-by-step procedure for harvesting honey:

  1. Use a smoker to keep your bees docile while you open the hive.
  2. Use a hive tool to pry loose the frames, as your bees will try to seal them in place with some fortifying wax. If a frame contains at least 80% capped honeycomb, a soft-bristled brush or a gentle blower can be used to remove the bees.
  3. Cover the frames with a trap or sheet to keep bees from repopulating on it and isolate it indoors before you begin your harvest.
  4. Uncapping knives or scrapers can be used to remove the top layer of wax sealing the honeycomb.
  5. Once the honey is unsealed, an extractor uses centrifugal force to separate the honey from the honeycomb. Extractors are available in both electric and hand-crank versions and allow separated honey to pool in their basins, where it can be drained through a honey gate.
  6. Once separated, you’ll want to run your honey through a sieve in order to filter out the last little bits of wax.
  7. Once you’ve filtered your honey, you’re ready to jar it and enjoy!

With a little practice, you’ll be a honey harvesting pro!

Getting to know your bees and your apiaries takes time, but after a few harvests, you’ll have a solid understanding of when your frames are right for harvest and what your honey should look and taste like. Set yourself up for beekeeping success with beekeeping supplies, honey storage containers, and apiarist equipment from Nuplas. Contact the beekeeping professionals at Nuplas or shop online today!