When and How Much Honey to Harvest
By: Blake Shook
How to Know When it's Time to Harvest Honey
There are a handful of indicators to help you know when to harvest your honey.
1. The major nectar producing flowers begin to die. What those flowers are will vary by region. Every region has one, or a handful of flowers that produce large amounts of nectar which the bees store as surplus for us to harvest. Visiting with local beekeepers to determine what those flowers are is incredibly helpful.
2. When they begin to die, harvest time is right around the corner. Thankfully, this usually happens about the same time each year within a week or two. Once you discover the time the flow typically ends in your area, you can often harvest roughly the same time each year.
3. What are your bees doing? When the nectar flow completely ends, you will notice that the bees begin to uncap the capped honey and eat it. Ideally, you want to harvest before that happens. You will also notice the bees are no longer storing large amounts of fresh nectar in the cells, but are capping honey, and there is less and less uncapped open cells of honey in the hive. Bees will also become more “robby” and robber bees from other hives may try to steal honey as you open and inspect hives.
4. The bees have capped & cured the honey. This is often one of the most confusing aspects for new beekeepers since bees will often not fully cap every cell on every frame.5. That’s OK...sometimes the flow ends suddenly, and bees don’t cap everything. Pay attention to the factors above and then do a shake test if there are large amounts of uncapped honey. This entails holding a frame horizontally over the top of the opened hive and shaking the frame. If nectar rains out of the frame, the honey is not yet cured, and you should wait another week before testing again. If no nectar rains out, or only a couple drips after vigorous shaking, it’s cured & ready to harvest. A full super of uncapped frames is often not ready to harvest, but if half of the cells are capped, and it is the end of the honey flow date wise, it’s typically fine to harvest.
How Much Honey Should I Leave for My Bees?
For once, the answer to this question is up to you! There is the perception that if you leave a lot of honey for your bees, everything will be OK. While having their own honey to eat rather than syrup is a little better for them, it actually doesn’t help as much as you would think. Things like handling mites and feeding properly are far more important to the long-term health of your hive. I encourage beekeepers to always leave all the honey in the bottom brood box for the bees. Then, if you have a second brood box, you can leave all that honey, or harvest about half of it, and also harvest all the honey out of the supers above the second brood box. After you harvest, ensure you feed properly to replenish the stores you took. Often times that summer feeding is great for the bees, and encourages them to continue growing and thriving, which is better for them than just sitting around with nothing to do. If you don’t want to feed at all, then you will need to leave at least 40 lbs of honey in the second box above the first brood box.