New beekeepers are understandably keen to harvest honey from their hives, but it is important to be aware that taking too much honey – or taking it too early – could end up being detrimental to your colony. It is generally accepted among beekeepers that honey should not be taken from a hive during the first year as it is important to allow the colony to become established. If you take honey too early, your colony might not survive its first winter.
Bee colonies are typically only strong enough to produce enough honey for themselves in the first year. Once the hive is established, the colony will be able to make excess amounts which you can then harvest. At this point, it is good to understand how often you should take honey. Another thing worth noting, however, is that you should never ‘empty’ the beehive of honey. The bees need the honey for energy and to feed their young. So you will need to leave a certain amount in the hive at all times.
When to Harvest Honey?
Inspecting a beehive regularly is an important part of beekeeping. These inspections will allow you to monitor the health and wellbeing of the colony while checking on the production of honey at the same time. During the spring and summer months, you will have to check your hive more often; beginners should do this once every week-to-ten-days. Be careful to avoid inspecting the hive more often than once a week though as doing so will disrupt the bees unnecessarily, possibly resulting in stress. This could in turn cause a reduction in the amount of honey produced.
For most beekeepers, it is possible to harvest honey two or three times in a season, but this will depend on the weather conditions where you live. In general, though, harvesting takes place between the months of June and September.
Beekeepers tend to add supers to their hives when a good nectar flow is on as this allows the bees to store quite a lot of honey. Nevertheless, you need to ensure that a queen excluder is used to prevent the queen from laying in the supers. Note that the bees will only begin filling the super at the top with honey once the frame at the bottom has brood and has been stored with honey.
The frame should be at least eight percent filled with capped honey before you harvest. Once the frame has been filled with honey, you can add more supers on the top. This will allow you to make the most of the flow.
Be aware that bees will only cap honey when they have reduced the moisture level down to eighteen percent as this is when the nectar can fully cure. Once honey has been capped, it is ready to be harvested. If you take uncapped honey, it is likely to be raw honey that has not reduced to the correct level. It is unwise to harvest this because as it has not cured correctly it will probably spoil. To check the moisture levels of the honey, you can use a refractometer. The best place to source one of these is online. Amazon sells some here (opens in a new tab) if you’re interested.
How Much Honey Can be Harvested?
How much honey your hive produces will depend on a number of factors including the weather, the nectar flow in the area, and how established the hive is. You may also encounter beehive robbing, which is to say when other colonies invade your hive and steal the honey.
As you have ascertained by now, a new colony is unlikely to produce enough honey to harvest in the first year, but a hive that has been fully established may produce quite a lot (depending on the size of the hive).
As an example, those with a deep box can expect up to 100lbs of honey, which would equate to more than one hundred 10oz jars. A medium box might yield up to 60lbs of honey, equating to just over sixty 10oz jars.
How often you harvest honey will depend on the strength of your hive. Most beekeepers will harvest between two and three times per season from an established hive.
Do remember to always leave honey in the hive for the bees to feed on. Bear in mind that your bees will not be producing honey in the winter and so will depend on what is in the hive.