Harvesting your honey is one of the most exciting parts of being a beekeeper. It is a little daunting the first time, but once you understand how to harvest honey correctly and have done it a few times, it is simple.
The main thing to be careful of is to make sure that you leave enough honey for your bees to eat in winter.
What Kind of Honey Harvesting Equipment Do You Need?
It is a funny thing, but honey harvesting equipment has not changed all that much over the years. Here’s what you need:
- Ventilated beekeeping suit
- Quality beehive smoker
- A bee escape
- A bee brush.
- A knife. (If possible, get a purpose-made knife that heats up to make uncapping easier.)
- Cappings scratcher.
- Honey extractor (Recommended but optional)
- A bucket or container to catch the honey in.
- A filter.
- Jars to store the honey in.
Using a Bee Escape
Using a bee escape is effective if you put it in place a day ahead of when you are harvesting. The bee escape is placed into the hole that is in the inside hive cover, the cover that separates the honey super and the brood chamber.
The bee escape will allow bees to travel down into the brood chamber. They cannot come back up into the super through it, though. When they hunker down for the evening, they will naturally move into the brood chamber.
This is a more natural way of handling the task, with less dependence on chemicals but it does require planning ahead. If you cannot spare the time, you can spray some Bee Quick onto your fume pad. The bees don’t like the smell of it and will try to getaway.
The problem with this method is that if you leave the fume pad there for too long, the bees might move house completely.
Smoke the Hive
It’s now time to smoke the hive so that the bees inside become more sluggish and docile. You want to apply just enough smoke to affect them, but not so much that you suffocate them. Some beekeepers love using smokers, others prefer not to use them. If you want to read more on how apiary smokers work, then click here for our review of the best beehive smokers out there and other useful tips.
It’s Time for a Frame Up
The frames will need to be removed from the honey super and transported for extraction. It is important to check that the frames have been capped before taking the frame out. If the honey is uncapped, put the frame back because it means that the honey has not been dried properly.
Pull up each frame and inspect it. If it is ready, use your bee brush to gently brush off any bees that are on the frame and put it in the super you are using to transport it.
Get Ready to Harvest the Honey
Choose a room that can be closed off – the smell of honey is not just alluring to us. Other insects and bees will also be attracted if you leave the honey out in the open for too long.
A warm, sunny room is ideal to work in – the warmer the honey is, the easier it will flow. Now might be a good time for you to learn the differences between raw honey vs honey that is pasteurized. As you’re about to produce one, with the option to produce the other if you choose.
Uncap the Honey
You need to remove the wax caps to get at the honey inside. Hold the frame up straight over a bucket. Slice through the caps in a smooth motion, starting at the top and working your way down. Be careful to run the knife over the surface and not damage the honeycomb itself.
Once you have run your knife over, stubborn small areas can be scratched off using the capping scratcher.
The wax should be set aside, clean it up and you can use it as well.
How to Harvest Honey Without an Extractor
You don’t have to have a specialized extractor to get all the honey out of your frames. If you don’t, you can leave the frames over a bucket and let them drain overnight. Keep the room warm, and this process will go quickly.
Alternatively, you can just remove the comb and honey together. Break the combs over the bucket and mash it up. Then leave it overnight to drain through cheesecloth or a strainer.
It’s messy, but it will work. You may need to pass the honey through the strainer a few times, though. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend this route as it IS a bigger hassle than just using an extractor. If you’re planning to do long-term beekeeping, I would invest in one. Though if you’re just starting out and you’re on a strict budget, then you can forego the luxury until later on in your apiary career.
The Honey Harvesting Process with an Extractor
If you have an extractor, the process is simpler. Start by positioning a container underneath the honey gate. Make sure that the spout is in the closed position and you are ready to put your frames in.
Read the instruction manual that came with your extractor carefully to make sure that you load it properly. Loading the frames in an unbalanced way will cause the extractor to shake, rattle and roll.
Then it is just a matter of running the extractor until all the honey is out. Once done, open the spout and let the honey flow.
You will need to strain the honey to remove rogue particles of wax. You can learn more about the best honey extractors here.
How to Harvest Honey from Frames
An alternative to mushing up the honeycomb or waiting for it to drain if you don’t have an extractor is to cut out the honeycomb into manageable sections and bottle it just like that, comb and all.
You don’t have to uncap the honey before doing this. Do this over a large baking sheet to catch any honey that drips out.
Bottling Your Honey
You can choose to use plastic or glass jars to bottle your honey. Glass is better for the environment and looks a lot better if you plan to give the honey as a gift.
If you are using glass jars, wash and sterilize them before decanting your honey. Keep a bowl of warm soapy water and cloth at hand to wipe up any spills and then seal the bottles and set aside.
If you like, you can label each of the bottles with the date harvested. That way you will always know which honey is “fresher.” To be completely honest, though, when stored correctly, honey lasts forever.
In our home, anyway, it doesn’t get a chance to go bad – we use it up! That is, after all, the best perk of having your own hives.