What Is Honey Harvesting?

Beekeeper uncapping honey frames

The process of honey harvesting or extraction involves the removal of honey from beehives for the purpose of selling or consuming it. [1] Most of the economic profits associated with beekeeping are generated by honey extraction. 

Honey is a thick, sweet, sticky substance that bees produce as a food source. As an ingredient in many foods, honey is valued for its taste and sugar content. 

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    How Do Beekeepers Know That It’s Time for Harvesting?

    The beekeeper knows it is time to harvest honey when a hive frame contains at least 80% of capped honey.

    A beekeeper regularly checks their hive to ascertain how well the bees are producing honey[2]. When the nectar flow is good, bees will be producing honey in earnest.

    Ideally, harvesting should not take place until the bees have collected all of the honey they can. Honey is best harvested at the end of the summer season when the bees have built up stores of honey that will assist them in surviving the winter. 

    How Do Beekeepers Harvest Honey?

    Beekeepers harvest honey by removing the frames from the hives and extracting all of the honey using a honey extractor. 

    Beekeepers must put on protective clothing before harvesting honey so that they will not be stung by the bees. Beekeepers then use smoke to calm the bees in order to remove the vertical frames from the hive and harvest the honey. 

    Following the removal of the frames from the hive, the beeswax honeycombs are uncapped manually or with the aid of an uncapper machine. 

    In the case of manual uncapping, a heated knife will be used to scrape off the beeswax caps from the honeycomb. When the honeycomb is uncapped using a machine, the machine scrapes the wax surface with bristles or chains. 

    Although manual uncapping takes more time than machine uncapping, it is less messy and more precise than machine uncapping. Machine uncapping, on the other hand, is more efficient and performs the uncapping process more quickly than manual uncapping. 

    Following uncapping, the honey is extracted using a honey extractor. As this machine spins the combs rapidly, the honey is sucked out by centrifugal force and extracted. As a result, this method is referred to as centrifugal extraction. Commercial beekeepers generally harvest honey in this manner. 

    Beekeeper inspecting frames from an active beehive
    Did you know that honey was so valuable in 11th century Germany that Lords of Germany forced peasants to make payment in honey! The honey was used to sweeten beer!

    Once the honey has been extracted from the comb by an extraction machine, it is filtered through screens to remove any wax or propolis that might still remain in the honey. It leaves the honey clear and clean of debris, making it suitable for use or sale. 

    After the honey has been filtered, it can be placed into jars or made into other products that may be sold. 

    In spite of the fact that centrifugal honey extraction is the most commonly used method of honey extraction, it is not appropriate for honeycomb built naturally by bees in hives which are not Langstroth-style. This includes horizontal hives and top-bar hives. 

    A beekeeper performing crush and drain honey harvesting will take the honeycombs and crush them. The honey can then be strained and the beeswax collected for melting and processing.

    Even though the crush and drain method is simpler overall, and requires less equipment, it is not as effective in terms of labor, since the crushing and draining process takes a substantial amount of time. 

    During Which Part of the Year Do Beekeepers Harvest Honey?

    The timing of honey harvesting varies according to the type of hive and the amount of honey the bees are producing. However, it is most typical for beekeepers to harvest honey near the end of the summer when the colony has had all summer to produce honey.

    This will be after the bees have filled most or all of the frames with capped honey that they intend to store over the winter. 

    How Many Times a Year Do Beekeepers Harvest Honey?

    If beekeepers are using labor-intensive processes such as centrifugal extraction, honey is typically harvested once a year. Since these extraction processes require so much time and effort, it is most appropriate to perform them only once a year. 

    While some hives are designed for regular harvests, Langstroth hives, which are the most common type of hive in commercial beekeeping, are best used for only one harvest per year. 

    Frames of honeycomb loaded into a honey spinner for harvesting
    Machine honeycomb uncapping is far quicker than manual uncapping, however it is less precise.

    In addition, since bees produce only a limited quantity of honey, it is most practical to harvest it once at the end of the summer season. 

    In some cases, beekeepers may harvest honey more frequently if their bees are filling combs with honey rapidly and are running out of space. A beekeeper may harvest honey up to two or three times per year as opposed to just once during the summer in this case.

    How Long Does It Take to Harvest Honey?

    Harvesting honey can take an entire weekend, as there will be many frames to harvest honey from. Beekeepers typically spend at least fifteen minutes loading frames into honey extractors, spinning the extractors, and unloading the frames. 

    An individual beekeeper’s extraction process and the size of their honey farm greatly influence the time it takes to harvest honey. The crush and drain method will result in a much longer extraction process than centrifugal extraction. 

    Honey harvesting time is obviously affected by many factors, so it varies from beekeeper to beekeeper. 

    What Is a Honey House?

    Honey houses are special rooms used for honey extraction. The honey house can be heated to high temperatures in order to increase the flow of honey from the combs.

    In order to prevent bees and other insects from entering the honey house, the honey house must be completely sealed. Insects and bees will be attracted to the smell of the honey and seek it out as a food source. 

    How Much Honey Can Be Harvested From One Colony?

    beekeeper separating frames in a hive for honey harvesting

    A colony’s ability to produce honey greatly influences the amount of honey that can be harvested. As a colony needs 60-90 pounds of honey to survive winter, the amount of honey a beekeeper can harvest depends on how much honey the bees produce overall. 

    If the bees produce 100 pounds of honey in a year, a beekeeper may only harvest 10-20 pounds from that hive. However, if the bees have produced 150 pounds of honey over the course of that year, the beekeeper can collect up to 60-70 pounds of honey from that hive. 

    Clearly, the amount of honey that can be harvested per colony varies greatly. Ultimately, beekeepers must leave 60-90 pounds of honey in every colony’s hive in order to ensure that it will survive the winter. 


    [1] Wikipedia [2] Dummies 

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