Any honey harvest is an exciting time, but our first is something I won’t likely forget! We’d been waiting and tending to our bees for almost 2 years…hoping, wondering and (frankly) worrying. But that first taste of golden nectar made it all worth it.
Since our first harvest quite a few years ago, we’ve somewhat streamlined the process. And now we go to our hives knowing what to expect, knowing what tools we will need, and what to do to make the job stress free for both us and the bees.
As a rule with a young hive, we do not take a harvest for ourselves the first year. Instead, we leave that honey for the bees to survive through the winter and do our first harvest the second year, usually late summer early fall.
Here is our honey harvest process from start to finish.
To begin, we suit up. This might look different depending on your level of comfort around your bees. For example, I don’t like working with a veil or gloves because it makes me feel clumsy and blinded. I’d rather be able to see what the bees are doing and be sure of my hand placement.
The second thing, is we get our smoker ready with burning fuel and grab our lighter. We don’t light it until we get out to our hives.
Our hives are quite a distance from our house so we use our rider lawn mower with a small wagon attached. The frames will be heavy with honey and this makes it easier to transport. I line the wagon with clean towels and a clean plastic bag to keep the harvested honey frames sanitary. I also grab an extra plastic bag to cover the frames to keep the bees from following us back to the house.
We also take our hive tool to break apart the sealed frames and our bee brush to remove bees from the harvested frames.
And we head out to the hives.
When we arrive at the hives we get the smoker going. See my post (What to Burn in Your Smoker for more information)
Then we remove the top cover and give a few puffs of smoke to calm the bees. We use the hive tool to carefully loosen any sealed frames.
We need to inspect the frames for total coverage of cells that are completely sealed off. Honey cells that haven’t been capped may not be dehydrated/concentrated enough to be considered complete honey. This liquid might contain too much water to be stored for long periods of time if harvested.
After brushing the bees off complete filled frames, we lay them in the trailer to bring back to the house. I cover the frames and tuck them down as best I can to keep the bees from chasing us.
Then we carefully reassemble the hive being careful not to squash any bees.
Once back to the house it’s time for the harvest!
I find uncapping with a long serrated bread knife works very well. Uncapping is the process of removing the wax caps that the bees produce to seal the honey into the honeycomb cells.
If you have an extractor then you can prep your area by laying down some plastic drop cloths or newspaper to make clean up easier. Place your frames in the extractor and begin to spin them. We don’t have an extractor so we use a drip method explained in my post Extracting Honey Without an Extractor.
Once the honey is spun out of the frames it can be passed through a sieve to remove any of the small particles of wax. Beeswax is completely edible, but a nice strained honey makes for a beautiful product.
While you’re waiting for your honey to drain and strain, make sure your honey jars are clean and dry. Set them on a clean towel. I also use a canning funnel to help keep the jar rims tidy.
Once your honey is strained pour into jars and cap. There’s no need to process honey like you might a jar of jam. The honey has antibacterial properties that keep it shelf stable at room temperature.
Now make some toast and enjoy the fruits of both you and your bee’s labor!