Every honey harvest is exciting, but our first is something I won’t likely forget! We’d been waiting and tending to our bees for almost two 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 or early fall.
Suiting up and preparing the wagon
The hives are quite a distance from our house, so we use our riding lawn mower with a small wagon attached to get there. 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.
Heading out to the beehives
When we arrive at the hives we get the smoker going (see my post What to Burn in Your Smoker for more information).
Once the smoker is ready for use, we remove the top cover of the hive and give a few puffs of smoke to calm the bees. We use the hive tool to carefully loosen any sealed frames.
Next, we inspect the frames for total coverage of cells that are completely sealed off. Honey cells that haven’t been capped may not be dehydrated or 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 of the completely filled frames, we lay the frames in the wagon to bring back to the house. I cover the frames with the plastic and tuck them down as best I can to keep the bees from chasing us.
Then, we carefully reassemble the hive and are careful not to squash any bees.
Time to harvest the honey
Uncapping is the process of removing the wax caps that the bees produce to seal the honey into the honeycomb cells. I find uncapping with a long serrated bread knife works very well.
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.