It might be hard to believe, but preparing your hives for winter is just around the corner. Y’all that have enough honey to harvest should consider doing it very soon. In our area, I would suggest harvesting honey no later than around August 1. This gives you plenty of time to get your bees winter ready.
How do you know if you have enough to harvest? While there are no rules in beekeeping, I keep this rule of thumb in mind. Bees in our climate region need 60-80 lbs of honey to survive the winter. That equates to about 7-8 deep frames of honey or 10 medium frames full of honey. Anything in excess of that is harvestable! You might find that you have little or no honey to harvest in your first year. Beyond that, you might be able to harvest multiple supers on each hive, sometimes as much as 60+ lbs of honey per colony!
How do you know which frames to harvest? There are a few things to look for here – you want to select frames with only honey (not frames that have brood on them) and you want to ensure the frames are honey and not watery nectar.
1. Frames of honey – these frames, like the one above, have a nice light or white layer of flat beeswax that cover the cells. This looks different than brood which has more golden cappings that pop up from the frames. It’s important to only harvest frames with honey since I doubt you want to jar eggs and larvae. Another method that can be helpful is to use a queen excluder. This is a flat metal or plastic screen, like the photo below, that worker bees can fit through but the larger queen cannot. This disables eggs (laid by the queen) from being above the excluder.
2. Honey vs. nectar – honey is different than nectar in multiple ways, one of which is the water content. Nectar has a high water content (usually around 50%) and honey is much lower (usually less than 17%). Harvesting nectar with a high water content can result in fermentation, which is great if you want to make mead, but not if you want to jar honey. You know honey has been cured to a low enough water content if it has been capped over with wax. Therefore, any honey frames capped with beeswax is ready to go. However, in our region of low humidity, you can safely harvest uncapped honey especially later in the season (July), like the photo below. To check, take a frame of uncapped honey and hold it parallel to the ground. Give it a few swift jolts up and down. The water content is too high if you notice droplets falling from the frame. You are safe to harvest if all the contents stay in place.
Let’s say you have done all of the above. You have identified the amount of honey in your hive, leaving enough for the bees to survive winter. You have identified the frames that are ready to harvest. What comes next? How do you actually get the honey from the frames? What tools are needed? I’ll outline it all in my next blog!
Keep your bees buzzin’ y’all!