For every beekeeper, it is important to know when is the best time to harvest the honey. In my first year of beekeeping I was not sure if I should harvest the honey at all and how will that affect my hive. So i did my research i this is what i learned.
So in short what is the best time for collecting honey?
The best time for honey harvesting is when 80 % of the frames are filled with capped honey and the nectar flow is finished for the season.
Bear in mind that depending on what area you live nectar flow and honey harvest will be a different month.
When to harvest honey? (Tips for New and Old hives)
For the new hive most likely you will not be able to harvest any honey because the colony is still growing and need honey for the winter.
There are some exceptions that some new hives were able to develop a strong colony in time to produce a surplus amount of honey that was able to be harvested. In my case, I was not so lucky so I had to wait for the second season.
Older hives are ready for harvesting earliest in July and the latest in September and that depends on many factors especially in what area hives are located. Different areas have different times of nectar flow (honey flow) so if you collect it too soon you will not use the full potential of the hives so prepare your self to be patient.
To be sure when is the best time you will have to check the hives regularly, every 2 weeks during summer. That way you will be able to follow the growth of the capped honey and to decide when is the best time for harvesting.
The tricky part is that if you let the honey too long bees will start to consume it as a preparation for the Winter, but if you collect it too early bees will end the honey production for the year.
Be advised that if you enter the winter and you haven’t collected the honey you will not be able to harvest it because it will thicken and in some cases granulate. That is why the summer months are the best because the outside temperature will allow the honey to flow easily.
Uncapped honey is not fully processed and dried by bees so you should avoid harvesting it.
There is an (exception) specific moment when the honey that is not caped is ready for harvesting. That means it is fully processed (cured) and the bees are about to seal it. Usually experienced beekeepers are able to tell if the honey is cured by shaking the frame with uncapped cells and flipping it over. This way they check if the content is thick and will stay put or it is going to spill out. If it spills it means that nectar is not processed and the level of water content is too high.
I can confirm that from my own experience because I wanted to check that by myself self and when I turned the frame over all of it spilled out so at least now I know what does it look like when the honey is not cured : ). But still, i did not have a chance to test the frame with cured uncapped honey. My advice is better to wait till the bees finish their work so be patient.
How much honey can you harvest from one hive?
This is a question that all new beekeeper are asking themself or other beekeepers. There is no exact number that is common to all hives and there are several factors that affect the season. That is why we can only talk about the average amount that can vary.
According to experienced beekeepers amount you can harvest on a great year is 100 lb of honey per hive. But taking into account unforeseen factors which can affect colonies, a better average would be anywhere between 30 to 60 lb per hive
Temperature and rain can affect the nectar season greatly (bees do not like to fly when raining so if you have a lot of rainy days they will not be able to collect enough nectar for surplus honey)
The area where the beehive is located (urban or non-urban area ), colder or warmer parts of the country affect the expected amount as well.
Potential parasites and diseases. If the colony is affected by disease or parasites it will affect the number off working bees in the colony and it will lead up to smaller amounts of honey.
The age of the hive. In case the colony is new you can not expect any honey in the first year.
How many times per year can i harvest the hive?
Honey bees start to fill up the storage at the start of the season. Hives that have queen screen will not fill the suppers till they store enough food for the colony. So it is tricky to decide if you are able to harvest it twice.
According to some experienced bee-keepers with strong colonies were able to harvest the honey 2 times during one season. They were able to collect some of the honey at the beginning of August because the year was good and some of the frames were filled with capped honey. The bees had enough time for making more honey till the end of the season for the final honey extraction.
All taken into account the total amount of honey will be the same so my advice is to make only one harvest per season. It is less stressful for you and the bees.
What will happen to a beehive if the honey is not collected?
Honey bees collect nectar and produce honey so they have enough food for the colony during the year and especially for the winter when they are not able to fly out for food. If you do not collect the honey, the hive will not have any problem till the spring. In the spring they will start using the nectar flow to produce more honey and because they did not use all the honey stored previous season they will have limited space for new honey. In that case, they will start filling any space they can find including broods nest. If they do so, the colony will not have any place to raise the baby bees. So that colony will not have young bees and eventually, the colony will become weak and it will die out.
The second scenario is that due to lack of space colony will swarm and look for a new place with more room to start a new colony.
So if you want your hives to always prosper you should help them by maintaining the hive to provide enough space for them to raise a brood and food supply. Keep them busy : )
p.s. just make sure to leave them enough honey for the winter.
How much honey do you need to leave for the bees when harvesting?
When you are collecting honey you have to take into account that bees will need food for the winter, so you can not collect all honey you find. So ho much honey should you leave.
Depending on the location of the hives (colder or warmer parts of the country)
In case of colder and longer winter you will have to leave more honey than in warmer areas where winters are shorter and according to experienced beekeepers for very cold areas hive should have 80-90 pounds of honey and for warm parts, 35 pounds should be enough. For new beekeepers, it is hard to decide so it is best to ask experienced beekeepers for advice and make sure to ask local ones because they know the climate the best.
In case you did not estimate the amount correctly and at the end of the winter you find out that bees are low on the food you can help them with supplemental nutrition. So it is not all lost and all new beekeepers will learn what is the best amount of honey for their hives during winter.
All details about wintering hive you can read in my article How to prepare your hives for winter.