During summer, strong colonies with access to a good nectar flow can produce a surplus of the bees precious liquid gold. It is in this season where beekeepers are able to harvest massive amounts of honey.
However, you do have things to consider before extracting all the honey available. As much as you would want to make a sale or keep some for yourself, it’s always better to leave the bees some of the products of their good hard work. They deserve it after all!
How Bees Make Honey
The main ingredient of honey is nectar. This is collected from the bees foraging to flower to flower daily. Once the bee discovers a flower that is rich in nectar, she will proceed to collect by using her proboscis. The proboscis is the bees’ tongue, where they use it to collect nectar and water. The nectar is then stored in the bees’ honey stomach, a second stomach that’s only used for storage. This means that the nectar or anything that is deposited there will never be digested. Once the honey stomach is full, the bee will fly back to the hive, passing the goods to the honey-packer bees.
The honey packers will then pass the nectar mouth to mouth, until the substance reaches 20% reduced moisture content. Finally, the honey is then stored in the cells, mixed with beeswax!
Although the process seems easy to tell, it does take some time. The bees can only collect up to a teaspoon worth of honey a day! Just imagine how much effort is needed to create the magic that is honey.
Honey harvesting is a process. Depending on how many hives you own, you may need to invest on high quality materials and equipment to make this process easier.
Uncapping the Comb
Before harvesting the honey, the wax caps should be removed first. You can use a variety of materials for this task and are available in many beekeeping supplies shops. You can use an uncapping knife, an electric uncapping knife, comb scratchers, comb forks and so on. Choosing which one to use depends on how many hives you have and what makes the workflow easy for you.
This requires either a manual or electric extractor machine. Extractors can come in 2 frame, 4 frame, 8 frame and even up to 24 frames. Choose according to how many hives you are operating. Some beekeeping equipment suppliers have extractors for hire, suitable for hobby beekeepers. Don’t rely on someone else to thoroughly clean the hired extractor. Do this yourself before use, to remove any potential for transfer of spores of American foulbrood disease to your own hives. The extractor doesn’t need to be sterilised, but a good scrub with clean soapy water to remove all traces of wax, honey, propolis and dirt, followed by a clean water rinse will be sufficient. Ensure the extractor is dry before use.
Raw honey straight from the frames can contain small particles of beeswax, pollen, air bubbles and other debris. These particles can cause the honey to partly or wholly crystallise, which is not ideal for most consumers. Strain the honey with a fine strainer to remove the small particles. Strainers and nylon (nytrel) straining cloth are available at beekeeping equipment suppliers.
Air bubbles are removed by a process called ‘settling’. The honey is placed in a tank, preferably with a honey gate positioned in the wall, slightly above the bottom of the tank. The air bubbles and fine particles rise to form a layer at the top. The process of settling would require a minimum of 12 hours to a few days.
It is recommended to not expose the honey to heat. Honey can be damaged by a combination of heat and the length of time it is exposed to heat. The duration of heating should be for the shortest time possible and should not exceed 45 °C.
Some beekeepers supply a market for ‘cold extracted’ honey. No heat is applied at any time during extraction, settling and packaging of this honey. The product is only partially cleared by natural settling.
Things to Consider
If a nectar flow is in progress and is expected to continue, then surplus honey may be taken. Even then, beekeepers should be taking honey on a shared basis with the bees.
If eight combs are ready to be extracted, take four, extract them and return the sticky combs to the hive. If the bees fill them again, it will be safe to extract the other four combs left previously
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