Beekeepers enjoy taking advantage of the fact that the honey bee will store more honey than the colony will need. A typical hive will store a surplus of 60 to 80 pounds of honey. Beekeepers set their goals on extracting this honey and filtering it into bottles.
Before you add on that first honey super, there are a few things to consider.
- Hives that have been overwintered, need to be monitored for Varroa Mites. If the population is high, treatments should be applied. This needs to happen before you add on that honey super! Certain treatments would not affect the purity of the honey, but the use of harsh chemical treatments will contaminate the honey. This would not be harmful for bees, but the chemicals are not appropriate for human consumption. In either case, treatments should cease during the honey harvest.
- Beekeepers want to ensure that their hives are well maintained and offer feed for their bees. Having a feeder on during the honey harvest will allow for the bees to store sugar water instead of honey. This does not affect the harvest from being edible but will give the honey an influential sugar water flavor. Beekeepers want to harvest honey instead of sugar, therefore remove the feeder before placing the honey supers are on the hive.
- Preliminary steps need to be taken to ensure that the queen does not enter the honey super and begin to lay eggs. A queen laying eggs in the honey super will limit the amount of space to store honey and will pollute the honey with larva upon extracting. Adding a queen excluder will guarantee that she will not enter the honey super.
The key step in harvesting honey from your hive is to analyze the moisture content of your honey. Bees will transform the nectar they have collected into honey through regurgitation and evaporation and them cap over the cell. You may find a frame fully capped on one side and the other side, halfway done. Check the honey with a Refractometer to see the moisture content. A "in the field process" to check the honey frame is to tightly grip the sides and snap the frame down toward the hive. If you find honey has been slung out, the frame is more than likely not ready (to get a true ready, use a refractometer).
You know your honey is ready but there are tons of bees inside the honey super. Every beekeeper will have their own method to clearing out the honey super and some are easier than others.
- Using a bee brush to brush off every frame is time consuming and will leave your bees irritated and ready to sting.
- An escape screen is an easy way to harvest that will ensure that once your bees have left the honey supers, they are challenged to get back into it.
- Using a fume pad and a Natural Honey Harvester will quickly force your bees to vacate without contaminating your honey.
After harvesting frames from the honey super, take the frames into the extracting room and begin to uncap each frame. There are many tool you may use to uncap frames: Sideline Uncapper, Cold Knife, Hot Knife, Rolling Uncapper, or an Uncapping Fork. Here are some videos on these uncapping methods: Uncapping tools
We understand that within the first couple of years of being a beekeeper, purchasing an extractor can be a huge investment. Having an extractor makes life easier, slinging honey out of the frames, but is it worth it?
If having an extractor is outside your budget, your alternative is to let the frames slowly drain after you have uncapped them or you may cut out the comb to use in a strainer. This is time consuming and if you cut out the comb, your bees will have to start from scratch with it. Having an extractor is a convenience that will pay for itself. If it is outside your budget, check with your local bee association to see if anyone is willing to lend theirs out.
When it comes to purchasing an extractor, the most frequently asked question is, "What size extractor should I get?" One thing to consider when purchasing your extractor is how many hives do you intend to have. You do not want to outgrow your extractor and need to upgrade in two years. Plan for the number of hives you intend to be keeping.