The Honey Flow is Over…Time to Harvest HONEY!
Sometime after the “honey flow” is over and the bees have had time to “cap off the honey” (a process of covering the stored honey in the frames with wax), it will be time to harvest the honey.
If the honey flow has been heavy, there may be as many as 6-8 honey supers on each hive. Our hives have given us about 4 supers per hive of honey. Each super can weigh over 50 pounds and can generate around 20 – 30 pounds of honey each. In 2012 our Bees produced 211 pounds of honey for us. And we even left each hive with a super of honey to get them through the winter.
Weather Determines the Honey Flow
The honey harvest amount is very dependent on the weather. If it continues to rain (like it has in 2013), the rain washes the pollen and the nectar out of the flower, leaving nothing for the honey bee or any other pollinator to harvest. If the weather stays cold, not as many flowers bloom.
A super must be 75% capped off in order for you to harvest the honey from that super. If the honey is not capped off, you should not take that honey. The process of capping preserves the honey forever.
Getting the Bees Out with Stink Boards
The first step in the honey harvest is to get all of the bees out of the super. This is not so easy. This is a precious commodity to them. It is their food and they really do not want to share it with us humans. We use what is called a “Fume board” or some call it a “stink board” to drive the bees out of the super and down into the hive body. The stink board is a cloth cover that fits on top of the super. The cloth is doused with a liquid that is safe for bee and smells like almonds. For some reason, the bees do not like this smell and it drives them out of the super and down into the hive. Now there will always be those few bees that do not leave the super, so when we take the super off of the hive, we use a leaf blower to blow any remaining bees out of the super. This does not hurt the bees, but is an easy way for the beekeeper to ensure that they are not bringing a bunch of bees into the place where they will be extracting the honey. As careful as a beekeeper is in this process, there is always a few bees that make it into your extracting kitchen.
The fume board must be placed on each super for about 5- 10 minutes. If you have a lot of supers full of honey, this process can take hours.
Uncapping the Frames
Once the honey supers are in your extracting kitchen, the process begins by uncapping the frames of honey. This is done with either a capping knife of a capping fork.
Once the caps are removed from the frame of honey, the frame is placed end down into the extractor.
There are 2 types of extractors, hand crank or electric.
Once the extractor is full of frames, the barrel is spun and the honey is slung out of the frames by centrifugal force.
The honey slides down the side of the stainless steel wall of the extractor and then through a very fine screen (200 Micron). This screen keeps any bee parts from getting into your pure honey. The screen does, however, let small pollen particles into the honey. The pollen particles are part of the health benefits of the honey.
The honey is then poured from the holding tank of the extractor into bottles.
This process can take hours or days, depending on how many super you have to extract. Our process took 3 days. Some beekeepers take all the honey at once, some space it out over a period of time. The great thing about the capped honey is that it will never spoil.
If the honey is slung out by an extractor, the comb stays intact for the bees to use again. Some beekeepers cut the comb from the frame, as honey comb also has great health benefits, but then the bees are forced to rebuild the wax comb on each frame.
The Bees Do Not Waste a Drop!
When all the frames are extracted, the clean-up is easy. We place the supers and all the extractor parts in our yard. The bees smell the honey and come and clean everything up, bringing the left over honey back into their hives. The bees are a very efficient insect, they do not waste a drop. The supers are then stacked and put away for the next honey flow season.
We only take our honey once a year. That does not mean that the bees stop bringing in nectar to their hives, it just means that any more honey that the bees make is their honey to keep so that they have enough food to get through the winter months.
(Above pictures were taken during our 2012 harvest)
North Carolina -Union County Extension Master Gardener
Union County Beekeeper’s Assoc.