How to harvest honey in the most efficient way? This is arguably one of the most common questions of people who want to take up beekeeping as a hobby or something that they can turn into a lucrative business.
Having the right beekeeping tools is the key to make honey harvesting a pleasant and rewarding experience. A good rule of thumb is to invest in high-quality, durable tools, which in the long run can save you money as opposed to buying cheap products with an equally cheap design.
This is not to say that you should spend tons of money to get your hands on the fanciest brands. For starters, stick to basic beekeeping tools and just borrow expensive equipment such as the honey extractor from local beekeeping groups or colleagues.
Beekeeping, whether you see it as a hobby or a part of your homestead business, has a fairly affordable startup. Starter kits, which include 1-2 hives and the basic tools, typically cost under $1,000.
Read on the step-by-step guideline on how to harvest honey. We also include product reviews and recommendations so you will know the features and functions you have to look for.
1. How to Harvest Honey Safely: Wear Protective Clothing.
Before you approach the hive, make sure you're in full battle gear. For beginners, it always makes sense to invest in a durable beekeeping overall. At a bare minimum, don a veiled hat and a pair of elbow-length gloves. Knowing how to harvest honey, and how to harvest honey safety is obviously essential to your well-being.
Beekeeping Suits with Veiled Hat
While you can purchase beekeeping suits under $50, most of them are technically just a jacket. Some people argue that donning jeans is often acceptable although take note that the stingers may still reach your skin.
The Humble Bee 420-S Beekeeping Suit, which comes with a round veil, is a good investment with its durable aerated fabric that is perfect for hot weather. It's a bit pricey though ($224.95), so if you're on a tight budget, you may consider other suits from the same company that is priced around $100.
The Forest Beekeeping ventilated jackets, and the VIVO full-body beekeeping suits also offer decent quality with their price typically under $70.
Standard beekeeping gloves typically reach your elbow to protect your forearm from stingers. Make sure that you choose products whose fabric is thick enough to prevent stings but thin enough to allow you to maneuver with ease. You can never go wrong with brands such as BESTOPE, KINGLAKE, and VIVO, which are typically priced around $10.
But if you're looking for heavy duty gloves, which often cost twice more than the standard beekeeping gloves, consider products made by Humble Bee (e.g., 115m gloves with reinforced and ventilated cuffs) and Natural Apiary (ventilated gloves and extra long sleeves with elastic gauntlets).
2. How to Harvest Honey Quickly: Use Bee Escape 24 Hours Before Removing the Frames.
While you can collect the frames right away, placing a bee escape between the honey super and brood chamber 1-2 days before you harvest can make it less stressful for your bees. Also, make sure that you work on your hives between 9 am and 4 pm when they are busy foraging.
Many beekeepers only collect frames from honey supers and leave the brood chamber so the colony will have sufficient food especially during winter. Meanwhile, a bee escape is a piece of board with a small hole in the center that makes it easy for the bees to get out of the honey super and into the deeper box, but hard to climb back because of the mesh wire. Just make sure that you insert it correctly.
Of course, before you place the bee escape between the honey super and the brood chamber, you should smoke the entrance first. Remove the top and puff another round of smoke. Smoke tricks them into thinking that a forest fire is nearby, prompting them to eat honey to prepare for possible relocation.
Ideally, you have to wait for a few minutes to give the bees enough time to gorge on the honey. When full, they are significantly more docile.
Also, avoid over-smoking because you may taint the taste of your honey.
With a growing preference for a more natural beekeeping approach, bee escapes are becoming popular these days. While some still use chemical repellants to collect frames straight away, take note that they are not just toxic but are also known to taint the taste of your honey.
Bee blower is another possible alternative although it comes with risks such as blowing away your queen.
3. Beekeeping Tools You'll Need
For under $30, you can get a decent beekeeping smoker. Products made by Goodland Bee Supply, VIVO, CO-Z, and Honey Keeper are the most commonly purchased smokers on the Internet that have good reviews.
A good smoker can puff smoke through at least a dozen hives without reloading the fuel, provide thick, white smoke, and is made of durable material (the metal body does not easily dent, and the bellows are made of leather and other durable fabrics).
There's only a handful of beekeeping suppliers that sell bee escape screens online. One of them is Toughtimbers that offers 10-frame bee escapes.
If you have an average woodwork skill, you can make your own bee escape screen. There are video tutorials that can help you build one.
4. Return to the Hive.
After 24 hours, return to the hive. Use your smoker to force the remaining bees to get out of the honey super before you collect the frames. A frame that is at least 75 percent capped (others prefer 90 percent capped surface) is ready for harvest.
Harvesting too soon--i.e., the surface of the frame is mostly uncapped--is not ideal because the high moisture content promotes fermentation. And if the honey becomes fermented, this can be poisonous even to your bees.
Meanwhile, you can remove any bees that remain on the frames with a soft brush, which should be used sparingly to prevent over-agitating them.
During harvest, many professional beekeepers recommend keeping an empty deep or a plastic bucket at least 50 feet away from the hive. While this means walking back and forth every time you pull out a frame, this prevents the bees from swarming around them. Just cover them with a clean towel.
Another technique to "appease" the bees is to replace each frame right after you pull out one. (That's why it makes sense to buy extra frames.)
Beekeeping Tools You'll Need
The Mann Lake WW906 10 Deep Frame kit is a popular product among hobbyists because the wood frames have plastic foundations that are pre-waxed so the comb will not slip. While it is a bit pricier ($53.28) than other brands, customers have always noted the consistent quality of its products.
When buying frames, take measurements of the hive body (deep body, medium super, shallow super, and comb super).
Hive tools are used to pry open the top of the hive and detach the frames. Bees use a resin-like material called propolis that allows them to seal cracks and gaps in the hive.
The KINGLAKE Steel J Hook Bee Hive Tool and the Honbay Steel J Hook are two great products because they can be used as a mini crowbar, scraper, and lifter.
You can get a decent quality hive tool just under $7.
A honey extractor is a cylindrical-shaped equipment that uses centrifugal force to extract honey from frames. It has a spigot for releasing the honey. You can bottle it straight away, or you may strain it with a kitchen sifter fitted with layers of cheesecloth or a honey sieve.
But before you put the frames inside a honey extractor, you should first remove the wax capping. You can use beekeeping knife, uncapping fork, or uncapping rollers.
Uncapping Forks, Knives, and Rollers.
To remove the wax capping, you can use uncapping forks, serrated knives, or rollers, which are typically priced under $10. Rollers and forks are the preferred choices of beekeepers who want to minimize the damage to the comb , o after they extract the honey with a hand-cranked or electric extractor, they can return the frames to the hive where bees will only make minor repairs, which means more time to make honey.
But if you're after convenience, you may consider getting an electric beekeeping knife such as the GoodLand Bee Supply GLUK-ELEC Decapping Knife. It removes the wax capping with more ease because it has a thermostat inside that heats the knife blade.
If you have money to spare, the Mann Lake Stainless Steel 6/3-Frame hand Crank Honey Extractor ($319.95) is a good product. It holds three deep or medium frames or six shallow frames that makes it ideal for small hobbyists.
You may consider less expensive honey extractors such as the Honey Keeper 4-Frame and the VIVO BEE-V002 Honey Extractor SS Honeycomb Spinner.
The Mann Lake Stainless Steel Double Sieve and the VIVO Honey Strainer are more efficient than using a regular kitchen strainer outfitted with cheesecloth. Both are priced around $25.
5. Return Frames to Your Hive
If you also collect wax (which you can turn into lip balms, candles, lotions, and a myriad of products), it still makes sense to return frames with "empty" wet comb so the bees can clean them out. After a week, you can remove the empty, clean frames to store them.