How-To Harvest Honey
When To Harvest Honey
In the UK there are two main nectar flows plus the heather nectar flow. The dates below are approximate and will depend on the weather.
- First nectar flow: mid-April to end of May (e.g. oil seed rape, fruit trees, bushes, sycamore, hawthorn)
- Second nectar flow (main flow): mid-June to first week in August (e.g. lime, clover, blackberry, willow herb)
- Heather Honey nectar flow: August & September
The aim is to have a strong hive which can take advantage of these nectar flows and the bees then store surplus nectar which they convert to honey.
Harvesting is best done at the end of the flow and when the bees have capped the honey, as in the photo below:
You might have to wait a week or so after the nectar flows for the honey to be capped.
Step 1: Clear Super
- Option A: Place a clearing board above the Queen Excluder, and return 2 days later to collect the supers. There will be some bees still on the frames but just brush them off with a bee brush. This is my preferred method as it’s not too scary.
- Option B: Take frames out individually and brush the bees back into the hive. Stack the frames in a spare super, covering this super with a cloth. I have only done this when I have had a weak hive. I cannot imagine doing this if I had a busy hive.
- Option C: Use a bee repellent. I haven’t done this. Buy one and follow the instructions. The bees should move down to the brood chamber.
- Important: leave space for the bees. Imagine you are crowding them from three supers into the brood box. Leave them a super with nectar on or just with foundation to give them some room.
Step 2: Get Honey To Optimal Temperature
The best temperature to uncap and extract honey is 21-27C. Above 32C the wax is too soft and below 18C the honey is stiff and is hard work to extract.
I try and do the harvesting before mid-August to avoid any complexities with warming honey. If it’s a cold year or you have left it late, some beekeepers stack supers with a 60W bulb at the bottom in an empty super and old blankets on top. Leave like this for 48 hours and the honey will be ready for extraction.
Step 3: Uncap The Honey
Use a serrated knife to cut through a thin layer of the wax cappings.
This can be an electrically heated knife or just a regular bread knife. I use the latter. I have read that electric knives can over heat the honey and impact the taste.
Slice carefully and you will find the wax cappings peel off as in the photo above.
Use the end of the knife to make sure all caps are removed.
Place these wax cappings in a colander with a jug below to collect more honey.
Step 4: Extract Honey
Place supers in an extractor. Make sure the longest part of the frame is nearest the outside of the extractor, otherwise you will discover that the frames do not balance correctly.
Start slowly and build the speed.
The honey sticks to the side and runs down the extractor. At first you will think you have not extracted much honey but you will soon find that after 4 frames you will need to empty the extractor.
Step 5: Filter
Pour the honey from the extractor, through a filter, and into a honey tank (or honey bucket or jars), see below:
Step 6: Allow Honey To Settle For 24 Hours
Leave the freshly extracted honey for 24 hours and you will find that bubbles and solids rise to the top. These need to be creamed off and you can keep this as honey for yourself.
If you have poured your honey straight into jars you will see that a waxy scum appears and this is difficult to remove from the jars. if you have poured your filtered honey straight into honey buckets (as below), you can remove the scum the next day or at a later date.
Ideally, you have a honey tank. This has a filter on top and you can also use another finer filter (e.g. nylon cloth) below this to remove further waxy solids.
Still allow the honey to settle for 24 hours and remove any solids from the surface.
Step 7: Jar (Or Store) Honey
The best way to jar honey is from the honey tank which has a valve at the bottom. Better still, have a slim digital weighing scale below your jar and you can instantly make sure you have jarred the right amount.
If you have made lots of honey you might want to store this in honey buckets to be warmed (35C, for two days) and bottled at a later date.
Step 8: Stand Back & Admire Your Work
Step 9: Give Wax Cappings & Wet Supers Back To Bees
I put the wax cappings into a feeder and they come back dry within a few days, see photo below.
I have also put the nylon strainer into the feeding tray and they cleaned it perfectly.
The super will also be dry and ready for storage.
Extracting Oil Seed Rape Honey
Oil seed rape honey sets rock hard within a short time of taking supers from the hive. If you leave it too long it will set in the comb. You must extract supers immediately. If you failed to do this and you now have granulated comb there are 3 options:
- Option A – Melt the comb with a steamer, or uncapping tray, to separate wax and honey
- Option B – If only a little granulated honey: Spray with water, place super below brood box with spare Queen Excluder between the two boxes. Bees will move stores up into brood chamber
- Option C – If lots of granulated honey: Soak frames in a basin of water and then same steps as Option B above.
Extracting Heather Honey
This is more complex and I have never done it. The Southampton & District Beekeepers Association have produced a great fact sheet: Extracting Heather Honey
- 2012: The Joys & Guilt Of Harvesting My First Honey: The emotional side of harvesting
- 2013: It’s A Sticky Business: My second harvest gets even stickier. This post is a bit of an “alternative guide to extracting honey”
- 2014: Honey Harvest – The Results: My honey production is increasing
- I record My Honey Yields and compare with UK averages
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