New beekeepers look forward to the time they are able to take honey from their first hive. Harvesting honey occurs in Spring and Summer, usually when there is warmer weather and an abundance of suitable flowering plants. In saying this, I have taken a small harvest in early Autumn when the weather here is still mild.
Several factors will decide if and when you can harvest honey from your new hive. Each hive has a unique population of honey bees whose characteristics can determine whether or not they produce a lot of honey.
When I talk about new hives, a beekeeper’s ‘new’ hive may be an established hive already producing honey, or it may be a smaller colony of bees that are building up numbers and yet to produce a harvest. In both these cases, I believe it’s better to be cautious and wait a season before extracting any honey from the hive. I’ve outlined below why I think it’s better to err on the side of caution.
Grow A Strong Hive First
Your primary goal when obtaining bees is to develop a strong hive. By this I mean you want to have a healthy population of bees first before anything else. A strong colony will better resist disease and pests as well as removal of honey by the beekeeper.
Your new colony may have been housed in an area completely different to yours in terms of climate and available flowering flora. It will take your bees time to orientate themselves to your garden and to discover where the best sources of pollen and nectar are.
Making honey is a strenuous process for bees. First of all they have to gather the raw materials needed to draw out the comb which is then used as cells for the queen to lay eggs and also for the storing or honey and pollen (pollen is the bees’ protein source). The laying of eggs is paramount to ensure the healthy survival of the colony.
For this to occur the bees need access to thousands of flowers of the right type to satisfy their requirements. The availability of suitable flora, the weather and the season all influence how quickly the bees can build comb.
Hopefully before the colony arrives in your garden you have ensured that the area near your hives is populated with flowering plants that will provide sufficient supplies of nectar and pollen. Naturally the bees won’t only use your garden as they fly more than two kilometers (one and a quarter miles) in search of a good source of pollen and nectar. However, if they find a reliable food source closer to home then that saves them time and energy.
By avoiding the taking of honey in the first season and waiting until the second season your hive will have the opportunity to become stronger and more established. Because your hive is now well established, it won’t take as long to harvest honey in the future.
How Much Honey Can You Expect From Your Hive?
The amount of honey you harvest will depend upon the season, the available food, the weather and how well the hive has been managed by the beekeeper. In Australia during a good year approximately 18 to 25 kilograms (40 to 55 pounds) per extraction can be harvested and this can occur more than once in a season. This harvest would come from ten to twelve full depth frames.
In any country, the geographical location of the hive will determine the climate and therefore is a factor in determining the amount of honey harvested. Each location has its own unique weather patterns and flowering plants and it’s a good idea to monitor the seasonal changes in weather and floral patterns.
I keep a record each month of what plants are in flower and which of those plants are of interest to the bees. I started to take these notes before I first got my hive onto our property, noting such things as what was in flower and which flowers attracted the European bees. By doing so, I discovered that I needed more plants that flowered in the Winter and also attracted the honeybees.
Allow plenty of time to harvest your honey and be sure to have all the equipment necessary beforehand. Choose two or three possible dates and check the weather forecast ahead of time. You’ll want a sunny, reasonably warm but not too windy day for the extraction. Only take excess honey, leaving enough stores for the bees themselves. The stronger your colony, generally the better the harvest.
Space In The Hive
Before the honey harvesting begins, ensure you give the bees a super with frames of drawn-out comb in which to store honey. Bees expend a lot of time and energy drawing out the wax to make comb, so it’s a good idea to short circuit this by providing frames already drawn out. The foraging bees can therefore use most of their energy to make more honey.
Another reason for giving the bees more space is that nectar, before it is turned into honey, is watery and it will take up a lot of room in the comb until most of the water has been evaporated. Therefore, before the honey flow begins ensure there is enough space in the hive by adding an empty super with drawn out comb.
What Is A Honey Flow?
You will begin to become familiar with the term ‘honey flow’ as honey harvesting time approaches. But what does it mean? A honey flow is a term used by beekeepers to indicate that there is one or more major nectar sources in bloom and the weather is favorable for the bees to fly and collect the plentiful nectar.
Another sign of a honey flow is the white wax was being used to build new honeycomb. The hive entrance will be very active too, with many bees coming and going.
Every beekeeper looks forward to harvesting honey from their hive, especially the first harvest is exciting. However, to ensure you can enjoy bountiful future harvests, I recommend waiting a season to ensure your hive is strong and able to produce enough honey for itself and you.