So, you’ve got all of your essential equipment, selected a hive design and breed, and have found the perfect place to set up you own little apiary. You’re making some real progress, and once the summer starts to draw to a close and your colony has had time to build up their stores, you’ll finally have the chance to sample all of your hard work. However, harvesting honey is a little more complicated than turning a faucet and filling a jug. If you’re not careful, you could end up with a swarm of angry stinging insects and very little to show for it. So, in the interest of making sure that your harvest is fruitful, here are some tips on how to collect honey.
Get assistance from an expert
If this is your first time harvesting honey, you’d do well to find a local expert and have them join you. The knowledge they bring along will be invaluable.
Don’t take too much
Bees don’t just make honey because they want to ingratiate themselves to humans; they do it because that’s their food source. If during your harvest you take too much of their hard earned honey, then they won’t have enough of a supply to allow them to survive the winter. Some beekeepers choose to supplement a bee’s diet with refined-sugar syrup so that more honey can be harvested, however, there is some debate over whether this may be an unhealthy alternative for the bees. If you want what’s best for your little winged-workers, then be sure to leave them enough honey to make it to spring.
Don’t expect a huge harvest that first year
It takes time for a colony to become established, and after a spring and summer of getting everything figured out, your bees may not have had time to produce that much honey before the cold weather hits. Although you may be able to take a small amount, most of the honey from the first year should be left to the bees. Don’t worry, once spring comes again, your bees will be hearty and healthy enough to make up for it with a substantially larger harvest the second year.
Wear your protective clothing
Well, duh. If it hasn’t crossed your mind that you should probably be wearing some bee-proof clothes while you go rifling around inside their hive, then either you’re the bravest person to ever live, or beekeeping just isn’t for you. A good rule of thumb is this: if you don’t want something to be stung, then make sure it’s well covered.
There’s an old belief that bees can sense fear, and that it agitates them. Now, while that may not be specifically true, it is true that calm, slow movements when collecting honey are less likely to cause a swarm than fast, panicky one. Your instincts may be telling you to grab that honey and run as though the very demons of hell were on your heels. However, if you listen to those instincts, then the bees will be so upset that you’ll wish they were only demons.
Make sure the honey is ripe
The honey isn’t ready for harvesting until it’s been capped. This is when the bees have made sure that the moisture levels in the honey are just right, and have sealed it off with wax to prevent any more moisture from getting in. If you remove the honey before it has been capped, you’ll find that the unripe mixture may go bad (something that ripe honey will never do). Newly capped honey should look white until the wax has been removed.
Avoid the smoker if possible
The smoker is a wonderful invention that can be used to keep bees from launching into a swarming, stinging frenzy. It accomplishes this by disrupting communication between bees (preventing them from sending out the ‘alarm’ pheromone), and by convincing them that there is a fire nearby (which causes them to return to the hive and gorge themselves on honey). However, the smoker can also affect the taste of the honey, so use it sparingly.
Prepare the honey
Once you’ve got the honey, strain it through some cheesecloth to help remove any wax or debris. Then, place it in a settling tank so that air bubbles and any other flotsam can rise to the surface. Let it sit for a few days and then skim any foam and debris from off of the surface.
Honey, thanks to its many health benefits both nutritional and medical, and due to the fact that it can be kept indefinitely, makes a great food storage staple, to go with your freeze-dried meals and Nutristore products. To store it, simply get some glass or plastic jars with lids. Make sure the jars are clean and dry. Fill the jars with honey, and then keep them in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight; this will help the honey maintain its proper texture and taste.
Congratulations! You’ve successfully completed a honey harvest.
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