When to Harvest Honey?
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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jun 2018
    Location
    Washington, DC, USA
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    6

    Default When to Harvest Honey?

    Friends:

    With the weather reaching 60 degrees in the mid-Atlantic region and gorgeous southern sun warming my hive, I took the opportunity to check out my hive today. This is a new hive started June 1 2018. I harvested no honey last year, leaving it all in place for the cluster. Today, about eight of the nine frames in my top box were almost completely full of honey.

    Obviously, we've still got a couple months before spring is solidly here, but I stole a frame assuming that the remaining honey will be plenty for them. But it caused me to wonder: How often do hives end the winter with remaining stores and how do the bees manage those stores? Are they treated any different from newly-made honey? Does it impact the development of brood or other aspects of the hive?

    Micah

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  3. #2
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
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    Pepperell, MA.
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    Default Re: When to Harvest Honey?

    Great question.

    For me, I've been surprised at how much honey is in a good hive when I take a peek during a January thaw only to be shocked at how much honey is used between then and first bloom. The queen is starting to lay in late winter so that the young bees are ready to fly when the first flowers bloom. I think it's easy to forget the first flowers. Around here it's silver maple, willow, skunk cabbage, etc., and it's not uncommon to see the bees bringing in pollen on a nice day in early March even with snow on the ground. Those flights burn fuel!

    Stores that look ample in mid-winter can go critically dry in late winter / early spring due to overall hive activity. Many of us have experienced the elation of seeing cleansing flights during mild winter days only to find a deadouts in the spring due to starvation.

    Remaining honey in a hive at the end of the winter is quickly used and I personally think it's important for a colony to kick of the year with a little reserve so that they have energy to burn. It sounds to me like you're in good shape but I'd still keep a close eye on the stores as you enter spring and feed if needed. Note that feeding cool syrup on a cool day will only make you feel better. Feed it warm and often or add sugar / fondant, etc., if you decide you need to give them a little help.
    "My wife always wanted girls. Just not thousands and thousands of them......"

  4. #3
    Join Date
    Sep 2016
    Location
    Murphy, TX
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    446

    Default Re: When to Harvest Honey?

    If you want colony to survive and come out strong from winter then DO NOT take any honey. We, in North Texas, like to see at least 5 deep of honey on a colony in Feb. We see first bloom in March. That honey is needed for spring build up. Ask local beekeepers for guideline.

  5. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2018
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    Stevens Point, WI
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    228

    Default Re: When to Harvest Honey?

    Quote Originally Posted by pjigar View Post
    If you want colony to survive and come out strong from winter then DO NOT take any honey. We, in North Texas, like to see at least 5 deep of honey on a colony in Feb. We see first bloom in March. That honey is needed for spring build up. Ask local beekeepers for guideline.
    wait...5 deeps???? That's like 400lbs of honey.
    Or did you mean 5 deep frames?
    Help is here to never misplace that hive tool again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UvwlSiOzgOU

  6. #5
    Join Date
    Sep 2016
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    Murphy, TX
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    446

    Default Re: When to Harvest Honey?

    Quote Originally Posted by KevinWI View Post
    wait...5 deeps???? That's like 400lbs of honey.
    Or did you mean 5 deep frames?
    Sorry. Correction: 5 deep frames of honey.

  7. #6
    Join Date
    Jul 2016
    Location
    Blue Ridge, Virginia, USA
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    138

    Default Re: When to Harvest Honey?

    Folks around here advised that pulling the honey frames around July 1st is the norm which is what I did last year and it seems to have worked out fine. I'd leave whatever you can for now just to be on the safe side.

  8. #7
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
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    Pepperell, MA.
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    Default Re: When to Harvest Honey?

    I usually pull around the first week of July here. July 4th celebration! There's often a dearth after that and I can't count on a good fall flow in case of an early frost. Everyone's area is a little different though. Ideally, I pull in July....the dearth is short....the fall flow is good....and I'm heavy by the end of September or early October at the latest.
    "My wife always wanted girls. Just not thousands and thousands of them......"

  9. #8
    Join Date
    Apr 2014
    Location
    Powhatan, Virginia, USA
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    400

    Default Re: When to Harvest Honey?

    Assuming that you were feeding the new colony (started in June last year) that "honey " is very likely a mix of cured sugar syrup and real honey.
    As others have said the bees will use a lot more now that they are raising brood than they did just keeping warm.

  10. #9
    Join Date
    Mar 2018
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    Stevens Point, WI
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    Default Re: When to Harvest Honey?

    All I can do is offer this example...

    This year my bees were socking it away....typical heavy honey flow lasts from end of june thru july..although we genrerally have a constant flow from May thru june also ..... This past year they were really socking it away...beautiful weather and plenty of rain...I put super after super on and my colonies were strong....then it got hot....and no rain...for weeks....and I found that there was no nectar coming in and these large colonies were consuming what they had stored....ended with about 1/4 of the honey I thought because I did not take the honey off when I should have.... in hindsight I could have taken the honey off and just fed them syrup during the dearth. oh well. Learning experience.... take them off when you can...until you get a feel for it.
    Help is here to never misplace that hive tool again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UvwlSiOzgOU

  11. #10
    Join Date
    Jun 2011
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    Campbell River, BC, CA
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    1,841

    Default Re: When to Harvest Honey?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ravenseye View Post
    Great question.

    For me, I've been surprised at how much honey is in a good hive when I take a peek during a January thaw only to be shocked at how much honey is used between then and first bloom.
    I have had a hive on a scale since early in the season 2013. We treat the scale hive different than all the rest here, it's stationary and does not move out to the summer yards. It's purpose is to give us an accurate record of flows year over year and allow us to compare various years. We correlate the scale data with bloom data, and over time we've learned to predict various flows based on what blooms when.

    Hive on the scale has also given us good insight into winter stores consumption. The colony in question is in a double deep configuration for the winter. We typically see roughly 20lb of consumption over the winter, ie mid November thru till mid February. The scale does NOT show a slow and steady decline over that timeframe. What it does show is weeks of flatline with little / no change, then we get a nice warm sunny day and the weight will drop by up to 5lb in one day. If there is snow on the ground when that happens, we see a LOT of yellow spots on the snow, bees are out for relief flights. Overall colony weight trend changes dramatically in the latter part of February for us, that's about the time bees start raising the first round of brood to replace the winter bees, and at that point the trend becomes fairly consistent, measure over any 30 day period and the colony weight decreases by 20lb, this trend continues till mid April which is the onset of our first good flow in most years, altho we have seen one season where the decrease continued till mid May, cold wet spring where the bees didn't get many days to forage.

    With respect to managing stores and winter survival, another issue well worth pointing out. In our climate the vast majority of winter mortality does not actually happen over the winter. First bee club meeting of the year is in February and the question is always asked, how many colonies died out over the winter, answer is almost always 'very few'. Ask the same question again at the meeting in late March, often a very different story. More often than not, colony mortality does NOT occur during the wintering period, but rather after bees start making the first round of brood for spring turnover. The first round of brood is the most critical of the year, colony is replacing the winter bees with a generation of healthy young bees to carry the colony forward. If the first brood round fails for some reason, then the colony will dwindle rapidly thru the month of March, and by the time flows arrive in April it will be down to a population not capable of sustaining growth at all. We have seen this in years when we get a serious cold snap in late February or early March, the cluster tightens up considerably leaving large patches of brood exposed which chills. At that point the winter bees are starting to die off, and there are not enough replacements emerging to keep the colony viable. Typical results of a post mortem when this happens, you see a colony showing all the symptoms of starving, yet lots of honey in frames just a short distance from the dead cluster. the cluster shrank as winter bees died off, the bees that were left stayed on the brood patch in an attempt to keep it incubated, and the cluster was now out of contact with honey to sustain itself.

    Things will be different in a different climate, but in our climate, the most common cause of seasonal losses over the winter is colonies that starved while trying to incubate a patch of brood thru a spring cold snap with plenty of honey just a frame or two away.

  12. #11
    Join Date
    Apr 2015
    Location
    Massac County, Illinois
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    174

    Default Re: When to Harvest Honey?

    Depends on what you have blooming and making nectar in your area. Your area being within 3 miles of your hives. If nothing is blooming, leave honey on your hives. After the spring nectar flow and honey is capped, remove your supers and spin out that honey. Leave the deep frames for the bees. Replace supers during the fall nectar flow and decide on how much honey the bees need for healthy wintering.

    Freeze some on the frames just in case the bees need more than anticipated the next spring. Thaw and feed as needed.

  13. #12
    Join Date
    Aug 2002
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    Nehawka, Nebraska USA
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    Default Re: When to Harvest Honey?

    Typically bees burn a small fraction of their stores between the onset of winter and the onset of serious brood rearing in the spring. They burn up most of it during the tail end of winter and early spring before the bloom raising brood. Brood rearing costs a frame of pollen and a frame of honey for every frame of brood.
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 42y 40h 39yTF

  14. #13
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    Jun 2013
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    Rensselaer County, NY, USA
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    Default Re: When to Harvest Honey?

    @MSinDC,

    All the responses with warnings about removing honey frames from the hive at this season may have you worried. I probably wouldn't have taken that frame out, either, but I don't think you have seriously imperiled the colony.

    It's quite true that the main, startlingly intense, reduction of the winter stores happens at the end of the winter and through the period when the brood is ramping up, but in DC you are much farther along in your brood ramp-up than people colder areas. When I had a farm out in Rapphannock County (VA), which itself was in a colder area than DC proper, this week would have been the peak of the daffodils around my house. Alas, I am now back in northern NY and I can't expect to see those daffodils for another two months, or more. So a frame purloined from the bees in DC now would be similar to a surplus frame taken in mid-to-late April in the the north.

    But still, there are reasons it might be generally better to leave it on the hive: If you fed generously, as you may have when you got your bees established last year, it may have more sugar syrup than you think. And if you were working to control mites in the Fall and at the start of the winter broodless period, you may have treated the hive with that frame in place. And the third reason to leave the frame in the hive is that frames of honey are strong temperature stabilizers within the hive in a way that an undrawn frame with foundation will not be. If you haven't extracted the frame, you still have the option of using it later on this spring. (I would immediately give it a week or more in your deep freeze if you plan to hold it outside the hive. This will kill any small hive beetle eggs that may be on it.)

    I am a fan of Walt Wright's ideas about using an alternation of drawn with stores/drawn empty in a box immediately above the brood nest as a means of damping down swarming, which is another use of remaining frames of honey. You may not, however, have have drawn but empty (extracted, but also brood frames that aren't currently in use) to do the alternation with since this is your first over-wintering.

    Also because this was your first year, you may think you have come 'round again to the beginning. But last year was like no other in the history of your colony, because it was your hive's establishment year when they had to put so much of their nectar (and syrup you gave them) resources into making wax and drawing combs. This year they will already have those resources in place, so the seasonal pattern of nectar storage (assuming a typical flow) will be different from what you saw last year. And between now and the start of your nectar flow, you also have the considerable challenge that is the swarm season. One of the ways swarms can be averted is by making splits. This is the final reason to keep some "excess" frames of end-of-winter honey on hand: you may need them to provision the new colonies.

    In the mid-Atlantic, with the mid-summer dearth, many beekeepers take honey earlier than they do in the far north, even accounting for the later start in cold areas. The best place for information about that is from local beekeepers who will be familiar with your local patterns.

    Nancy

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