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Maybe a stupid question, but why not leave all the honey on the hive until next spring, harvest THEN to relieve swarming pressure, make sure no need to sugar bees for hard winters? Wrap bees well for the extra space they have to warm.

Go easy on me - just wondering as it seems like an easier way to go for both us and the bees.

Thanks!

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Brianlacy, I actually do much of my harvesting in the spring around the first nectar flow. It has some benefits, several of which you have already mentioned. No need to guess if they will have enough food for winter, and no need to feed syrup. As far as warmth goes, the honey will actually retain heat in warmer weather (and from the heat generated by the cluster) and release it when the temperature drops, so the bees will not necessarily have extra space to warm.
 

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Honey bees are natural hoarders, and if managed well and with good nectar conditions will store MUCH more than needed to survive the winter. Part of being a good beekeeper is learning what honey reserves are needed to keep bees alive in your local winter conditions. Some colonies will produce 5-10 supers in one season, and it wouldn't make much sense to leave that on the bees all winter. Of course, if honey is not a concern then, sure leave it all. However, here are a few downside to that approach:

1) Honey crystallizing in the comb making spring extraction very difficult. 2) Too much colony space for bees to manage well - bees generally do better without so much extra space. How many feral colonies do you see overwinter with the equivalent of 2 deeps and 5-10 supers? 3) Potential loss of crop due to bears and other pests.

I extract several times each year, keeping each crop as a separate seasonal offering for customers seeking the unique flavors.
 

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Our spring honey is a very good light colored honey. The summer and fall honey is a darker lower grade honey. If it was all left and extracted at one time it would be harder to separate the different honey. It would also require lots more supers.
 

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If the bees are in a tight cluster and not actually on the honeycomb and looking after it, the honey on a hive overwinter can deteriorate in several ways. From granulating, to fermenting.

Ther are pros and cons to leaving it on, but in my location anyway, best all up solution is extract fall, but DO leave enough honey on the hive to get them through winter.
 

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We have the same situation as JohnG -- spring honey, especially the black locust honey, is light while fall honey is darker to much darker, and less desirable to most people.

That said, we extracted twice this year, once in June and once in August. Some of our friends extract once, in August, and someday I will ask the professional just down the road what he does.

How it works for you is highly dependent upon how your honey comes in. If you have a big spring/early summer flow and not much in the fall, it's harder to leave them enough. Here, we generally have a big spring flow, good if irregular summer flow, none in August to September because there is usually no rain for six or more weeks, and irregular and small fall flow. We get nice honey in the spring, nice honey from soybeans when things are right (not this year!), and usually need to do some supplementary feeding in the fall in September to get the hives up to weight.

My grandfather had customers for the fall honey who like the strong flavor, so he extracted late for that reason. Hardly applicable today, since that was at least 45 years ago, and things just aren't the same now.

It will only cost you the honey crop if you leave all the honey on the hive all winter only to find it's too crystallized to extract in the spring. If that's a concern, leave a few hives all their honey and see what happens -- there are beeks who extract in the spring to always leave plenty of honey for the bees.

You should also be aware that leaving large amounts of honey is likely to encourage swarming if you are late extracting in the spring, so keep an eye on them!

Peter
 

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Aside from the crystallization issue, Spring swarming would be a big concern for me if I would leave that much honey on over winter. I know everything is local, but in this area the bees aggressively build up well before it's warm enough to start pulling supers and disrupting the colony. If they don't have some overhead empty space to move into by late March or early April they will be preparing to swarm, and I'll have big problems in May. It's way too cold to try to extract honey at that time of year. If the bees hit solid supers of honey overhead as they expand the brood nest they are going to swarm. If that happens I can pretty much kiss my next honey crop goodbye.

Like Oldtimer said, I would leave enough honey on for them to comfortably make it through Winter. Excess might be asking for problems. Also, I think it would be a lot easier on the bees to extract and disrupt the colony in the Fall rather than early Spring when they are trying to build up.
 

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Could not have said it better Peter,, nice detailed explanation,, of the question. How does capped honey become crystallized :scratch:?
 

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When the colony is tightly clustered, honey a long distance from the cluster can get into the "bad" range (above freezing, below 75 or so F) and the glucose will start to crystallized. Once started, the crystals will grow any time the conditions are right.

The bees will use whatever they can and haul dry crystals out of the hive just like they will carry dry sugar out unless it's clumped together -- they don't eat crystalline sugars, only syrup so far as I know.

Almost all honey will crystallize at temperatures above freezing and below 75 or so F, and some will crystallize anyway -- canola honey is particularly bad, I think, to the point people remove it and feed HFCS to prevent it all being solid in the spring.

This is one reason for heating and filtering honey -- there are always tiny crystals in the honey, and the pollen in there also acts as nucleation sites for more crystals. To give longer shelf life, heating to dissolve any pre-existing crystals and filtering to remove the pollen (hence nucleation sites for more crystals), the honey will be and remain very clear and liquid. I think it will also be cooked tasting and inispid, but that's a personal thing.

Peter
 
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