Honey harvesting is one of the most rewarding times in beekeeping. This is the point when all the care and attention the beekeeping has given to the bees is repaid. Depending on the richness of the flora and the local conditions it may be possible to harvest honey up to four times a year. With moveable comb hives the beekeeper can check to see if there is any honey present and also to check that the honey is ready for harvesting. Sometimes traditional beekeepers use the presence and flowering of specific marker plants to estimate the potential honey harvest. The honey must be sealed and ready to harvest.
The position of the honey crop is determined by the position of the hive entrance. The brood will always be near the entrance with the honey further away. In frame hives, the comb arrangement means honey will also be stored above the brood. In a long hive, such as some traditional fixed comb hives or top bar hives with the entrance at the front end of the hive most of the honey will be at the back. This is a useful arrangement as harvesting is complete once the first comb of the brood nest has been reached. The beekeeper should never take all the honey in the hive but must leave the colony enough honey to sustain its own life if they are not to die or abscond during the dearth period.
To be safe the beekeeper needs to smoke the hive carefully. Excessive smoke should be avoided as it is easy to taint the honey with a smoky flavour. Each comb needs to be harvested individually. If a top bar hive is being used and the top bars have one comb to one top bar harvesting is very easy. The first step in honey harvesting is to clear the bees gently from the honey combs. The simplest way is to gently brush the bees off the comb using a brush made of grass or feathers. When the comb is clear of bees the comb can be cut from the top bar into a covered bucket. It helps if two people harvest together because one can cut the comb and the other can put the lid onto the harvesting bucket very quickly to keep the bees out. The top bar is replaced after cutting the comb. The remnant of the comb forms a starter strip showing the place where bees construct the new comb.
The bees will not be pleased that their honey is being taken so it is best done in the evening which will give the bees the maximum time to settle down again after the disturbance. The temperature for opening a hive should be relatively cool - ideally not more than about 25 C. However, harvesting at night is likely to cause quality issues as it will be less easy to see whether honey is ripe, whether brood is being harvested and it is less easy to keep it clean in the dark.
Despite the ease of honey harvesting, frame hives are nowhere near as appropriate for beekeeping for poverty alleviation. Setting aside the high cost of the hives, they can require special, centrifugal extraction equipment that is not easily available. Furthermore, this equipment requires the frames to be wired in order for them to survive extraction. The intention of frame hives is that the frames are kept from harvest to harvest. This can be difficult in tropical climates where wax moth can reduce stored combs to dust very quickly. Where this function of the frames is not used, for instance when extracting is done using the cutting and run honey method, an important purpose of using frames is lost.
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