Like many questions about beekeeping, the first response we have to this question is:
The main consideration we have when harvesting is ensuring the bees have enough honey reserves to survive through the winter. With this in mind, you need to assess your hive. Is this their first year? Or have they been established for a few years? Do they have one or two brood boxes? How many honey supers have you added on top of your brood box? Did you use a queen excluder?
Don't worry if you feel overwhelmed, remember the key is to make sure your bees have enough honey to survive the winter.
The general rule of thumb is once, maybe twice, per year in the late summer or early fall. If your hive is in hyper drive and filling up frames quickly you are one of those lucky beekeepers than can consider harvesting twice a year and earlier than most beekeepers. It all depends on your hive.
So, let's get down to some specific examples here:
If this is your bee's first year you will have to determine how they have done so far. Has your queen been filling out the bottom brood box? Great! If you had added a second brood box for her during spring or early summer, this is also fine. Adding a second brood box this late in the year should be considered on a case by case basis. If the supers are full of bees then another super is needed, just make sure the bees are going into the new super and not leaving it empty.
Our beekeepers recommend adding a queen excluder between the brood boxes and any honey supers are put on top. This means that the honey you plan to harvest will be larvae free. Another benefit to using a queen excluder is to help prevent accidentally squishing the queen while you are taking off supers of honey.
Let's say this is your bees first year and you have one or two brood boxes, a queen excluder, and one honey super on top. Check the frames inside the honey super, if most of the 10 frames are full, leave them 6 for the winter.
Let's say you have one brood box, a queen excluder, and two honey supers, follow the same idea as above, except you'll be capable of harvesting one entire super of honey for yourself, making sure you leave your bees at least 6 frames of honey on top of their brood.
Interested in knowing how to prepare your bee’s for the cooler months ahead? Consider signing up for our last Bee Forum of the year on October 25th, and stay tuned for our next beekeeping blog post.
-The Bee Box