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When to harvest honey

When will you start getting honey from your hives?
                --- various people including my mother and friends

Harvesting honeyLike many aspects of homesteading life, beekeeping is a long term endeavor.  A new package of honeybees is a very small colony, and they spend a lot of their energy in the first year beefing up into a regular size colony.  If you do everything right, they'll put away enough honey to get through the winter, but they won't have much to spare.  So, we don't plan to harvest any honey until next fall.

Many American beekeepers harvest a lot of honey immediately, planning to feed their bees sugar water or corn syrup to keep them going through the late winter and early spring.  We did feed our new package bees sugar water, but I consider sugar water feeding a last ditch effort afterwards.  My gut reaction is that sugar water for honeybees is a lot like corn chips for humans --- tasty, but not fulfilling all of their nutritional needs.  Instead, I want to overcompensate and make sure they have plenty of honey to last them until the first nectar flow next spring.

I read on one website that the modern tradition of harvesting honey in late summer or early autumn is a recent invention.  Supposedly, beekeepers traditionally harvested honey in mid spring after the first nectar flow began so that the beekeeper could be sure that the honey they were taking was truly excess.  Of course, you can't do this if you use chemical mite control over the winter, but otherwise this option seems to make a lot of sense.

Shame-faced plug: Check out the chicken waterer that funds this blog.

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