How Long Do Bees Take to Make Honey?
Harvesting honey is one of the most important and lucrative moments for a beekeeper. The age and health of your beehive will influence how long it takes your bees to produce honey. You have to know the cycle of your beehive, the signs of a honey flow and the best practices so you can harvest properly.
Honey Flow and the Honey Harvest
In the spring and early summer, your bees will start to collect nectar. Bees will continue to make honey as long as they can find nectar from flowers and they have space in their hive to store the honey for ripening and usage.
The length of your honey flow will depend largely on your spring/summer season and your hive management. A typical colony produces 60-80lb of surplus honey a year. The average worker bee makes 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in a lifetime, which is six weeks long. During a good honey flow, bees may store 5, 10 or even 20 pounds of honey in a day.
The main factors that influence honey production are:
- The health of your hive
- Availability of flowering plants
- Space in the hive
The Health of Your Hive
How much honey your colony will produce depends on its health. If you have a hive with a strong queen that has produced a thriving hive population, you are on a good track to have a great season of honey harvest.
However, you need to watch for swarms that happen as your hive population increases. If your hive swarms during a honey flow, you will lose productivity as your colony will split.
Keeping an eye on disease in your colony will be extremely important when you prepare for the honey and during the season. Reducing any exposure to pesticides will help the purity of your honey and the integrity of your hive.
Availability of Flowering Plants
The foraging range of your worker bees is within a one to two-mile radius of the colony. To ensure healthier honey production, beekeepers must choose their location wisely. You can also grow key plant species to help your bees.
Bees are more attracted to nectar-rich plants as it takes less energy for them to reduce the water content during ripening. The important factors for a good honey plant are:
- Amount of nectar-sugar secreted by the flower
- Number of flowers in the foraging range during the honey flow.
Knowing the geography of your region will help you place your hives near natural foraging plant species. Consulting historical foraging data from regional flowering species and their cycles of blooming will help you plan your hive management during the flow season. You could conceivably rotate your colony around your immediate area if there are plants with different blooming cycles concentrated around.
Space in the Hive
As a beekeeper, you want to have drawn combs when it’s a honey flow. An established colony will have drawn combs from the last season.
If not, a strong honey flow is when your bees will draw out the frames. Bees only create beeswax when there is a need. The honey flow creates that need and stimulates their wax glands. This will affect your overall production as your hive will use a large proportion of energy and nectar to draw the combs.
When to Harvest Honey
The trick with harvesting honey is to check your hive often. In practice, most beekeepers harvest once a year.
Make sure to harvest before the onset of the winter season in early fall or late summer. Once the seasons change, the bees will start to consume their harvested honey, leaving less for you. Harvest too soon? You run the risk of your bees no longer producing for the season.
When your frame has 80% of capped honey, you can harvest. To draw out the production season, add space for the bees to continue to store honey. To see if uncapped honey can be harvested without spoiling, turn the frame upside down. If the nectar leaks, it is not honey yet and has not been cured long enough.
Know How to Capitalize on the Honey Flow
For a beekeeper, the season of honey flow and harvesting is one of the most exciting times. You get to see the fruits of your labor and the complex beauty of bees all at the same time.
The most important things to remember are the seasonality of your region, the availability of flowering plants in the foraging range, the management of a hive’s health and the maintenance of space for honey. Paying attention to these factors keeps you alert and able to enjoy the honey as it flows.