The Sweet Side of the Honey Harvest

A honeybee sips nectar from the orange butterfly milkweed plant.
A honeybee enjoys nectar from a butterfly milkweed plant.

All spring and summer, honeybees have been busily collecting nectar and bringing it back to the hive to turn into honey. Beekeepers can harvest honey all season, but August is last call for collecting honey from the hives. Stopping the collection of honey in August allows the bees plenty of time to continue collecting nectar and have adequate stores of honey tucked away for winter. In addition, goldenrod will begin blooming soon in Ohio. The nectar and subsequent honey flow has a pungent order that is offensive to humans, but not bees.

A triangular-shaped bee maze.
A triangular-shaped bee maze.
A group of bees sit atop a honey frame.
Under this group of bees, you can see the cells of a honey frame.

First, the beekeeper needs to collect the honey without the bees! The bees store most of the honey in the upper boxes of the hive called honey supers. To remove the honey supers without the bees, a bee trap or maze is placed between the brood boxes (the bottom two boxes on a hive where the larva are raised and the bees overwinter) and the honey supers. The maze or trap is left on overnight, and the bees find their way down from the honey supers to the brood boxes, but have difficulty reversing. The next morning, the beekeeper can remove the honey supers mostly bee-free.

A frame inside a honey super. Many of the cells are covered with wax.
The frame inside a honey super with many cells covered in wax.
A man shows an individual how wax is removed from the frame of a honey super.
A gentleman shows off a honey frame with the wax removed.
The tools used to remove wax from a honey frame and the wax sit in a container.
Tools sit among the wax that was removed from a honey frame.

Inside the honey supers are frames the bees have made cells on to store the honey in. The next step is to remove the wax covering the bees have placed over each honey cell. This is done using a knife and a wax scraper. The tops of each cell are cut off to the release the honey.

A child opens a honey extractor, looking at all of the honey frames inside.
You can see how all of the honey frames are placed inside this honey extractor.
A man places honey frames inside a honey extractor.
Placing the frames inside the honey extractor is precise work.

After the wax caps are removed, the honey needs to be drained out of the cells. The frames are placed in a honey extractor. This is a large container with a wheel inside holding each honey frame in place. The frames are then spun in a circle, which applies centrifugal force to the honey, flinging it to the sides of the honey extractor.

A woman empties the contents of a honey extractor. Honey flows out of a tap at the bottom.
A sweet success! The honey begins to pour from the tap, making for a successful honey harvest.

Gravity causes the honey to run down the sides of the container and a tap at the bottom opens to allow the honey to flow out into strainers and a bottle bucket. The strainer removes small bits of wax from the honey. The bottling bucket also has a tap at the bottom that is then used to drain the honey into bottles.

Ellen Meehan
Nature Interpreter, Parky’s Farm