If you are new to beekeeping, or starting a homestead, the first honey harvest is an exciting moment. You have spent countless hours researching, finding the perfect location for your beehive, getting the right equipment, set up the ideal bee garden, waited for the perfect weather, monitored the hive and so much more! Now comes the million-dollar question – how long does it take for bees to make honey?
The short answer – typically within 4 to 6 months. However – please do NOT harvest honey until your hive has survived its first winter! Check out why below.
The Honey Making Process
Bees are busy all day collecting 2 main things – nectar and pollen. Pollen is a protein that is fed to bee larvae and queen bees. Nectar is a carbohydrate and is the daily food for worker and drone bees. They store extra, dehydrated nectar in honeycomb to create delicious honey.
In the spring and early summer, bees collect nectar and pollen and start hoarding the extra in the hive as raw honey (which can last forever by the way). The main factors that influence how much honey is produced are:
- The maturity and health of the hive
- How much nectar and pollen are available nearby
- How much space is in the hive
As a beekeeper, its your job to make things easy for the bees to do their job – produce surplus honey!
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When you start a new beehive, they are basically starting from scratch. Your bees must build new honeycomb, collect and store nectar, grow larvae and maintain and protect the hive.
This takes a lot of work for the bees and means early on the hive is vulnerable. A healthy hive has been established for multiple years and has a history of producing high volumes of honey flow.
Nearby Flowering Plants
A steady supply of both nectar and pollen is key to high honey flow. It’s essential that your bees have access to flowering plants from early spring until late fall.
Beekeepers should consider making the perfect bee garden around their hive to help ensure a constant flow of nutrients.
If your beehive is mobile, be sure to find the best locations for the season for you bees to find proper nutrients.
With a new swarm in your new beehive, the bees will work extra hard to build and attach natural honeycomb to the frames. This takes a lot of work and puts added stress on your bees. Of course you can start with a quality wax foundation, but most bee keepers prefer to let their bees produce the honeycomb naturally overtime.
Why Wait Until After the First Winter?
In nature bees use honey to survive the winter when pollen and nectar are no longer available. With a new hive if you take away honey in the first year, the chance for colony losses goes up dramatically.
The bees will feel stressed out that their food has dwindled for the winter. You will then be forced to feed them to increase their odds of survival in the winter. Not a bad thing, some beekeepers do this anyways.
Finally, after the first winter your hive will have produced a significant amount of wax as a foundation for a new year. If you take the honey (and wax), they will be starting over again during your second season.
When to Harvest Honey
After your hive is established, check it regularly to keep tabs on its progress. Make sure the bees have sufficient space and that no foul pests have taken hold in the hive.
Harvesting honey typically takes place in early fall or late summer. As their natural food sources disappear, the hive will turn to the honey to feed themselves. If you harvest too soon for your local area, it will throw off the bees and prevent further honey production for the season. Consult local beekeepers to find the optimal time in your area.
Another point of reference is how much honey is in the hive. When your frames are around 80% capped honey, its another good indicator that it’s time to harvest.
If your hive reaches 80% earlier in the season, then it’s a great time to add some capacity for the bees to keep working. Why not push for a little bit more?
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