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    Beekeeping: Harvesting Honey Guide

    Authored by Hannah Mather of Hannah's Honeycomb

    There are many reasons beekeepers might want to harvest honey. Local raw, unfiltered honey is a delicious natural sweetener with many benefits. It’s no wonder it’s considered liquid gold!  

    The biggest thing that often surprises new beekeepers is harvesting honey from a beehive is not guaranteed. Many factors go into whether a particular hive will produce excess honey from year to year. Some things that can affect your harvest include size of colony, local landscape, weather patterns and pest pressures. Increase the chances of a bountiful harvest by carefully supporting your colony’s health year-round.

    If your colony is producing excess honey, harvesting is not always as simple. Here are some sweet tips for your next honey harvest:

    When to harvest honey

    Honey can be harvested from hives when the frames in the honey supers (the boxes added above the brood boxes) are filled with capped honey, and the bottom brood boxes are full and heavy as well. Colonies often aren’t large enough to produce excess honey until their second season, but sometimes you can get lucky the first year.

    Honey is harvested after a large nectar flow, which is typically from June through September in most climates. 

    When not to harvest honey

    It’s important not to harvest honey from colonies that are not strong enough to make up for the loss. Small, new or weakened colonies should be allowed to keep all the resources they produce for best chances of overwintering success.

    • Do not harvest uncapped honey. It might not be at the proper density and could be susceptible to pathogens or fermentation.
    • Always read the label for your mite treatments, as most can not be used when honey supers are on a colony. The label is the law, and if you sell honey that has been treated, you are breaking the law.
    • Only harvest from the frames that are completely honey. Do not harvest from a frame that has any brood.
    • Always make sure you are leaving enough honey for a colony for the winter (typically at least 60 pounds depending on climate).

    Methods for harvesting honey

    Crushed comb method

    A good method for beginners who aren't ready to invest in an extractors.


    • Very little equipment needed
    • Wax can be used for other projects
    • Works well for 1-2 frames at a time


    • Messy
    • Time consuming
    • Destroys comb so bees are unable to reuse the wax, which is energy expensive for the hive

    Extrator method

    Extractors use centripetal force to remove honey from combs without damaging the wax. You can find manual extractors that use a hand crank or electric extractors.


    • Ability to reuse frames
    • Bees will refill them sooner


    • More expensive
    • Manual can be energy intensive

    Cut comb honey method

    Honey comb is cut from foundationless frames.


    • Interesting delicacy that catches consumer’s attention


    • Delicate to harvest
    • Instruction needed as many Americans are not used to consuming honey in this way

    Flow hive method

    Uses plastic comb in the honey supers to allow you to flip the switch from the outside and remove honey like a faucet.


    • Easy, less mess


    • Difficult to see when capped and ready
    • Contact with plastics, not as natural for the bees
    • Can mislead new beekeepers into thinking beekeeping care is simpler than it is, the rest of the hive and care are the same as standard hives

    Steps to take for harvesting honey

    1. Open hive (with protection)
    2. Assess colony health
      • Heavy, full brood boxes
      • No signs of disease or nutritional deficiencies 
      • Excess honey to be taken
    3. Find the queen
      • Make sure she is safe and off frames to be harvested (Note: Some use a queen excluder between brood boxes and honey supers to prevent queen from laying above. Not always necessary, but be sure to check frames especially if you are not using one.)
    4. Use smoke, brush, and/or fume board to gently remove bees from honey frames
    5. Uncap wax using a heated knife and uncapping tool
    6. If you are using a honey extractor:
      • Place frames inside, always keeping them balanced and symmetrical
      • Spin to remove honey
    7. If you are doing crushed comb honey:
      • Scrape all wax and honey off frames into a large bowl for straining
    8. Strain using a metal sieve and cheese cloth
    9. Ready to bottle

    Selling honey guidelines

    Things to keep in mind and confirm include: regulations vary and should be checked for each state.

    Cottage laws

    Labeling (vary by state, check local requirements) typically includes:

    • Name and address of the cottage food operation
    • Name of the product
    • Ingredients in descending order of predominance by weight
    • The net weight or volume of product
    • Allergen information
    • A statement that it is a cottage food operation that is not subject to food safety regulations.
    • Avoid health claims
    • Do not say “organic” unless certified by proper authority (which is difficult to claim for honey, as all flowers they forage on must be organic)
    • Always double check local state regulations

    Weight vs. volume

    • Honey is typically sold by weight rather than volume  

    Standard pricing guide

    • According to the 2021 National Honey report from the USDA, honey prices average $5.50-$6.50 per pound for wholesale and $8.50-$10.50 per pound retail 

    Honey storage and crystallization

    When properly harvested and stored, the shelf life of honey can have an indefinite time span. However, honey is still susceptible to changes in color and flavor depending on temperature and conditions. 

    If your honey appears cloudy and thicker, crystallization may be occuring. Crystallization is a natural process that can happen because honey is a super-saturated solution. This process doesn't hurt the flavor or your abilty to enjoy, but is an easy fix if it's something that bothers you. Simply place the jar of crystallized honey in a bowl of warm water until the crystals are fully melted.

    Hannah is a beekeeper, horticulturist and pollinator advocate. She's passionate about sharing stories of our bee friends and their relationship to the environment. Learn more about Hannah or follow her on Instagram for more insect-size stories.