- To harvest honey, you will need a beekeeper suit, a bee brush, an uncapper, an extractor, a five-gallon bucket, and a filter.
- Ethical beekeeping involves harvesting after the bees dehydrate the honey, not over-smoking the bees, and leaving enough honey in the hives to feed the bees through winter.
How to Harvest Honey
If you’re new to beekeeping and are looking to harvest your first batch of honey, don’t feel like less of an apiarist if you’re feeling lost. Everyone has to start somewhere! At Manukora, for our own Manuka honey, it took us years of dedication and research to develop our unique harvesting and packing method.
Yet, if your honeycombs are capped, and your hives are heavy with honey, that means it's harvest time!
In this article, we offer up various tips and tricks to ensure the smoothest harvest for you and your bees. The best part is, with our ethical extraction method, you won’t need any heavy machinery, and your bees will be happier and better off in the long run — so, let’s get started!
How Is Honey Harvested Ethically?
The most important factor in your honey extraction journey is that it's done ethically; at Manukora, that’s what we live by. When done correctly and at the right time, harvesting honey can be entirely harmless to your hive, but if done too early or with the wrong equipment, the results can be less than ideal.
Harvesting and packaging techniques can also affect your honey's quality. So, here is the process we implement to extract our Manuka honey. You don’t have to follow this guide perfectly, but it should give you a firm idea of what’s beneficial for the bees and what may not be.
1. Don’t harvest too early.
You want to keep your honey in its raw and natural state, but if you harvest it too soon, there will be too much moisture left in the honey. If honey has excess moisture, it can spoil, or you’ll have to dehydrate it yourself, which often results in the loss of beneficial nutrients.
We always wait the longest time possible to extract any honey. Our beekeepers ensure each comb is properly capped before slowly heating the honey to 95 degrees Fahrenheit to liquify it. This method allows the bees to follow their natural production process, keeps the honey raw, and protects the potency and overall quality of the honey.
2. Use coarse filters.
After your honey is moved from the comb to a bucket, you’ll notice wax particles and other debris. Filter those impurities out; however, if your filter is too fine, it can also sift out pollen bits. This may mean the nectar won’t be able to pass through easily, which can disrupt its natural texture.
At Manukora, we send our honey through two coarse filters to ensure wax and debris are removed while keeping all the good stuff.
3. Don’t over-smoke your bees.
Bees are typically friendly creatures but can become defensive when protecting their hive (and queen). While we ensure each hive has plenty of honey to go around before harvesting, the bees can still get impatient with us poking around their home.
If you decide to use smoke to calm your bees, that’s okay; it won’t harm them when done properly. But allowing the smoke to linger for too long can affect your honey's flavor.
4. We test our honey.
If you’re beekeeping as a hobby, small business, or simply providing fresh honey for your friends and family, you most likely won’t feel the need to get your honey tested. Considering we provide honey to people who likely aren’t harvesting their own, we like to provide as much information about our honey as possible.
Unlike regular raw honey, Manuka’s specific nutrients must be accounted for to ensure you can reap their highly renowned benefits. We send each of our Manukora Manuka honey products to an independent lab to ensure the levels of Methylglyoxal (MGO), Leptosperin, and DHA are present in each batch.
These markers used by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) can only be found in Manuka honey and are a form of authentication.
You can scan the unique QR code on your Manukora Manuka honey to trace every step your honey has taken on its journey to you, from the hive it came from to the beekeepers responsible for caring for the bees.
MGO is a nutrient found in the nectar of the Manuka tea tree, and it possesses natural antibacterial properties. Our bees are in a remote region of New Zealand where Manuka tea trees blossom by the thousands, though only for a few short weeks, contributing to the rarity and value of this nectar.
The MGO levels in our Manuka honey vary from 50 to 850+. While all Manuka honey is inherently delicious, its MGO levels that determine the potency and taste of your Manuka. The higher the MGO levels, the stronger the taste.
Leptosperin is only in genuine Manuka honey. If any batch of honey comes back with no levels of Leptosperin, the honey is not authentic Manuka. Leptosperin comes from the Manuka tea tree (or Leptospermum scoparium), hence its name.
While we believe our Western honeybees prefer the Manuka tea tree, they may visit other sources of nectar here and there, which is why we test each batch of our Manuka to ensure you’re getting genuine, monofloral Manuka honey.
5. Don’t take too much honey.
When bees are happy and healthy, there will be plenty of honey, but that’s not to say it’s okay to harvest every ounce of honey they’ve produced.
Your bees generally won’t mind sharing, but bees don’t make honey during the winter, so you should never harvest your hive dry. You don’t want your bees going hungry in the colder months!
At Manukora, we always leave plenty of honey in our hives to ensure our bees have plenty of fuel and remain happy and healthy throughout the year.
How Do I Harvest Honey?
Now you have the basic overview, let’s get into the details.
What You’ll Need
You know how to extract your honey, so let’s talk about the equipment you’ll need to do it. Luckily, you’ll just need a few small things to ensure the safety of you and your bees.
While bees are relatively sweet creatures, they can become territorial when it comes to their home. A sting or two generally won’t do much damage (unless you’re allergic). Yet, when dealing with bees in high numbers, it’s better to take proactive measures to protect yourself.
Wearing a beekeeper suit will help prevent you from getting stung, making the entire process much smoother.
A bee brush is a small tool to help ease the harvesting process. You’ll use this brush to gently usher the bees away from the honeycombs you’re trying to access.
Since you’re harvesting completely capped honey (i.e. honey that’s finished the natural dehydrating process), you’ll need a tool to help access your nectar. You’ll use this knife to scrape off the honeycomb covers in preparation for your harvest.
While you can harvest honey without an extractor, the entire process will be shorter (and less messy) with one. Extractors are essentially mechanical devices that spin the honeycomb quickly, allowing the honey to pour out into the bottom of the bucket.
Have a five-gallon bucket to place under your extractor machine. This will catch the honey from the honeycombs. Ensure it’s a clean, sanitized food-grade bucket.
Once your honey is removed from the honeycomb, you can filter out large particles of debris using a coarse strainer as we do, which keeps raw honey raw.
Last Step: Enjoy!
Once your honey goes through each step of the extraction process, all that’s left to do is pack it up and pair it with your favorite snack or beverage.
If you’re a fan of honey harvesting, we understand why; we love it too. It’s a way to connect with nature while helping the honeybee population regain strength. But we also understand if just a few clicks to get your hands on some super honey is more your speed.
Beekeeping is a satisfying hobby, but that’s not to say it’s not time-consuming. Don’t feel bad if you’re a honey purchaser instead; just make sure the honey you buy is produced ethically and in favor of the bees.
Looking for more tips and info on all things honey? Explore Manukora’s blog here.
Ready to try Manuka honey for yourself? Explore Manukora’s collection of Manuka honey varieties here.