Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Honey Harvest

Harvesting honey has always been known as “robbing.” Bees make honey and people take it from them. Honey bees are unique creatures. They are the only insects in the temperate zone that stay alive and active throughout the year. They do this by making and storing a high-energy food for the winter: honey. The industrious honey bee makes honey from the nectar of flowering plants through the spring, summer, and fall. They continue to collect nectar as long as flowers are blooming. Then, during the dead of winter, bees cluster inside their hive and eat their stored honey for nutrition and to generate heat. A healthy bee hive produces about 500 pounds of honey per year, and it eats at least 90 percent of that honey. Prudent beekeepers can rob the excess 10 percent. However, if they get too greedy, the colony will die from starvation. Beekeepers share the experience of those who have kept bees in the past to learn how much honey they can safely rob. The honey harvest is a rewarding time for the beekeeper. Harvesting a surplus of honey means that the beekeeper has been successful in managing a large colony for the year. Some individuals have been tempted by the promise of a bee hive that automatically serves honey without the work of beekeeping. However, much of the joy of beekeeping results from actually opening the hive and interacting with the bees on their terms. Further, a bee hive with an automatic honey harvesting feature would likely rob too much of the colony’s necessary winter food, leading to colony starvation.

In today’s photo, taken in Larry Kichler’s honey house, a freshly harvested frame of honey sits in the mechanical uncapper that will make a series of thin slices through the beeswax cappings to expose the honey for extraction. Larry expresses the joy of managing hives, handling bees, and harvesting honey. He has 50 years of experience keeping bees and producing honey in Kansas and Arkansas.